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Review: “On Your Feet!” at The Marquis Theatre (Open Run)

Cast of "On Your Feet!" - Photo by Matthew Murphy
Review: “On Your Feet!” at The Marquis Theatre (Open Run)
Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Featuring Music Produced and Recorded by Emilio and Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine
Directed by Jerry Mitchell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Exactly how easy is it to get up on one’s feet after a significant life challenge? “On Your Feet!,” currently playing at the Marquis Theatre, addresses this enduring question by focusing on the lives and successful careers of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. The musical follows Gloria’s flight from Cuba’s Revolution, to meeting Emilio while in college in the United States, to the 1991 American Music Awards where Gloria celebrated her first public performance following her serious bus accident in 1990.

Although “On Your Feet!” features a book by Alexander Dinelaris, it is really an engaging jukebox musical that depends heavily on the music of the Estefans and the Miami Sound Machine to tell the story of the iconic couple. The musical highlights several important themes and raises a considerable collection of rich and enduring questions. How does one decide between one’s passion and the demanding expectations of one’s close relatives? In Gloria’s case, her mother does not support Gloria’s love for performance but her grandmother insists that Gloria not sacrifice her dreams for a more “stable” career.

Gloria’s mother thought Gloria – like her sister – should continue to pursue her academic career and help the family care for Gloria’s bedridden father. When does commitment to family require one to abandon one’s own needs and future?

Once in America and enjoying success in the Spanish-speaking market, Emilio wanted Gloria to be able to crossover to a wider English-speaking audience. Their agents were not interested in a crossover career for Gloria and Emilio had to become proactive to make this part of their dream possible. As a result, Gloria is often considered to be the first successful crossover performer to date. In the process, Emilio is able to break racial and cultural stereotypes, at one-point proclaiming to a doubting agent, “This is what an American looks like!”

Unfortunately, the Playbill does not include the names of the songs or the scenes in the musical. Quite frankly, this oversight is simply puzzling. However, among the songs, these are not only memorable but drive the plot of the musical forward: “When Someone Comes into Your Life;” “If I Never Got to Tell You;” “Don’t Wanna Lose You;” “Coming Out of the Dark;” and the powerful “Mega Mix” at the curtain call.

Under Jerry Mitchell’s able direction, the cast is uniformly brilliant. Stand out performances are those by Ana Villafne (Gloria), Josh Segarra (Emilio), Andrea Burns (Gloria Fajardo), Alma Cuervo (Consuelo), and Eliseo Roman (Jose Fajardo). Mr. Fajardo delivers an authentic performance as Gloria’s father and Mr. Segarra will be missed after July 12, 2016. His unassuming performance as Estefan is perhaps the emotional core of the entire ensemble cast.

David Rockwell’s set is splendid as is Kenneth Posner’s lighting. ESosa’s costumes are time and place appropriate and stunning to watch in motion. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is brilliant, especially the over-the-top tap number in sandals!

“On Your Feet!” will be around for some time. Enjoy the music and the story and be inspired.

ON YOUR FEET

Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra star as Gloria and Emilio Estefan. The cast also features Andréa Burns as Gloria Fajardo (Gloria’s mother), Alma Cuervo as Consuelo (Gloria’s grandmother), Alexandria Suarez as Little Gloria, Eduardo Hernandez as Nayib/Young Emilio, Fabi Aguirre, Karmine Alers, Yassmin Alers, David Baida, Natalie Caruncho, Henry Gainza, Linedy Genao, Carlos E. Gonzalez, Nina Lafarga, Genny Lis Padilla, Omar Lopez-Cepero, Hector Maisonet, Marielys Molina, Felix Monge, Doreen Montalvo, Liz Ramos, Eliseo Roman, Luis Salgado, Marcos Santana, Martín Solá, Jennifer Sanchez, Brett Sturgis, Kevin Tellez, Eric Ulloa, Tanairi Vasquez and Lee Zarrett. Ektor Rivera will assume the role of Emilio Estefan beginning July 12, 2016. This will be Mr. Rivera’s Broadway debut.

“On Your Feet!” is choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. Completing the creative team are Scenic Designer David Rockwell, Costume Designer Emilio Sosa, Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner Sound Designer Steve Kennedy, Projections by Darrel Maloney, and Hair and Wig Designer Chuck LaPointe. With Music Direction by Lon Hoyt, Orchestrations by Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan, Dance Arrangements and Dance Orchestrations by Oscar Hernandez, the “On Your Feet!” Orchestra will include several members of Miami Sound Machine. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

Broadway tickets are now on sale via Ticketmaster.com/877-250-2929. For groups of 12+, call: 212-840-3890 or 800-714-8451. For more information, including performance schedule and ticket prices, please visit www.OnYourFeetMusical.com. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: “On The Verge” at the Attic Theater Company at Walkerspace (Through Saturday July 9, 2016)

(L to R) Ella Dershowitz, Monette Magrath, Emily Kitchens, and William John Austin. Credit: Natalie Artemyeff.
Review: “On The Verge” at the Attic Theater Company at Walkerspace (Through Saturday July 9, 2016)
By Eric Overmyer
Directed by Laura Braza
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In the Attic Theater Company’s production of Eric Overmyer’s démodé “On The Verge,” currently playing at Walkerspace, three women venture forth from the relative safety of late nineteenth-century Terra Haute, Indiana to explore the unknown realms of Terra Incognita. Although it is not entirely certain what provides the source of their motivation for wanderlust, they seem ready to move on from all things “home.” Fanny’s (Emily Kitchens) roots in Terra Haute are shallow: her marriage is less than satisfying and she does not even know who the current President is. Alex (Ella Dershowitz) finds the mores of her environment stifling and always wears a pair of pants under her dress – just in case. And Mary (Monette Magrath) has the innate yearning for the future that eventually keeps her on the path of discovery.

It is not long into their journey into Terra Incognita that It becomes clear this is more a spiritual and “imaginary” journey rather than a physical excursion, thus providing a possible rich connection to the current political, economic, and social upheaval in America and across the globe. The women begin to channel images from the future and struggle with having to “accept the future” without “embracing it.” However, because the trio ends up in 1955 via chronokinesis, the imagery in the script seems dated and not as readily attainable as it needs to be for a 2016 audience.

Mr. Overmyer’s language-based script becomes overburdened with alliterative plays on words and other common literary devices and – after time – waxes somewhat tiresome. His writing is not akin to Tennessee Williams’ or Edward Albee’s rich use of language; rather, it seems more like an exercise in freshman composition rhetoric. This is unfortunate since the playwright’s message about engaging the future while negotiating the accoutrements of our collective pasts (histories) is an important one.

Both acts are overly long and the second wobbles off base quickly after Scene 18 “Woody’s Esso.” The actors grapple with their characters in a heroic fashion and traverse their psyches with the same bravado and skill utilized in the imaginary journey to Terra Incognita. Unfortunately, there are occasions when the three capable actors seem to lose their footing. Perhaps director Laura Braza needs to provide more support in these scenes going forward. William John Austin capably portrays the various characters the women encounter on their journey and his ability to “find” these characters differs not on his craft but on what the script gives him to work with.

Julia Noulin-Merat’s multi-purpose set and Daniel B. Chapman’s lighting function well for the most part; however, there are places on set where the lighting truss framework is balanced on lighting cable causing the actors to lose balance. Emily Rosenberg’s costumes are delightful and appropriate to each period “visited.”

Laura Barza’s apologia for choosing to “dust off” Mr. Overmyer’s play is heartfelt and understandable. One wonders though if a different play might more honestly and helpfully address the nation’s – and the world’s – stark realization that in the current “second coming” things are falling apart, the center cannot hold, and “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Where is William Butler Yeats when he is needed most? Eric Overmyer’s 1985 – though counterpointing the present in many ways – is far from the oppressive angst of the world’s current population and his message seems to ring with a naïve innocence.

We need to “dream in a new language” just not the language extant in “On the Verge.” That said, the Attic Theater Company’s annual trek to New York City is always welcomed and Ms. Braza’s vision is worthy of the theatregoer’s ongoing support.

ON THE VERGE

The cast of “On The Verge” features William John Austin as Grover, Ella Dershowitz as Alex, Emily Kitchens as Fanny, and Monette Magrath as Mary.

“On The Verge” has scenic design by Julia Noulin-Merat, costume design by Emily Rosenberg, lighting design by Daniel B. Chapman, and sound design by Beth Lake. The casting director is Judy Bowman, CSA.
“On The Verge” is presented by The Attic Theater Company, produced by Ted Caine and Noelle Franco. Production photos by Natalie Artemyeff.

“On The Verge” runs at Walkerspace (46 Walker Street, NYC) through Saturday, July 9th. The regular performance schedule is: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday at 5:00 p.m. (Dark on Mondays). There will be additional Saturday matinee performances on July 9th at 3:00 p.m. There will be no performance on Sunday, July 3rd.

Tickets for “On The Verge” are priced at $25.00 and are on sale now via Smart Tix. For online purchases go to http://www.theattictheaterco.com/#!upcoming/c6v5. Running time is 2hours and 10 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, June 25, 2016

Review: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City Teases the Psyche at the Lucille Lortel Theatre

Beth Behrs, Lisa Emery, Jacqueline Sydney, and Erik Lochtefeld in a scene from "A Funny Thing..." Photo by Matthew Murphy
Review: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City Teases the Psyche at the Lucille Lortel Theatre
By Halley Feiffer
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

If the title of Halley Feiffer’s new play “A Funny Thing Happened…” has any relevance – and this critic believes all titles are chosen for a specific purpose – then what happens before the audience meets Karla (Beth Behrs) and Don (Erik Lochtefeld) must be important. Otherwise, why borrow this great vaudevillian line? On the way to visiting their mothers at Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Gynecological Oncology Unit, star-crossed lovers Karla and Don have carried around considerable psychological baggage which they begin to unpack when they meet across the divide of the privacy curtain separating their mothers’ beds.

Karla is a stand-up comic pitching her new comedic bits to her bed-ridden mother. Her sexually graphic comedy writing serves a variety of purposes both protective and portentous. Don is recovering from a divorce from the wife who has discovered her true sexual status and reeling from his apparently failed attempts at parenting his estranged son Malcolm who has hacked into Don’s bank account and withdrawn three thousand dollars. When Don walks in and hears Karla talking about rape and her vibrator, his venting soon follows resulting in a barrage of Millennial madness from the other side of the closed curtain. What follows is akin to a speed dating event gone very wrong.

Part of the success of “A Funny Thing…” is Ms. Feiffer’s judicious use of literary tropes including sophisticated threads of symbolism and sparkling imagery. It is no accident the setting is a hospital room designated for the rehearsal of death and dying. The intergenerational pair collides, bonds, and begins the long process of bereavement as their chance encounter begins to peel away layers of hurt and mistrust to reveal cores of honest grappling with mortality. Ms. Feiffer’s script allows the characters to engage in repeated volleys of assault and disarmament that result in millennial bravura being transformed into an intergenerational truce.

The extended sex scene in the bathroom of the hospital room is less about the salacious “event” and more about the two seemingly mismatched strangers – in age, gender, economic status – attaining parity and breaking down the barriers that society has imposed on them and which they have accepted as normative.

Under Trip Cullman’s judicious and incisive direction, Mr. Lochtefeld and Ms. Behrs both deliver convincing and authentic performances each capturing the complexities of their characters’ lives. Karla’s mother Marcie (played with a chilling disinterest by Lisa Emery) and Don’s mother Geena (played with a powerful silence by Jacqueline Sydney) remain bedridden throughout but their strength is evident in the collateral damage their parenting has inflicted. Ms. Emery’s character’s late attempts at reconciliation with her daughter come across as disingenuous although reconciliation has always been a tricky business.

Lauren Helpern’s uber-realistic hospital room counterpoints the onstage battles for healthy separation and individuation and is complemented by Kaye Voyce’s costume design, Matthew Richards’ clever lighting design, and Darron L. West’s sound design.

Halley Feiffer’s new play is worth the visit to MCC Theater’s home at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Manhattan’s West Village.

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE GYNECOLOGIC ONCOLOGY UNIT AT MEMORIAL SLOAN KETTERING CANCER CENTER OF NEW YORK CITY

The cast of “A Funny Thing Happened…” includes Beth Behrs, Lisa Emery, Erik Lochtefeld, and Jacqueline Sydney. The design team includes sets by Lauren Helpern, costumes by Kaye Voyce, lighting by Matthews Richards, and sound by Darron L West. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

For performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.mcctheater.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: “Out of the Mouths of Babes” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday August 31, 2016)

Judith Ivey and Estelle Parsons in "Out of the Mouths of Babes." Credit: Carol Rosegg
Review: “Out of the Mouths of Babes” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday August 31, 2016)
By Israel Horovitz
Directed by Barnet Kellman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Marie-Belle (played with a coy bravado by Francesca Choy-Kee) is the last wife of the recently deceased one-hundred-year-old man who – though unnamed – could easily be the protagonist of Israel Horovitz’s new play “Out of the Mouths of Babes” currently playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre. After his death, Marie-Belle invites two of her husband’s former wives-lovers to the Paris apartment where they all spent years with the man who taught at the Sorbonne and who collected lovers and wives like art to excess. Joining Evelyn (played with a stoic vulnerability by Estelle Parsons) and Evvie (played with jilted indifference by Judith Ivey) is former wife Janice (played with clever innocence by Angelina Fiordellisi) who, though not invited, learns of her former husband’s death in the obituaries. It is out of the mouths of these innocents that the audience learns who they are, why they are there, what they thought of the deceased, and how their American views on love and marriage differ from those of their French host Marie-Belle.

Israel Horovitz’s new play is the perfect platform for these four actors. Think Susan Harris’s television sit-com “The Golden Girls” on steroids. Mr. Horovitz is a prolific writer with many successful projects to his credit. This new play allows acting to trump writing with or without intention on the part of the playwright. It is enough to say that with a different cast – and this one is stellar – the piece might not make it past the first act.

Evelyn, Evvie, and Janice banter, bicker, brag, bargain, and often betray their true feelings of abandonment and their mistrust of the newest young French wife who seems to be able to transcend all of their sexual conquests and hang-ups with her stories of openness in relationships and sexual freedom. The exchanges are often quite funny but because the object of their affection was seemingly such a scoundrel, it all falls rather flat. If he was as feckless as their stories reveal, a dip in the canal below the apartment would be a refreshing escape throughout the decades of his decadence.

Estelle Parsons, Judith Ivey, and Angelina Fiordellisi turn the “everyone comes clean” scene late into the second act into an irreverent group confessional with each, in turn, presiding as the recalcitrant priest offering fragments of forgiveness. Francesca Choy-Kee transforms Mr. Horovitz’s magical realism into delightful comedic fare.

Under Barnet Kellman’s sit-com direction – and there’s nothing wrong with a good sit-com – the stellar cast keeps everything moving throughout although when Mr. Horovitz’s script begins to wobble to far too the magical, the acting has a more difficult time rising to the surface. Neil Patel’s set is portrait-perfect and arguably among the best use of the performance space at the Cherry Lane Theatre main stage. Joseph G. Aulisi’s costumes are splendid and wear well dry, wet, or slightly damaged from a fall into an open grave (guess who?). Paul Miller’s lighting design works well with Leon Rothenber’s sound design to complement the setting for this new play. Watch for the delicious subtle lighting changes throughout the evening.

“Out of the Mouths of Babes” gives the audience the rare opportunity to see the highest caliber of acting all in one sumptuously decorated package. How could this not be worth the visit?

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES

The creative team for “Out of the Mouths of Babes includes scenic design by Neil Patel, costume design by Joseph G. Aulisi, lighting design by Paul Miller, and sound design by Leon Rothenberg. Production photos by

For performance and ticket information go to www.cherrylanetheatre.org or call OvationTix at 866-8111-4111 or in person at the Cherry Lane box office at 38 Commerce Street in Manhattan’s West Village. Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

WITH: Francesca Choy-Kee, Angelina Fiordellisi, Judith Ivey, and Estelle Parsons.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: "Fragments of Marilyn" at the Laurie Beechman Theatre

Review: “Fragments of Marilyn” at the Laurie Beechman Theatre
With Marissa Mulder
Directed by Sondra Lee
Musical Direction by Jon Weber
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Fragments of Marilyn” is much more a theater piece than a cabaret show as presented at the Laurie Beechman Theater by the talented actor/singer Marissa Mulder. It can be described as a stream of consciousness monologue interrupted by splinters of musical numbers with lyrics that reveal the hurt and pain of one of the most famous of Hollywood idols. These may be fragments of the complicated movie star icon but by the end of the disjointed hour, Ms. Mulder prevails in creating the emotional whole of an often misconstrued and broken woman. She merely alludes to the people who surrounded her life and contributed to the misery with no names and no blame, but with an outpouring of what the situations made her realize and feel. She is intelligent, wise, vulnerable, depressed, and angry with the soul of a child trapped inside the body of a woman, which is the one attribute she trusts and uses to capture success. It is not an easy show to watch or perform. It is not about the sexy, blonde bombshell image that seized the public eye. It is a peek at the abuse, abandonment, loneliness and fear as well as a celebration of the resilience to survive as divulged in the writings of a candid celebrity, worshiped by the masses but incapable of being loved.

Early on we hear a revealing rendition of “It’s Only a Paper Moon” exposing the shallow emptiness and glamorous façade of the Hollywood she embraced. A rendition of “Don’t Rain On My Parade” releases the anger, persistence and determination needed to defeat those who tried to control her life. One of the most telling closing musical numbers is “Hurt” which accentuates her despair and acceptance of being lonely and alone. Ms. Mulder does not look or for that matter sound like the infamous persona but she embodies and amazingly becomes the unmitigated Marilyn Monroe, blemishes and all. Her voice is clear, powerful and penetrating as she discovers a full range of emotions to translate the lyrics. She mesmerizes the audience, is fascinating to watch and a joy to hear. If there is a chance to catch this remarkable piece of cabaret theater in the future, don’t hesitate, not one moment will disappoint.

FRAGMENTS IF MARILYN

“Fragments of Marilyn” ran at the Laurie Beechman Theatre through Friday June 17, 2016. For more information about the Laurie Beechman Theatre, please visit http://www.westbankcafe.com/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review: “Shining City” at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday July 3, 2016)

Matthew Broderick and Billy Carter in "Shining City." Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Review: “Shining City” at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday July 3, 2016)
By Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.” (Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City Upon A Hill” Farewell Speech, January 11 1989)

America in the late 1980s was for Ronald Reagan a shining city upon a hill, “a magnet for all who must have freedom.” This nation was pristine, flawless, offering to all who would respond to its beckoning the opportunity for improvement, self-discovery, and community. Many nation-states and their urban centers offer similar promises to the “pilgrims from lost places who are hurtling through darkness, toward home.” John (Matthew Broderick), Ian (Billy Carter), Neasa (Lisa Dawn), and Laurence (James Russell) are four such pilgrims navigating Dublin’s promises in Conor McPherson’s “Shining City” currently running at the newly renovated Irish Repertory Company.

James Joyce wrote, "For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal." Conor McPherson has accomplished the same goal in his “Shining City.” The stories told here are universal stories of self-discovery, motivation, fear, loneliness, and making choices – for better or for worse. Stories of recognizing opportunities to “sort out” life’s challenges and unexpected changes.

John has been seeing the ghost of his deceased wife Mari in their house and, thinking he might be a “nutcase,” he visits psychotherapist Ian to “sort it all out.” John is former priest Ian’s first client and – as the audience learns – the roles of penitent and priest and client and therapist often become reversed in Mr. McPherson’s engaging and complex script. John’s confessional sessions reveal a lonely individual who rarely communicated with his wife before her fatal accident. Those sessions somehow give Ian permission to admit to his girlfriend Neasa it might be time to part ways.

“Shining City” features three (at least) parallel stories, parallel situations and conflicts involving dyads of human interaction without authentic human connection. There is no communication between John and his wife; none between Ian and his girlfriend Neasa; and initially even less between John and Laurence the sex worker John turns to for comfort and understanding. In these parallel stories, the characters discover communication and non-judgmental affirmation from very unexpected places.

Under Ciarán O’Reilly’s meticulous and clean direction, the cast of “Shining City” captures the full range of human emotions including those often roiling beneath the surface waiting to offer redemption and release if expressed. Matthew Broderick gives his character John a sensitive believability that is expressed in dialogue and in lengthy monologues. Mr. Broderick give’s John’s journey from fear to courage authenticity. Billy Carter portrays Ian with a graceful underbelly of frustration and guilt unable to fully disengage from his dysfunctional relationship with Neasa. Lisa Dwan’s Neasa is manipulative, fearful, and determined not to allow Ian to separate from her and their child. And James Russell portrays a young man ravaged by poverty and unemployment to work in places he never expected to labor.

Charlie Corcoran has designed a clean and serviceable set that allows the actors to settle into their roles with ease and comfort. Sven Henry Nelson’s property design creates the illusion of not only the passing of time but the growth of the characters. Martha Hally’s costumes, Michael Gottlieb’s lighting, and M. Florian Staab’s sound successfully complement the action of the play.

During their first session, Ian tells John he sees the ghost of his wife because he needs to. That might be true but one wonders whether Mari’s ghost had its final appearance in the couple’s bathroom. Only time will tell.

SHINING CITY

The cast of “Shining City” features Matthew Broderick, Bill Carter, Lisa Dwan, and James Russell.

‘Shining City” features scenic design by Charlie Corcoran, costume design by Martha Hally, lighting design by Michael Gottlieb, and sound design by Ryan Rumery. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Shining City” plays a strictly limited engagement through Sunday, July 3rd at the newly renovated Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street). Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $50.00 - $70.00 and available here: http://www.irishrep.org/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 9, 2016

Review: “Hero’s Welcome” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday July 2, 2016)

L-R: Evelyn Hoskins and Richard Stacey in Hero’s Welcome, written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn, part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Tony Bartholomew.
Review: “Hero’s Welcome” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday July 2, 2016)
Written and Directed by Alan Ayckbourn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In Alan Ayckbourn’s new play “Hero’s Welcome,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters at part of the Brits Off Broadway Series, a young British soldier returns home from military conflict for the first time in seventeen years. Murray (Richard Stacey) brings his new bride Baba (Evelyn Hoskins) back to his former home to start a new life and restore the hotel once owned by his parents. Although he is greeted as a hero, there are residents who are not pleased about his return and collude to send him and Baba packing.

“Hero’s Welcome” is replete with deceit, revenge, and intrigue. Once the play’s exposition is established, each character and her or his conflicts drive an interesting but often predictable plot. Before he skipped town seventeen years ago, Murray was part of a love triangle with Alice (played with a vengeful remorse by Elizabeth Boag) and Kara (played with a simmering self-awareness by Charlotte Harwood) – a tryst that ended in an unwanted pregnancy and a bride left at the altar. Although both women have since married, fractured feelings remain and neither woman wants Murray around.

Mr. Ayckbourn’s new play is decidedly character driven and the actors (as in “Confusions”) are the key elements of the production’s success. Richard Stacey understands Murray’s problems completely and portrays the homecoming soldier with the right balance of bravura and hometown boy charm. His scenes opposite Evelyn Hoskins (Baba) are powerful and Ms. Hoskins counterpoints Mr. Stacey’s bravado with emotional strength: she is a spiritual spitfire and he wears his secret like a tight-fitting glove.

Stephen Billington plays the despicable cad Brad with the veneer of charm and the underbelly of pure evil. One wonders throughout the play just how long Kara (Charlotte Harwood) will put up with his misogyny. Russell Dixon portrays Alice’s (Elizabeth Boag) husband Derek with impeccable timing (just like his train!) and irresistible charm. The six actors in “Hero’s Welcome” deliver authentic and engaging performances. Less engaging is the script itself.

The script is convoluted and its characters underdeveloped. While Murray’s, Alice’s, and Kara’s conflicts are clear and their motivations believable, other characters lack authentic conflicts and their contribution to the forward movement of the plot often stalls the play’s overall progress. Why, for example, Kara’s daughter Simone (also played by Ms. Harwood) appears in the last scene to burn down The Bird of Prey is as puzzling as it is unnecessary. Despite having a contemporary setting and feel, “Hero’s Welcome” rehearses Mr. Ayckbourn’s important themes – “man’s inhumanity to woman” and the lack of transparency – with a less than contemporary feel. Still, “Hero’s Welcome” is an interesting story with redemptive themes and worth the visit.

HERO’S WELCOME

The cast for “Hero’s Welcome” features Stephen Billington, Elizabeth Boag, Russell Dixon, Charlotte
Harwood, Evelyn Hoskins, and Richard Stacey. The design team for both plays is Jason Taylor (lighting designer) and Michael Holt (production designer). The production stage manager is Veronica Aglow. Production photos by Tony Bartholomew.

Alan Ayckbourn’s “Hero’s Welcome” and “Confusions” run in rep for their New York City premieres at Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters with a general performance schedule of Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00p.m. Please see the performance calendar for the individual show schedules. Single tickets for “Hero’s Welcome” and “Confusions” are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time for “Hero’s Welcome” is 2 hours and 25 minutes with one twenty-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 9, 2016

Review: “Confusions” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 3, 2016)

L-R: Elizabeth Boag, Stephen Billington, and Russell Dixon in "Confusions," written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn, part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Tony Bartholomew.
Review: “Confusions” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 3, 2016)
Written and Directed by Alan Ayckbourn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Alan Ayckbourn is unquestionably a prolific and popular playwright whose seventy-nine plays have delighted and challenged audiences for almost sixty years. He has explored the vicissitudes of the human condition with pith and panache and often focuses on the relationships between women and men and, most often, on the misdeeds of the latter gender. The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough England has chosen to revive the playwright’s “Confusions” at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Brits Off Broadway Series.

A series of five interconnected plays, “Confusions” flips a character from the first play into the next play until the themes of the first four pieces collide on a park bench in “A Talk in the Park.”

In “Mother Figure,” Lucy (Elizabeth Boag) a frazzled young mother struggles to balance sanity with caring for her children without any assistance from her mostly absent gad-about husband. Her neighbor Rosemary, concerned she has not seen Lucy recently, makes a visit and experiences an abundance of uber-nurturing unlike the care she receives from her sexist hubby Terry (Stephen Billington). In the second play “Drinking Companion” Lucy’s absentee hubby Harry (Richard Stacey) is found trying to pick up two women in a hotel lounge. Terry is the ultimate sexist cad who does not manage to fool Paula (Charlotte Harwood) or her friend Bernice (Elizabeth Boag) but manages inadvertently to garner the attention of the gay waiter (Stephen Billington) who appears in the third play “Between Mouthfuls” the ultimate in cuckolding comedy. Mr. and Mrs. Pearce (Russell Dixon and Elizabeth Boag) dine unaware of Mr. Pearce’s employee Martin (Richard Stacey) who is in the same restaurant with his wife Polly (Charlotte Harwood) who has had a bit of a tryst with her hubby’s boss.

In the second act, Mrs. Pearce is the honored guest at “Gosforth’s Fete” a celebration of all that can possibly go wrong at a civic event. Gosforth (Russell Dixon) has managed to have a tryst with Stewart’s (Stephen Billington) fiancé Milly (Charlotte Harwood). The Vicar (Richard Stacey) serves as the moral trope amidst the amoral mayhem. At the performance I attended, the audience went wild over this piece guffawing loudly accompanied by knee-slapping and double-overs. This critic was quite frankly quite bored.

What was undoubtedly unique in 1974 – and what most audiences still find hilarious on both sides of the Pond - I find sad for some reason. It all seems just too dated and irrelevant. Watching “Confusions” is akin to watching a piece of history while laughing at important issues we have yet to resolve. And while it is therapeutic to laugh at ourselves and our foibles, there needs to be some other payoff to two hours and fifteen minutes of tom foolery.

Under Mr. Ayckbourn’s direction, the ensemble cast is brilliant and does its individual and collective best to breathe new life into these five plays. It is the vintage of the plays and not the craft of these fine actors that weigh down the effort. Michael Holt’s design and Jason Taylor’s lighting are appropriate and complement the action of each play with style.

Sexism, adultery, and abuse – these three remain today in abundance - but reviving a 1970’s look at these horrific and persistent problems does little to massage the conscience or quicken the spirit of compassion. Mr. Ayckbourn’s impressive body of work is to be celebrated but not worshipped and something beyond “Confusions” is needed to sort out the sexual turbulence of the twenty-first century.

“Confusions” plays in repertory with Mr. Ayckbourn’s new play “Hero’s Welcome” through July 3, 2016.

CONFUSIONS

The cast for “Confusions” features Stephen Billington, Elizabeth Boag, Russell Dixon, Charlotte
Harwood, and Richard Stacey. The design team for both plays is Jason Taylor (lighting designer) and Michael Holt (production designer). The production stage manager is Veronica Aglow. Production photos by Tony Bartholomew.

Alan Ayckbourn’s “Hero’s Welcome” and “Confusions” run in rep for their New York City premieres at Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters with a general performance schedule of Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00p.m. Please see the performance calendar for the individual show schedules. Single tickets for “Hero’s Welcome” and “Confusions” are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time for “Confusions” is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one twenty-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 9, 2016

Review: The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois at the Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 (Through Sunday June 19, 2016)

(L-R) William Apps, Katherine Reis and Susan Heyward in "The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois." Photo by Ahron Foster
Review: The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois at the Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 (Through Sunday June 19, 2016)
Written and Directed by Adam Rapp
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I like your sweater. That color’s good on you. Is that purple? (Ellis to his daughter) “So sometimes when I close my eyes there are cats and ocelots and burning trees. And sometimes the trees run like men on fire and sometimes there are ocelots up in the branches and they’re burning too.” (Ellis in “The Purple Lights of Joppa”)

Social media plays a significant role in “Adam Rapp’s “The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois” currently playing at Atlantic Stage 2. Ellis (William Apps) a father in Paducah Kentucky sends a Friend request to his estranged daughter Catherine (Katherine Reis) in Joppa Illinois and she accepts his invitation and they begin to chat. Seems simple enough – another example of reconnecting with family through Facebook. However, this connection is complicated. Ellis contacts his daughter through his nurse Barrett’s (Connor Barrett) Facebook account and father and daughter agree to meet at Ellis’s small street-level duplex apartment in Paducah at a specific time during Barrett’s next home visit to Ellis.

Adding to the fragility – and the excitement - of this bumpy ride, Catherine’s mother thinks Catherine is taking a walk around the block back in Joppa with her friend Monique (Susan Heyward); however, Monique – using the driver’s license of her thirty-seven-year-old aunt Takayda Flowers - makes the trip to Paducah with Catherine and is packing – of all things – her Uncle Levon’s Taser gun. This is but a portion of the exposition for Mr. Rapp’s play about a mentally ill father and a love-starved daughter that have no choice but to embrace change in the midst of chaos.

For five minutes during their visit, Ellis and Catherine stare at each other and experience profound confession, forgiveness, and the beginning of reconciliation as they listen to Mickey Newbury’s “I Don’t Think Much About Her No More.” This is a brave choice for Mr. Rapp and for the cast and a choice that pays off with abundant rewards. When Ellis decides to play track number three from Newbury’s 1969 album “Looks Like Rain,” Ellis determines to leave his world of “boiling doors” and lights that move and risk reuniting with the daughter he left years before.

Much goes on in “The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois; however, to share too much of the action would spoil the overall experience of seeing this remarkable play. It is perhaps enough to say that there is intrigue, surprise, shock, confusion, and a redemptive vision of unconditional and nonjudgmental love. The audience needs to engage in every delicate moment of how Mr. Rapp’s extraordinary characters embrace their engaging conflicts to spin a tale of healing and release.

William Apps captures the depths of Ellis’s despair and the intensity of his bi-polar affective disorder, with psychosis with impeccable precision. Mr. Apps does not waste one movement, one gesture, one glance in his portrayal of Ellis and his monologue describing Ellis’s experience with his disorder is life-changing and emotionally exhausting. Katherine Reis captures Catherine’s innate inquisitiveness and her need to know why her father left her. In their scenes together, Mr. Apps and Ms. Reis are not merely emotionally connected: they are somehow physically entwined in a ballet of belief in change.

Susan Heyward delivers a believable Monique who is at once Catherine’s soulmate and her protector and her alter ego. And Connor Barrett balances his caring professional persona with his utter fear that he might lose his position were his “secret” to be revealed. This is a brilliant ensemble cast that exercises its collective and individual craft without reserve or trepidation.

Adam Rapp’s direction is remarkable and brims with intensity and subtlety. When – at some almost indiscernible place – Catherine (and even Monique) decide to forgive Ellis, understand Ellis, and embrace his massive soul, Mr. Rapp choreographs forgiveness in ways that are as deeply emotional as they are purely startling. Think costume designer Jessica Pabst forgot to remove the size label from Ellis’s new pants? Just sit back and wait!

Watching Ellis and Catherine choose to travel the often unchartered paths of forgiveness and reconciliation is deeply cathartic. They both know they have done “bad stuff.” However, Catherine’s lists and Ellis’s journeys to the outer fringes of madness and back have somehow saved them, offered them salvation at least. And it is from that well of human grappling that Adam Rapp – once again – baptizes us with hope.

THE PURPLE LIGHTS OF JOPPA ILLINOIS

“The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois” features William Apps, Connor Barrett, Susan Heyward, and Katherine Reis.

“The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois” features scenic design by Andromache Chalfant, costume design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by Keith Parham, sound design by Christian Frederickson and casting by Carparelliotis Casting. Production photos by Ahron Foster.

“The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois” runs at Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues), on the following schedule: Tuesday - Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at www.atlantictheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or in person at The Linda Gross Theater box office (336 West 20 Street between 8 & 9 Avenues). For information on Atlantic Theater Company membership or other inquiries, contact the Membership Department: 212-645-1242 or membership@atlantictheater.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Review: “Himself and Nora” at the Minetta Lane Theatre (Through Sunday September 4, 2016)

Photo: Himself and Nora by Jonathan Brielle, Directed by Michael Bush. From left to right: Matt Bogart & Whitney Bashor. Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, NYC. Photo by Matt Murphy.
Review: “Himself and Nora” at the Minetta Lane Theatre (Through Sunday September 4, 2016)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jonathan Brielle
Directed by Michael Bush
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Himself and Nora,” currently playing at the Minetta Lane Theatre, follows the life and career of the iconic James Joyce (played with a stolid cheerfulness by Matt Bogart) and his muse Nora Barnacle (played with a steely charm by Whitney Bashor) with historical accuracy. Jonathan Brielle’s new musical highlights events in the couple’s lives in chronological order from their meeting and courting, their self-imposed exile to Europe, Joyce’s deteriorating eyesight, the difficulties in publishing “Ulysses” in America, the death of Joyce’s father and his daughter’s schizophrenia, and through to Joyce’s illness that resulted in his death. However, the musical is more than a timeline of life events of the famous couple.

Equally intriguing is the musical’s attention to issues that are known to have driven Joyce’s creative engine, including his love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. Jonathan Brielle cleverly uses the omnipresent (and apparently omniscient) Priest (played with an appropriate snobbish priggishness by Zachary Prince) who is not only present on stage but, like an annoying Greek Chorus, comments on the action of the musical with acerbic pretense.

“Himself and Nora” is a delight for the senses particularly the sense of hearing. Matt Bogart has an engaging voice that soars through the register with delightful ease and impressive strength. Whitney Bashor’s vocal control is equally impressive. At times, her singing is so effortless, one might assume she is simply channeling the music! Mr. Bogart transfixes the audience with his “Land of Erin” and “Always in Love.” Ms. Bashor captures the heart and soul of the audience with “Stand Fast,” “Without A Man,” and “What Better Thing.” Additionally, both leads are superb actors who bring a high degree of authenticity to their multi-layered and complicated characters.

Under Michael Bush’s attentive and perceptive direction (these are not one and the same), the remaining supportive cast - Michael McCormick as Joyce’s Da and Ezra Pound and Lianne Marie Dobbs playing multiple roles including Joyce’s Mother – deliver impressive performances and exhibit strong vocal skills. Ms. Dobbs’ portrayal of Joyce’s mother is heartwarming and thoughtful.

Paul Tate dePoo III’s set design is towering both in size and in emotional content. Within his design, scenes change with ease while the focus always remains on the action on the stage. Amy Clark’s costumes are appropriate throughout and historically accurate. Jason Lyons’ lighting and Keith Caggiano’s sound complement and heighten the overall effective staging of the musical.

Although it seems at times “Himself and Nora” has not decided exactly what it wants to be, the overall effect of the new musical is pleasing and thoroughly captivating. It would seem the audience would wish to learn more of Joyce’s motivations throughout his life and a deeper understanding of his important relationships with his parents and siblings. “Himself and Nora” is not without some complications.

For example, although history confirms that the relationship between Joyce and Barnacle, especially prior to their late marriage, was highly sexually charged, “Himself and Nora” chooses to remind the audience of that fact in almost every scene of the new musical. There is more on stage groping, poking, and smelling than necessary. The story of Joyce and Nora clearly is more about Nora’s profound influence on Joyce’s ability to write about what he knew best: the people and the place of Ireland.

What “Himself and Nora” does accomplish, it achieves successfully and with considerable charm and is unquestionably worth a visit to the Minetta Lane Theatre. The new musical shares the life of a writer with an enormous ego (hence the title) who – though he struggles with a myriad of demons from without and within – remains one of the most important figures in the canon of modern literature.

HIMSELF AND NORA

The cast of “Himself and Nora” features Matt Bogart as James Joyce opposite Whitney Bashor as Nora, Lianne Marie Dobbs, Victoria Huston-Elem, Michael McCormick, Zachary Prince, and Gary Troy.

“Himself and Nora” has choreography by Kelli Barclay, set design by Paul Tate dePoo III, costume design by Amy Clark, lighting design by Jason Lyons, and sound design by Keith Caggiano. Casting is by Geoff Josselson, general management by DR Theatrical Management, production management by Production Core and production stage management by CJ LaRoche. Production photos by Matt Murphy.

Performances for “Himself and Nora” are Tuesdays at 7:00 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 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $89.00 with premium and gold seating available. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.HimselfandNoraMusical.com, www.Ticketmaster.com, or calling (800) 745-3000. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Review: “Half Moon Bay” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday June 4, 2016)

Photo: Keilly McQuail and Gabriel King. Credit: Steven Pisano.
Review: “Half Moon Bay” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday June 4, 2016)
By Dan Moyer
Directed by Jess Chayes
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Okay. A Millennial young woman named Annie (Keilly McQuail) sits in a bowling alley bar late at night hunched over her beer as a second Millennial – a young man named Gabe (Gabriel King) – enters the bar from the lanes. Annie says, “Nice shoes.” Gabe responds, “What?” So begins Dan Moyer’s new play “Half Moon Bay” currently running at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre and presented by Cherry Lane’s inaugural Company in Residence Lesser America. And so, too, begins the story of the Frankie-and-Johnny-like pair as they attempt to find grounding in a relationship seemingly doomed from the start.

Decidedly under the influence, Gabe and Annie embark on a cat-and-mouse adventure that leads to a second meeting at the bar and the not-so-surprising tryst at Annie’s apartment where additional beer, vodka (once with Vitamin Water), and cocaine fuel a truth-or-dare extravaganza that reveals a plethora of dysfunctional fallout not ameliorated by night and day time views of Half Moon Bay. This is a troubled couple who face every moment as if it were their last, laughing at their foibles yet cowering in fear in the corners of their deepest secrets.

Under Jess Chayes’ meticulous and spirited direction, Keilly McQuail and Gabriel King are the kingpins in this Lesser America production. Their emotional honesty is sometimes too much to bear, and their unwavering commitment to Mr. Moyer’s script is evident in every moment of every scene of the two-act play. Ms. McQuail brings a steely vulnerability to her Annie Barlev that perfectly counterpoints the droopy determination Mr. King brings to his Gabe Hester. They peel away the complex layers of their rich characters with care and bravery and leave nothing of the underbelly of their lives buried. In those places where Mr. Moyer’s script falters, these two actors fill in the gaps with the grit of their formidable craft.

Kudos to the run crew (Zachary Cohn, Maddi Knox, and Alexandra Scordato) who change Reid Thompson’s stark bowling alley bar into Annie’s messy apartment in a matter of minutes. Watching the changeover is akin to celebrating the completion of a complex jigsaw puzzle. M. Meriwether Snipes’ costumes, Mike Inwood’s bright to brooding lighting, and Janie Bullard’s sound design create the perfect border to this spot on design of perfectly matched interlocking pieces.

Annie and Gabe reveal the guts of a generation caught between forebears of success and failure, seeking sure footing in a landscape littered with doubt and despair, yearning for independence yet ensnared in webs of family systems often gone haywire. Not all have quite the level of depressive ennui as Gabe and Annie – though many do – but these two Millennial seekers serve as a powerful trope of a generation upon which depends the future of a nation and a global community. Enamored by credit card debt and numbed by a culture of sedation, this generation teeters on the edge of a precipice created by the collapse of two towers.

For better or for worse, playwright Dan Moyer decides to wrap up his new play with some sugarcoated surcease of despair. Whether that rings true is a matter of opinion. Perhaps the play would have been more cohesive had Gabriel walked out of Annie’s apartment without cab money and sporting plastic bag shoes instead of the expensive Etonics he lost in a bet or if Annie remained alone in her apartment leaving the audience to wonder if she will go down the stairs to meet her mother or open yet another can of beer or snort another line of cocaine. But perhaps that is just too much despair for the audience to bear in a year of political madness and unrelenting violence.

However, as it stands, “Half Moon Bay” is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the unrelenting hope of finding salvation in the face of the other.

HALF MOON BAY

The cast of “Half Moon Bay” features Keilly McQuail and Gabriel King.

“Half Moon Bay” features set design by Reid Thompson, costume design by M. Meriwether Snipes, lighting design by Mike Inwood, and sound design by Janie Bullard. Production photos by Steven Pisano.

“Half Moon Bay” runs through Saturday June 4, Friday – Sunday at 8:00 p.m. at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street (three blocks south of Christopher Street, just west of Seventh Avenue – accessible from 1 train to Christopher Street). Tickets are $18.00, available at 212-352-3101 or www.lesseramerica.com. Running time is just under 2 hours.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 3, 2016

Review: “Cal in Camo” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday June 12, 2016)

Photo: Katya Campbell and Paul Wesley. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Review: “Cal in Camo” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday June 12, 2016)
By William Francis Hoffman
Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt
Reviewed by David Roberts

Cal (played with a haunting despair by Katya Campbell) is in a mess. Urban Chicago was the ideal place for her husband Tim (played with a brave vulnerability by David Harbour) to make money pitching beer distributors’ craft brews but not the ideal place for Cal – who grew up in rural Missouri – to live and the raise her new baby. So she moves her family to rural Illinois, agreeing to purchase the last lot remaining in the development that has remained unsold because it is adjacent to a sinkhole. Cal’s mess does not end with her bad real estate decision. She is clinically depressed and suffering from a depersonalization/derealization disorder and a borderline family estrangement disorder. If all of that were not enough, Cal has dipped into the family’s paltry coffers to fly her brother Flynt (played with a passive but resilient sweetness by Paul Wesley) home after the sudden and tragic death of his wife.

Flynt’s entry into his sister’s already fragile family system provides an interesting turning-point in William Francis Hoffman’s “Cal in Camo” currently playing at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in collaboration with the Brooklyn based Colt Coeur. We learn from Flynt the provenance of Cal’s inability to connect with herself or with others on any significant and deep level. Her disorders can be traced – at least partially – to a fractured relationship with her mother who walked out on Cal and only left this adult-child with the memory of her mother as a “nameless taste.” The world premiere of this new play follows the path of healing for Cal, her husband, her brother, and her child. This healing comes in stages after significant conversations between the members of the family – conversations that include an extended conversation between Flynt and Tim and Flynt’s lengthy monologue in his final conversation with Cal.

These conversations are enriched with figurative language, imagery, symbolism, and other tropes. Some of these tropes are more effective than others and they serve the script best when they are subtle or even elusive. Others – like the ever-present sinkhole (or is it a rabbit hole?) - are predictable and not as satisfying. A vintage rifle, a bullet that was rendering the rifle unusable, a doe (yes, a familiar lyric tumbles from Flynt’s lips), storms, power outages, and a fissure in the new house struggle to take on meaning in Mr. Hoffman’s script. Sometimes a direct and transparent bit of dialogue goes a long way to bring sense and sensibility to a script. One example would be the indication that Flynt has started his healing process just before he leaves Cal to catch a bus home to find his wife’s body in the river that swept her away. Flynt tells Cal, “I don’t need your motherin’...you wanna be a mother mother your baby not me.”

Although the ensemble cast members deliver impressive performances with authenticity and believability, Mr. Hoffman’s script is somewhat less impressive as is Colt Coeur’s Adrienne Campbell-Holt’s direction. The script – though replete with dense text that easily engages the audience – is often less than believable and the character’s traits are not always consistent. And the rising action feels forced at times putting characters in situations solely to provide exposition and not to allow their conflicts to enrich the plot. Ms. Campbell-Holt’s direction is serviceable but rarely stretches beyond the basics. Both – script and direction sometimes border on the pretentious; however, “Cal in Camo” is at times an engaging psychological study of one fractured family system that has abundant connections to every member of the audience.

One looks forward to future collaborations between Rattlestick and Colt Coeur and to Rattlestick’s new season.

CAL IN CAMO

The cast of “Cal in Camo” features Katya Campbell, David Harbour, and Paul Wesley.

“Cal in Camo” features scenery by John McDermott, costumes by Sueann Leung, lighting
by Grant Yeager, sound design by Amy Altadonna, properties by Deb Gaouette, and production
management by Jeremy Pape. Sarah Devon Ford will serve as Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Cal in Camo” plays Sundays and Mondays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays through Fridays at 8:00 p.m., and
Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Tickets start at $30.00 and may be purchased at rattlestick.org,
coltcoeur.org, or by calling Ovationtix at (866) 811-4111. Special artist and student discount rates are available. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the York Theatre Company (Through Sunday June 26, 2016)

The “Peanut” Gang (Left to Right): Mavis Simpson-Ernst as Lucy, Milly Shapiro as Sally, Joshua Colley as Charlie Brown, Jeremy T. Villas as Linus, Gregory Diaz as Schroeder, and Aiden Gemme as Snoopy. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg.
Review: You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the York Theatre Company (Through Sunday June 26, 2016)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner and additional material by Andrew Lippa and Michael Mayer
Directed by Michael Unger
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The new production of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the York Theater Company would seem to be a clever idea, using age appropriate actors to portray the renowned Peanuts characters, especially after a successful concert version at “54 Below.” The difficulty with this concept is that the show was not written for children to perform. The vocals needed for many of the songs require mature voices with a wide range and adequate support to sustain the notes that are important to the humor and emotional content. The book is sophisticated and difficult for a child to comprehend, especially when dealing with the timing and the delivery needed to convey the message. What is so appealing about this show when performed by adults is that they become cartoon characters because they are not age appropriate but they have the knowledge, experience and vocal range to sustain the script. They may appear to be silly but actually are remarkably perceptive. It then has the ability to please children and adults on different levels.

This is not a question of whether the performances of the actors in this particular production are adequate rather than whether the casting was age appropriate for the material. At the matinee performance I attended there were many families or parents with children in the audience. The children - although well behaved - became restless midway through the first hour-long act. The characters they were watching were not animated, they were their peers. Adults seemed unresponsive to the intelligent and perceptive script mainly because, at times, the actors/characters had difficulty perceiving the humor in the intended meaning and this lack of perception affected the timing. It might have been an enjoyable afternoon but the show did not live up to its potential. Even when seeing these characters in a comic strip or television special they have the look of being little animated adults rather children. There is something magical about adults finding the child in them. There is something missing – the charm perhaps - when children find the adult in themselves.

The music is delightful with pianist Eric Svejcar at the helm as conductor assuring at all times that the music is the driving force. The scenic design by Brian Prather is adequate but the costumes by Grier Coleman could be a bit brighter and more imaginative. Perhaps after a few performances under their belt this talented group of young performers will become more confident as they bring the Peanuts gang to life on the stage.

YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN

Directed by York’s Associate Artistic Director Michael Unger, and with music direction by Eric Svejcar and choreography by Jennifer Paulson-Lee, the seven-member “Peanuts” cast features Joshua Colley as Charlie Brown, Gregory Diaz as Schroeder, Aidan Gemme as Snoopy, Milly Shapiro Sally, Mavis Simpson-Ernst as Lucy, and Jeremy T. Villas as Linus. Graydon Peter Yosowitz will perform the role of Charlie Brown from June 1-7.

The creative team for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” includes Brian Prather (sets), Grier Coleman, (costumes), Graham Kindred (lights), and Daniel Logan (props). The Production Stage Manager is T.J. Kearney and the Assistant Stage Manager is Rachel Calter. Casting is by Nora Brennan Casting. Production Photos by Carol Rosegg.

“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” plays the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays – Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” are priced at $67.50 - $72.50 and may be purchased by calling (212) 935-5820, online at www.yorktheatre.org, or in person at the box office at the York Theatre at Saint Peter’s (Citicorp Building, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue), Tuesday through Friday (12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.). York Theatre Members receive priority booking and save almost 35% on matinee performances and 30% for regular performances. Student and Senior Rush tickets are available in-person beginning one hour prior to performances for $20.00 cash only. The York Theatre also offers $25.00 tickets for guests aged 35 years and under.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: “American Psycho” Teases the Psyche at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (Open Run)

Photo: Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman. Credit: Jeremy Daniel
Review: “American Psycho” Teases the Psyche at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (Open Run)
Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Based on the Novel by Bret Easton Ellis)
Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik
Directed by Rupert Goold
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Change one letter in the phrase ‘American Psycho’ to form a phrase that describes the essence of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa/Duncan Sheik’s musical currently playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre - a phrase that handily explains why the musical garnered such praise on the London stage. The result: ‘American Psyche.” Brits love watching the foibles of their “children across the pond” play out on the stage – especially antics that arise from the specific character of the American experience. Certainly the final year of the 1980s provides a plethora of deadly sins and detritus from the opening of Pandora’s box/jar. Think “Enron” on steroids.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s book brims with the excesses of 1989 America and these come into sharp focus in the character of the protagonist Patrick Bateman (Benjamin Walker) and the coterie of mindless and vapid individuals he surrounds himself with including his girlfriend Evelyn Williams (Helene Yorke); his best friend Timothy Price (Theo Stockman); and his co-workers Craig McDermott (Alex Michael Stoll), David Van Patten (Dave Thomas Brown), and Luis Carruthers (Jordan Dean).

Mergers and acquisitions analyst Patrick Bateman barely hangs on to reality and his coping mechanisms dwindle as his ego strength wanes. The “existential horror” that is America resonates with a similar horror that haunts his psyche resulting in a spate of “murders and executions” that appear to be more matters of fantasy than acts of reality. It is clear that what haunts the young, ripped, and handsome analyst is the same dystopian future facing the nation itself.

Were it not for Benjamin Walker’s formidable craft, “American Psycho” would be as much of a horror as Mr. Aguirre-Sacsa’s weak and shallow book – this musical is pure comic book and more anime than theatre. And Duncan Skeik’s music and lyrics are equally unsatisfactory. As syrupy as Patrick’s secretary Jean’s (Jennifer Damiano) love ballad “A Girl Before” is, under Ms. Damiano’s care, it far outshines the majority of the musical numbers.

Other exceptions are the numbers sung by Benjamin Walker who brings as much honesty to his character Patrick Bateman as possible. “Common Man,” “The End of an Island” (with Ms. Damiano), and “This Is Not an Exit” stand out in the list of some twenty-two musical numbers.

Like Hans Christian Andersen’s delusional Emperor, Patrick Bateman is depicted most of the time in some state of near-nudity. And although Benjamin Walker pulls that task off well, it does not fully justify the overuse of that trope that is meant to highlight the ignorance, incompetence, and boorishness of contemporary American society.

“American Psycho” is worth the visit to see Mr. Walker’s electrifying performance – suited up or strutting around in bloodied underwear in the second act’s extended “dream” sequence – and to allow his Patrick Bateman to rattle the recesses of the American psyche within and outside the theatre.

AMERICAN PSYCHO

“American Psycho” has music direction by Jason Hart, and music supervision and vocal arrangements by David Shrubsole.

The cast of “American Psycho” features Krystina Alabado, Dave Thomas Brown, Jennifer Damiano, Jordan Dean, Anna Eilinsfeld, Jason Hite, Ericka Hunter, Holly James, Brandon Kalm, Drew Moerlein, Sydney Morton, Alice Ripley, Anthony Sagaria, Keith Randolph Smith, Theo Stockman, Alex Michael Stoll, Benjamin Walker, Morgan Weed, Helene Yorke, and Neka Zang.

“American Psycho has scenic design by Es Devlin, costume design by Katrina Lindsay lighting design by Justin Townsend, sound design by Dan Moses Schreier, and video design by Finn Ross Casting is by Telsey + Company/Craig Burns, CSA. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

The regular performance schedule for “American Psycho” is: Monday, Tuesday and 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 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Wednesdays are dark (please visit www.americanpsychobroadway.com for variations to this schedule).

Tickets for “American Psycho” are priced $69.00 - $148.00 ($225.00 - $250.00 for premium seating) and are available via Telecharge.com or by phone at (212) 239-6200. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, May 26, 2016

Review: “Peer Gynt” at the Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday June 19, 2016)

Pictured - Becky Ann Baker and Gabriel Ebert. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Review: “Peer Gynt” at the Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday June 19, 2016)
By Henrik Ibsen
Directed and Adapted by John Doyle
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12:24)

One legitimate critical strategy for reading/viewing Henrik Ibsen’s epic verse play “Peer Gynt” is the mythological (sometimes referred to as the archetypal) strategy – the strategy that interprets the hopes, fears, and expectations of entire cultures. As directed and adapted by the Classic Stage Company’s John Doyle, Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” is the story of the quest of a young man who willingly descends to the underworld and ascends to heaven in search of his “self.”

In the beginning of Ibsen’s 1867 play – written during his lengthy self-imposed exile in Italy – Peer’s (played with a self-effacing vulnerability by Gabriel Ebert) mother (played with a resilient hopefulness by Becky Ann Baker) claims he should be ashamed of himself. And throughout the play, Peer is confronted with making choices that affect his self-understanding and his need for self-effacement. Ibsen’s script is heavily seasoned with allusions to Judeo-Christian texts, particularly those from the New Testament that resonate with self-discovery, repentance, and salvation. Early on, the Undertaker expresses the need to “save [Peer’s] soul.”

It is only his encounters with Solveig (played with the wisdom of innocence by Quincy Tyler Bernstine) that give him clarity, challenge him to continue to search, and – ultimately – offer him solace on his journey from home back home. Like Penelope, Solveig is patient and forgiving: “But I know that you will come in the end, And I will wait, as I promised I would. God guard you - wherever you may be. God give you joy - if you stand before Him.” She also encourages Peer to be faithful and contrite.

Peer neither finds his ‘self’ at home (initially), nor at his father’s banquet, nor during his encounter with the trolls (a wonderful archetypal image). Near the end of the play, Peer meets the Undertaker (another wonderful archetypal image). Peer asks, “One question. What does it mean: “To be one’s self?” The Undertaker (played with a haunting persistence by Adam Heller) replies, “To be one’s self is to kill one self. But that explanation’s probably wasted on you. Let’s just say: to follow - in all ways - the Master’s intention.” This is pure and powerful mythos.

Though typically - with good reason – Peer is compared to Odysseus, Don Giovanni and Faust, a more fitting and certainly subtler comparison would be with T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock or Shakespeare’s “Seven Stages of Man” from “As You Like It.” Often Peer’s journey is much like J. Alfred Prufrock’s whose words resonate deeply with Peer’s: “I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter; I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, And in short, I was afraid.” Peer “fears being a dead man before he dies.”

Rounding out the engaging cast are Jane Pfitsch as the fetching Bride, Dylan Baker as the conniving Doctor, and George Abud as the soulful Bridegroom. David L. Arsenault’s minimal set design and Jane Cox’s simple monochromatic lighting work well with this fittingly sparse production directed with an eye to detail and connection by John Doyle.

When Peer returns home and asks, “Where was my self - my true self - the Peer who bore God’s
stamp on his brow,” Solveig replies “In my faith, in my hope - in my love.” Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” restores the hope that these three things might abide and restore our wounded hearts and disillusioned selves.

PEER GYNT

The cast of “Peer Gynt” features Gabriel Ebert as Peer, George Abud, Becky Ann Baker, Dylan Baker, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Adam Heller and Jane Pfitsch. Scenic design is by David L. Arsenault, costume design by Ann Hould-Ward, lighting design by Jane Cox, and original music and sound design by Dan Moses Schreier. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Peer Gynt” performs Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $60.00 on weeknights and $65.00 on weekends and are available at www.classicstage.org or by calling (212) 352-3101 / 866-811-4111 or at the box-office at 136 East 13th Street, New York City (between Third and Fourth Avenues). Running time is 2 hours without intermission.

Pictured - Becky Ann Baker and Gabriel Ebert. Photo by Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Review: “Incognito” at Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center Stage I

Pictured (L to R): Morgan Spector, Geneva Carr, Heather Lind, and Charlie Cox. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Review: “Incognito” at Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center Stage I
By Nick Payne
Directed by Doug Hughes
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The jury remains out in the scientific community: which came first the brain or the mind? Throw into the discussion precisely where memory resides and how it is accessed and the debate becomes even more interesting and convoluted. Playwright Nick Payne focuses his interest on the brain and memory and in the American premiere of his “Incognito” – currently playing at the Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center Stage I – he raises enduring questions that challenge the status quo assumptions about both.

How much of what we experience, remember, and think is real? Are our brains passive data banks that receive, store and render up the reality we experience or do our brains process what we experience, remember, and think with some sleight of hand? In other words, can our brains “trick” us and if they can, are there ways to harness that chicanery to enrich our lives and perhaps the lives of others?

The four actors in “Incognito” double up and portray twenty characters within three interwoven stories. All of the action takes place on, on the edge of, or just beyond Scott Pask’s stark “brainscape” set. There are only four chairs on the stage. The actors remain in the same costumes – designed by Catherine Zuber – throughout and speak a variety of dialects making it necessary for the audience to remain focused and diligent throughout. However, one needs to remember that what one is seeing is hurtling out from the “brain” and is, at best, illusory and unreliable. So whether one keeps track of all of the characters in the three stories all of the time might not be important.

The three stories intertwine in episodic – not chronological – fashion and involve three functions of the brain: encoding; storing; and retrieving. These functions comprise three “scenes” in which all three stories continue in random order and without regard to the passage of time. Prior to each “scene,” the four actors engage in a stylized and well-choreographed arm and hand movements mimicking the synaptic firing in the brain. These “dances” – directed by Peter Pucci - give the audience members an opportunity to re-boot their own brain for the action to come.

In one story, pathologist Thomas Harvey (Morgan Spector) steals Albert Einstein’s brain after performing the deceased icon’s autopsy. In another, neuropsychologist Martha Murphy (Geneva Carr) experiences her first romance with another woman Patricia Thorn (Heather Lind). And in the third story, a seizure patient Henry Maison (Charlie Cox) forgets everything but how much he loves his fiancé Margaret Thomson (Heather Lind). The stories blend into one another without warning and the dialogue is rapid and overlapping.

Each of the four actors also portrays characters that are part of these stories: Thomas’ wife Eloise (Geneva Carr); Einstein’s daughter (Geneva Carr); Martha’s brother Ben (Charlie Cox); and Henry’s physician Victor Milner (Morgan Spector). And this is only ten of the twenty characters in the play!

What happens to Einstein’s brain, Thomas Harvey’s marriage, Martha and Patricia’s romance, and Henry’s memory – including his ability to remember how to play the piano – makes up the engaging ninety minutes of Mr. Payne’s important play. Each actor gives their multiple characters distinct characteristics, mannerisms, and speech patterns. This results in authentic and believable performances throughout. Doug Hughes’ direction is necessarily fast-paced and exact demanding the actors fall into and out of character with lightning speed – not as fast as the crossing of a synapse in the brain, but fast.

Ben Stanton’s lighting and David Van Tieghem’s original music and sound design add to the suspense and the overall success of the production. Kudos as well to dialect coach Stephen Gabis and fight director J. David Brimmer.

As the audience tries to keep pace with the action on stage, their individual and collective brains are processing information, deciding how to store it, and just how to make it available for retrieval. Our brains are creating new pathways as we watch – a remarkable feat. And as we leave the theatre, we will ultimately have to decide whether what we experienced was real, fiction, or perhaps pure illusion. And we will discover whether Einstein was a genius because of his brain or because “Albie worked like a dog and he treated his family like crap.” Yes, it will be a bit of a glorious bumpy ride.

INCOGNITO

The cast of “Incognito” features Geneva Carr, Charlie Cox, Heather Lind, and Morgan Spector.

The creative team for “Incognito” features Scott Pask (scenic design), Catherine Zuber (costume design), Ben Stanton (lighting design), David Van Tieghem (original music & sound design), J. David Brimmer (fight director), Peter Pucci (movement direction), and Stephen Gabis (dialect coach). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Single tickets for “Incognito” are available by calling CityTix at 212-581-1212, online by visiting www.nycitycenter.org, or by visiting New York City Center box office (131 West 55th Street). All tickets are $90. The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.

Pictured (L to R): Morgan Spector, Geneva Carr, Heather Lind, and Charlie Cox. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Review: “Hadestown” Redefines Mythos at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through July 3 2016)

Photo: Damon Daunno as Orpheus and Nabiyah Be as Eurydice in "Hadestown." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Review: “Hadestown” Redefines Mythos at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through July 3 2016)
Written by Anaïs Mitchell
Developed with and Directed by Rachel Chavkin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

With some surprise – and a modicum of disbelief – I overheard the two Millennials settling in behind me at the performance of “Hadestown” I attended at the New York Theatre Workshop sharing that they “had no idea” what the show they were there to see was about. Is it possible to reach ones 20s and 30s and not know the Orpheus and Eurydice myth? As the lights came back up following the performance, my despair transformed to hope: this remarkable and rich retelling of that myth will assuredly ignite interest in the Orpheus-Eurydice story as compellingly as “Hamilton” has renewed interest in America’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

Anaïs Mitchell’s “Hadestown” is a faithful retelling of this epic myth with a deep connection to the present and the plight of the 99 percent. Orpheus’ journey to rescue Eurydice from Hades and death, Persephone’s intervention on their behalf, and the gripping journey of the pair to the very Gates of Hell has never been more clear or more compelling.

Developed with the New York Theatre Workshop and Rachel Chavkin after the 2010 release of Anaïs Mitchell’s album of the same name, “Hadestown” retells the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice while counterpointing the tale with the reality of current political-social economics and challenges. Orpheus sings, “What we have we have to share.” Hades, on the other hand prefers building walls to keep the have nots away from those who have. Sound familiar?

The wonderful Chris Sullivan portrays Charon’s sidekick Hermes the psychopomp who narrates “Hadestown” and ushers the dead – and those who wish to rescue the dead – into and on occasion out of Hades on the train that “comes a-rollin’ clicketly clack” (not across the River Styx on a boat). His enchanting vocals reverberate through Hermes’ “Road to Hell,” “All I’ve Ever Known,” Way Down Hadestown,” and “Wait for Me.” Nabiyah Be portrays the deceased Eurydice who lands in Hades leaving her husband Orpheus pining for her above. Ms. Be’s remarkable vocal instrument brings a chilling authenticity to Ms. Mitchell’s “Wedding Song,” “All I’ve Ever Known,” “Chant I and II,” “Gone, I’m Gone,” “Flowers,” “Promises,” and “Wait for Me.”

Patrick Page (Hades) and Amber Gray (Persephone) handily bring the King and Queen of Hadestown to electrifying heights with remarkable performances and stunning vocals. Mr. Page’s range is astonishing and his low notes must be heard to be believed. Ms. Gray has a brilliant upper range that rings with the well-controlled interpretations of her songs. Standing out are their duets “Chant I” and “How Long;” Hades’ “Hey, Little Songbird,” “Why Build the Wall,” “Chant II,” and “His Kiss the Riot;” and Persephone’s “Livin’ It Up on Top,” “Way Down Hadestown,” “Chant I and II,” Our Lady of the Underground” (Entr’acte), “How Long,” and “I Raise My Cup to Him.”

The Fates Lulu Fall, Jessie Shelton, and Shaina Taub serve as a Greek Chorus as well as a stealthy superego. They weave through the action sometimes with a stark intrusion, sometimes with a gentle nudge. Their voices blend beautifully in their songs: “Any Way the Wind Blows,” When the Chips Are Down,” “Way Down Hadestown II,” Nothing Changes,” “Word to the Wise,” and the suspenseful “Doubt Comes In.”

Only the charming Damon Daunno seems to struggle with his role. His important Orpheus seems unable to match the richness and depth of the other performances. Perhaps it was the performance this critic attended but his voice seems surprisingly unsteady and occasionally pitchy. He reaches hard to be a fitting interloper in Hades and is sincere in his performance. His strong musical numbers include “Wedding Song” (with Ms. Be), “Epic I,” and “Wait for Me.”

Rachel Hauck’s set design, along with Bradley King’s lighting and Robert Kaplowitz’ sound, transform the New York Theatre Workshop’s space into a haunting Hades that beckons to the faint of heart and the weak of spirit. Ms. Mitchell’s scintillating “Hadestown” quickens the deadliness of our current political maelstrom and the social ennui it so weakly attempts to address. Like humankind’s attempts to “get it right,” “Hadestown” is “the tale of a love that never dies.” “It’s a sad song/It’s a sad tale, it’s a tragedy/It’s a sad song/But we sing it anyway” croons Hermes. One wonders how many more times we will “lift our cup” to Orpheus before we “see the world the way it could be in spite of the way it is.”

HADESTOWN

The cast of “Hadestown” features Nabiyah Be as Eurydice, Damon Daunno Orpheus, Lulu Fallas a Fate, Amber Gray as Persephone, Patrick Page as Hades, Jessie Shelton as a Fate, Chris Sullivan as Hermes, and Shaina Taub as a Fate.

The production features scenery by Rachel Hauck; costumes by Michael Krass; lighting by Jennifer Tipton; sound by Rob Kaplowitz; properites by Noah Mease; choreography by David Neumann; dramaturgy by Ken Cerniglia; music direction by Liam Robinson; arrangements and orchestrations by Michael Chorney; and co-arrangements and orchestrations and music supervision by Todd Sickafoose. “Hadestown” is co-conceived by Ben t. Matchstick. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For more information on “Hadestown,” including performance schedule and ticketing, please visit http://www.nytw.org/show/hadestown/. Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, May 23, 2016

Review: “Indecent” at the Vineyard Theatre (Extended through Sunday June 19, 2016)

Photo: Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk. Credit: Carol Rosegg
Review: “Indecent” at the Vineyard Theatre (Extended through Sunday June 19, 2016)
Written by Paula Vogel
Created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

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

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

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

Rebecca Taichman directs “Indecent” with a sensitive precision. David Dorfman’s choreography is fluid with stunning lines and fresh contemporary movement. Emily Rebholz’s “dust to dust” costumes are intriguing and perfectly matched to the period. Both Christoper Akerlind’s lighting and Matt Hubbs’ sound are exquisite and create emotion-laden “pictures” that are as stunning as they are life-changing. With the assistance of “Stage Manager” Lemml (played with a self-effacing charm by Richard Topol), Tal Yarden’s projections guide the audience through language shifts, and shifts in time with ease.

Music and performances by Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva provide an essential emotional thread to “Indecent’s” important story.

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

INDECENT

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

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

Performances of “Indecent” have been extended through Sunday June 19, 2016 at the Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street. For more information, please call the box office at (212) 353-0303 or visit www.vineyardtheatre.org. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, May 23, 2016

Review: “Waitress” Satisfies the Senses at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre

Photo: Jessie Mueller (Jenna) in "Waitress." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Review: “Waitress” Satisfies the Senses at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre
Book by Jessie Nelson
Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles (Based on the Motion Picture Written by Adrienne Shelly)
Directed by Diane Paulus
Reviewed by Michele Willens
Theatre Reviews Limited

You will be forgiven if you walk into the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and wonder if you have mistakenly ended up at the neighborhood diner. Yes, that is the aroma of warm cinnamon tickling your nose. And yes, it turns out to be a pretty apt metaphor for the show you are about to see. “Waitress,” after all, mostly takes place inside a small town eatery, where the main character not only serves customers, but also bakes daily concoctions with names like Blueberry Bacon, Get Out of the Mud Pie, and Pursuit of Happiness.

Not that the musical, with book by Jessie Nelson and music by Sara Bareilles, is necessarily your grandma’s apple pie. This one has just enough spice to make it feel simultaneously nostalgic and contemporary. There is, after all, an abusive husband, an unwanted pregnancy, multiple affairs, and an ultimate sense of female empowerment.

Let’s start with the women thing, as even the story behind the story matters. “Waitress” was originally a lovely indie film starring Keri Russell. It was written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, who was tragically murdered shortly before the movie was released in 2007. This adaptation has been years in the making, (Notice I did not say “baking”) though it really got going when Jessie Mueller left her Tony-winning role as Carole King to take on the lead here. That was seen by some as a risky move - how many movies have been successfully transferred to stage musicals, after all? (“Hairspray” comes to mind, but then?)

It turned out that Mueller’s instincts are as sharp as her talent. This one has been selling tickets from previews to opening and beyond, and Mueller has once again been nominated for the Tony. She won’t win this time, but she delivers an endearing and accomplished performance.

She is Jenna, a pie-making waitress unhappily married to the dangerous Earl, a thankless part bravely portrayed by Nick Cordero. The more memorable characters are Jenna’s co-workers, Dawn and Becky, played, respectively by Kimiko Glenn and Keala Settle. The actresses are funny and touching in what could easily have been cartoon types.

The love interest is the new doctor in town, who supervises Jenna’s pregnancy and falls immediately in lust. He is charmingly/goofily played by Drew Gehling. There is chemistry and physicality here that manages to be both frisky and humorous. (Who knew “it’s deep-dish non-stick” could sound sexy?) Their first encounter spurs the witty song “A Pretty Good Bad Idea.”

The show is in female hands: direction by Diane Paulus, choreography by Lorin Latarro, the spoken words by screenwriter Jessie Nelson, and music and lyrics by five-time Grammy nominated singer and songwriter Sara Bareilles. This is primarily a pop score, not the usual sounds of Broadway, which makes it a perfect fit for Mueller, coming out of the tapestry of Carole King. The songs are generally lovely and fitting, and I have to say my favorite is “Take It from An Old Man,” sung by the lovably-curmudgeonly owner of the diner.

As for the drama of the show, there isn’t much. We wait to see if Jenna will give birth, if she and the good doctor will leave their spouses and run off together, if Jenna will enter and win a pie making contest, and so on. This is not a challenging night at the theatre but neither does it match the sugary stuff filling Jenna’s goodies. The audiences are, pardon the expression, eating it up. As you are encouraged to do, by the way, with a nightly choice of three freshly made tarts. I went with the Key Lime and felt perfectly satisfied. Which is pretty much how you are likely to feel after seeing “Waitress.”

WAITRESS

“Waitress” is a presentation by Barry and Fran Weissler, and Norton and Elayne Herrick, with David I. Berley, Independent Presenters Network, A.C. Orange International, Peter May, Michael Roiff, Ken Schur, Marisa Sechrest, Jam Theatricals, 42nd club / Square 1 Theaters, Benjamin Simpson and Joseph Longthorne / Shira Friedman, and the American Repertory Theater.

“Waitress” is directed by Diane Paulus. Choreographed by Lorin Latarro. Sets, Scott Pask; costumes, Suttirat Anne Larlarb; lighting, Christopher Akerlind; sound, Jonathan Deans; wigs & makeup, Rachel Padula Shufelt & Jason Allen; orchestrations, Sara Bareilles & the Waitress Band; music supervision & arrangements, Nadia DiGiallonardo; production stage manager, Thomas J. Gates. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

With: Jessie Mueller, Keala Settle, Kimiko Glenn, Drew Gehling, NiickCordero, Dakin Matthews, Eric Anderson, and Christopher Fitzgerald.

For more information, including performance times and ticketing, please visit http://waitressthemusical.com/index.php. Running time 2 hours and 35 minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, May 21, 2016

Review: “The Place We Built” at the Flea Theater (Through Monday May 30, 2016

Photo: Cast of "The Place We Built" Credit: Hunter Canninng
Review: “The Place We Built” at the Flea Theater (Through Monday May 30, 2016)
Written by Sarah Gancher
Directed by Danya Taymor
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I like being able to define my species. And so I guess for the Seagull I don’t know anything, I’m an outside observer, but I think They found the beauty in being outside They made a place where they could define themselves.” Aisha/Nar

The thirty-something Jewish Bohemians in “The Place We Built,” currently running at the Flea Theater, who in 2001 established the Seagull (based on the true story of the Siraly) as a safe haven in Budapest gather in 2013 to decide whether they will – as ordered by the police – vacate their safe house or take a stand and hold up in the Seagull. Maria (Sonia Mena) announces to those assembled they have only 38 hours to make their decision – the decision that will change their lives forever. Do they take a stand or move on? These are the enduring and essential questions raised by Sarah Gancher in the world premiere of her high-energy, politically relevant play.

Ms. Gancher uses interviews (characters interviewing others and themselves) and flashbacks to establish exposition and to develop her characters. While these conventions clearly establish the political history of Budapest and the significant struggle of Jewish citizens to secure safety and acceptance, neither the interviews nor the multitude of flashbacks successfully develop the play’s characters as they define themselves in 2001 or in 2013 when the Seagull is shuttered “until further notice, maybe permanently.” Unfortunately, the firebrand Zoltan (Ash McNair) and his band of protestors remain shallow and flat making it difficult to care for them or for the important decisions they have to make.

The cast of “The Place We Built” is uniformly competent and compelling. Danya Taymor’s direction is uneven and often leaves the cast swarming across the stage to a form a mosh pit. Arnulfo Maldonado’s set is cleverly squeezed into the Flea’s small playing space and works quite well although part of the set requires a third of the audience to twist around if it wants to see the action or face forward and listen in only.

The strength of “The Place We Built” lies in its theme of resistance and transformation. Zoltan’s description of the zeal of the young people who gather at the closing and dismantling of the Seagull is chilling and haunting. Near the end of the play, Julia (Cleo Gray) confesses to Zoltan, “And I know the world is complicated. Everything is s**t. I don’t care. We have to keep trying. Things can change. I am changing.”

It is this youthful penchant for chasing hope that makes “The Place We Built” engaging and relevant and worth the visit.

THE PLACE WE BUILT

“The Place We Built” features The Bats: Brittany K. Allen, Lydian Blossom, Tom Costello, Brendan Dalton, Tamara Del Rosso, Philip Feldman, Kristin Friedlander, Cleo Gray, Rachel Ingram, Ben Lorenz, Ash McNair, Sonia Mena, Isabelle Pierre, Xavier Reminick, Leta Renée-Alan, and Tessa Hope Slovis.

The creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (scenic design), Masha Tsimring (lighting design), Claudia Brown (costume design), Ben Truppin-Brown (sound design), Alex J. Gould (fight choreography), Zach Serafin (props master), Jocelyn Clarke (dramaturg), Charise Greene (dialect coach), Jake Beckhard (assistant director), and Tzipora Reman (stage management). Music direction and arrangements by The Bengsons. Production photos by Hunter Canning.

Performances run April 14 - May 30 at The Flea (41 White Street between Church and Broadway, three blocks south of Canal in Tribeca). For more information, including performance times and ticket process, please visit http://www.theflea.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes plus intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, May 19, 2016

Preview: The New Group Announces 2016-2017 Season

Preview: The New Group Announces 2016-2017 Season
Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The New Group has announced four productions for its 2016-2017 Season. The company’s new season begins in Fall 2016 with the musical “Sweet Charity,” with choreography by Joshua Bergasse, directed by Leigh Silverman and featuring two-time Tony Award winner Sutton Foster in the title role. The New Group’s season continues in January 2017 with the U.S. premiere of Wallace Shawn’s “Evening at the Talk House,” directed by Scott Elliott; followed by the world premiere of “All the Fine Boys,” a new play from writer and director Erica Schmidt. In Spring 2017, The New Group presents the world premiere of “The Whirligig,” by Hamish Linklater, directed by Scott Elliott, featuring Zosia Mamet and Golden Globe winner Maura Tierney.

Productions in The New Group’s 2016-2017 Season take place at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street.

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).

Fall 2016:
“Sweet Charity.” Book by Neil Simon; Music by Cy Coleman; Lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Choreography by Joshua Bergasse. Directed by Leigh Silverman. Featuring Sutton Foster in the title role. Additional casting to be announced. Previews begin November 2016 in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (480 West 42nd Street).

Timed to the 50th Anniversary of the classic musical Sweet Charity, this production stars two-time Tony Award winner Sutton Foster (“Younger,” ‘Violet,” “Anything Goes”) as Charity Hope Valentine, the sassy, diehard romantic dancehall hostess whose naivety and overeager embrace of every man she meets keeps getting her in hot water. Performed in an intimate setting with original choreography by Joshua Bergasse (“On the Town”), this production of “Sweet Charity” will be given a fresh, modern perspective by director Leigh Silverman (“Violet,” “Well”).

“Sweet Charity” is presented by The New Group in association with Kevin McCollum.

“Sweet Charity” premiered January 29, 1966 at the Palace Theatre; it was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning one for Bob Fosse's choreography. The film adaptation, directed by Fosse, premiered in 1969; it was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Music, Score of a Musical Picture (Original or Adaptation). A Broadway revival opened at the Minskoff Theatre on April 27, 1986; it won four Tony Awards, including Best Revival. The 2005 Broadway revival opened at the Al Hirschfield Theatre on May 4 of that year; it was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. A London revival opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory on November 21, 2009 before opening at the West End's Haymarket Theatre on May 4, 2010; it received three Olivier nominations, including Best Musical Revival. The most recent major revival took place in 2014 in Sydney, Australia, as the first production of the Hayes Theatre Co.; this critically-acclaimed production transferred to Playhouse in the Sydney Opera House, where it opened January 15, 2015.

“Sweet Charity” is based on an original screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Plaiano. Originally produced for the Broadway stage by Fryer, Carr and Harris. Conceived, Staged and Choreographed by Bob Fosse.

Winter 2017:
“Evening at the Talk House” by Wallace Shawn. Directed by Scott Elliott. Casting to be announced. Previews begin January 2017 in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (480 West 42nd Street).

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of a flop play, the playwright joins the old gang to reminisce at their former haunt, The Talk House. Most haven’t been there, or even seen each other, in years, and the gossip and nostalgia are mixed with questions and accusations. Why does a washed-up old actor keep getting beaten up by his friends? Where does a failed actress-turned-waitress disappear to for months at a time? Wallace Shawn’s “Evening at the Talk House” is a biting, yet affectionate skewering of artists grasping to find their place in a world in which art has no currency and terror has become an accepted part of life. Scott Elliott directs.

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.

Winter 2017:
“All the Fine Boys” written and directed by Erica Schmidt. Casting to be announced. World Premiere production begins previews February 2017 in the Ford Foundation Studio Theatre (480 West 42nd Street).

It’s suburban South Carolina in the late '80s and fourteen year-old best friends Jenny and Emily are ready to make their first serious attempts with boys. Emily chooses her senior crush from the high school play, and Jenny a man she’s seen at her family’s church. With parallel stories that take tricky and terrifying turns, “All the Fine Boys” dives deep into the fascinations and fears of sexual awakening and the first painful gasps of maturity.

Spring 2017:
“The Whirligig” by Hamish Linklater. Directed by Scott Elliott. Featuring Zosia Mamet and Maura Tierney. Additional casting to be announced. World Premiere production begins previews May 2017 in The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (480 West 42nd Street).

When, after much time away, Kristina (Maura Tierney) is back in Berkshire County, word spreads fast that she and her ex-husband are caring for their estranged, ailing daughter Julie. Broken-hearted and giddy with love and confusion, surprising visitors from Julie's complicated past, including her childhood best friend Trish (Zosia Mamet) and her former drug dealer, practically trip over each other to reach the young woman they thought they'd lost years before but still feel so deeply connected to. Heartfelt and compassionate, Hamish Linklater’s “The Whirligig” spins a tale of a fractured community weaving a circuitous route back to one another. Scott Elliott directs.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Review: “Toast” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday May 22, 2016)

Photo: Matthew Kelly in "Toast. Credit: Oliver King.
Review: “Toast” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday May 22, 2016)
By Richard Bean
Directed by Eleanor Rhode
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Brits Off-Broadway Series, Richard Bean’s 1999 “Toast” slices its way through layers of delicious intrigue to a tasty core of surprises that make the journey more than worthwhile. This is drawing room farce sans the drawing room. The swinging doors here connect the unseen bakery to the break room where the soon-to-close bakery’s crusty employees vie for attention, power, and survival.

It’s a Sunday at the bakery and Blakey (played with a soulful steely interior by Steve Nicolson) is in charge of the shift. He calls Mr. Beckett his boss to report he’s a man short and to confirm Beckett has written a letter of recommendation. In a subsequent call from Beckett, Blakey learns he and his crew need to increase their production by three thousand for another bakery. This puts the bakery in production overdrive and throws the dynamics of the group of workers into a state of psychosocial exhaustion.

Mr. Beckett sends a student to cover for the missing worker and it is the addition of Lance (played with a devilish charm by John Wark) that ultimately challenges the family system of the six workers and drives the fascinating plot of Mr. Bean’s play. It is difficult to say much about Lance other than he is a bit creepy and cherishes any time he has alone with one of the workers. And he wears a red shirt. A malfunction in the oven creates the crisis in “Toast” and the resolution comes in discovering the culprit who caused the malfunction and what motivates him. Indeed, the play centers on motivation and it is the motivation of each character that brings depth and roundness to each.

Each member of the ensemble cast delivers an authentic and believable performance. Matthew Kelly is a lumbering about-to-retire Nellie who almost gets the blame for the jammed tin that shuts down the oven. Will Barton plays the combative Colin who does little to un-jam the oven. Simon Greenall is the feisty and funny Cecil whose appears to be the moral glue for the team of bakers. Kieran Knowles provides a dizzy Dezzie who cannot remember his new address and writes his phone number on his bike helmet. Matt Sutton’s scrappy Peter volunteers to fix the oven and articulates the importance of having a job and an income.

Eleanor Rhode directs “Toast” with a keen eye for the visual and wastes no movement or pause. Designer James Turner and lighting designer Mike Robertson create a bakery with gritty realism and Holly Rose Henshaw’s costumes and Max Pappenheim’s sound bring that realism to a resounding pitch of perfection. Mr. Bean – as he always manages to accomplish – creates order out of chaos and raises enduring questions from the detritus in an overflowing bin of used teabags.

TOAST

Olivier Award­winner Matthew Kelly leads the cast as Nellie. He is joined by Simon Greenall, Steve Nicolson, Will Barton, Kieran Knowles, Matt Sutton, and John Wark.

The design team includes James Turner (set design); Mike Robertson (lighting design); Max Pappenheim (composition and sound design); and Holly Rose Henshaw (costume design).

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 $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-­4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Review: “Kentucky” at Ensemble Studio Theatre (Through Sunday May 22, 2016)

Photo: Satomi Blair and Sasha Diamond in "Kentucky." Credit Jody Christopherson.
Review: “Kentucky” at Ensemble Studio Theatre (Through Sunday May 22, 2016)
Written by Leah Nanako Winkler
Directed by Morgan Gould
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Armed with the promise of her therapist’s willingness to offer phone support and clutching a bottle of sedatives from the same therapist, Hiro (played with a steely vulnerability by Satomi Blair) flies from New York to Kentucky to convince her younger sister Sophie (played with a charming but confident core by Sasha Diamond) not to marry Da’Ran (played with exquisite charm and panache by Ronald Alexander Peet) the born-again Christian man she has been dating for only six months. Hiro’s journey back to the home where she was verbally abused by her father James (played with an oddly likable scrappiness by Jay Patterson) is the tragi-comic tale in Leah Nanako Winkler’s “Kentucky” currently running at Ensemble Studio Theatre and jointly produced with Page 73.

This is an epic journey for Hiro, an attempt not only to “save” her sister but to seek closure in her struggle to finalize her separation and individuation from a dysfunctional and often abusive family. Rescuing her sister will somehow complete her process of healing and redemption. Ms. Blair and the brilliant ensemble cast of “Kentucky” bring Hiro’s quest to a level of believability and authenticity while managing to allow the playwright’s humor and magical realism to counterpoint the dramatic arc of the story.

“Kentucky” successfully raises a series of important enduring questions. What is home and how does one know when one is home? How does one know he or she was loved as a child? What constitutes parental love? Is it possible for individuals with vastly different value systems to understand and accept one another? Does unconditional and non-judgmental love overcome the obstacles evident in cultural differences?

Perhaps most importantly, Hiro’s journey highlights the important issues being raised in the current Presidential Primary Election process. America’s population is widely different and often unyielding in accepting differences in ideology, culture, and religion. “Kentucky” places these issues in a framework accessible to a diverse audience and explores the possibility of mutual understanding and pervasive acceptance. Near the end of the play, Adam (Alex Grubbs) shares this: “While people like me. We are inevitably, fleeting seeking solace and reaching - fleshing ourselves out always looking into mirrors staring at her own eyes and wondering if we are losing in some ways and winning in others.”

Ms. Winkler manages to raise these questions in a morally ambiguous way. Her script makes no judgement but allows the audience member to grapple with the questions and decide what is “right” or “wrong” or if those categories are even relevant. For example, just when the audience is convinced of Hiro’s father’s total depravity, James (Jay Patterson) displays an unexpected and honest vulnerability. When the audience decides Adam (played with a scintillating and deep charm by Alex Grubbs), the character displays a rich understanding of love and relationship. When Hiro’s mother Masako (played with layered sadness by Ako) seems beyond healing, the character is able to express a deep love for her prodigal daughter.

When one of Hiro’s childhood friends Laura (played with a fragile fortitude by Emily Kunkel) takes a chance on love with Adam, she makes him an offer: “If things don’t work out with Hiro, which it won’t, call me. I make a succulent Derby Pie that’s so rich with sweetness that it’ll heal any sick heart wound and make you keep rippin’ into every part for thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, eighths, ninths, tenths and so on and so on and so on and so on.” Ms. Winkler’s play is much like that pie. Its sweetness is in its parts, its slices. Each scene heals the sick heart wound of a nation seeking redemption and release.

But “Kentucky” resonates with the sweet bitterness of honesty. All is not well that ends well. Relationships remain fractured. Hiro invites her best childhood friend Nicole (played with a layered and deep sadness by Megan Hill) to visit in New York City but never really keeps in touch with Nicole whose final monologue is among the most powerful in the play: “I said okay. But I didn’t mean it. And I stayed here in Kentucky. I stayed here forever Hiro. And I got cancer. And I died. And you didn’t come to my funeral. And you thought about all the memories we had together. And you lit a candle for me. From your tiny room in your crammed apartment. And you wondered if the only thing that I had in life - the closeness to people that I had here. To my blind mother. To the closeness you and I once had-was missing from your own. And you went to bed. And you don’t think about me that much mostly.”
Perhaps the most enduring of “Kentucky’s” questions is whether or not we can survive as a nation if we fail to even think of one another in any significant way.

KENTUCKY

“Kentucky” features Ako, Satomi Blair, Mikumari Caiyhe, Curran Connor, Merissa Czyz, Sasha Diamond, Lynnette R. Freeman, Alex Grubbs, Marcia Haufrecht, Emily Kunkel, Jay Patterson, Ronald Alexander Peet, Samantha Sembler, Shannon Tyo, and Amir Wachterman as Sylvie.

“Kentucky” features scenic design by Nick Francone, costume design by Suzanne Chesney, lighting design by Ryan Seelig, sound design by Shane Rettig, choreography by Katie Spelman, and musical direction by Sariva Goetz. Joe Lankheet serves as production manager, and production stage manager is Eileen Lalley. Production photos by Jody Christopherson.

For complete production information, including performance schedule and ticket information, please visit http://www.ensemblestudiotheatre.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: “The Sensuality Party” at the New Group at Baruch College (Closed Friday May 13, 2016)

Pictured: Jake Horowitz, right, in Justin Kuritzkes’ “The Sensuality Party.” Photo credit: Hunter Canning.
Review: “The Sensuality Party” at the New Group at Baruch College (Closed Friday May 13, 2016)
By Justin Kuritzkes
Directed by Danya Taymor
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The main issue with playwright Justin Kuritzkes’ new work “The Sensuality Party” is that it seriously lacks sensuality and it certainly is no party. In fact, perhaps the young author needs to get out more, see a few things, interact and experience what might be happening since the earlier sexual revolution that he (through Speaker’s words) actually claims to not understand. If the “F” word is severely overused in this script for shock value, then New Yorkers experience free shock treatment while walking down the street every day. We have all been desensitized to vulgar language long ago. A mantra of the sixties was “relax, it’s just vibrations of the vocal chords.” Mr. Kuritzkes’ script comes off as bad porn, neither relevant, ground breaking, nor sensual. The writing is less than imaginative. The presentation is more storytelling than actual events and lacks any dramatic arc or character development. In this case, anyone could be telling the story or reciting a memory play. Possibly a better option would have been giving each patron headsets and a private room where they could listen so they could react in any self-serving way they chose.

What the performance I attended accomplished was to thoroughly disengage theatergoers from the material. I watched several restless audience members staring at watches, sleeping, plugging their ears with their fingers, texting, and even reading from their I phones. Those attempting to involve themselves could be seen stretching their necks to get a glimpse of the actor speaking only to be disappointed and disinterested a minute later, owing to the fact that there was really nothing to see. An uncomfortable forced laughter could be intermittently heard as the audience nervously tried to retrieve some kind of humor from the pretentious script.

If theater as we know it is a collaboration of different theatrical skills to produce the finished dramatic product, then the importance of scenic, sound and lighting design as well as other theatrical elements should not be eliminated - especially when a script cannot stand on its own merit. This is not a site specific production by any stretch of the imagination. Any descriptive action takes place in a dorm room or in the actor’s mind.

If the point of the playwright is to examine and show how desensitized his present generation might be, it is certainly redundant. All one has to do is walk down the street, watch how members of that generation behave in coffee shops, see how they seem incapable of connecting other than texting, add a hefty dose of narcissism, bad manners, and a diffused system of values and there you have it. You don’t need a sensuality party to realize how cold, self-indulgent, indifferent and out of touch much of the Millennial generation appears to be. Simply put this play is 95 minutes too long.

THE SENSUALITY PARTY

The Sensuality Party features Catherine Combs, Jeff Cuttler, Katherine Folk-Sullivan, Jake Horowitz, Layla Khoshnoudi, and Rowan Vickers. This production includes Costume Design by Beth Goldenberg. Production photos by Hunter Canning.

“The Sensuality Party” closed with the Friday May 13 performance reviewed above. For more information on The New Group and “The Sensuality Party” please visit http://www.thenewgroup.org. Running time 1 hour 35 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: “A Better Place” at The Duke On 42nd Street (Through Saturday June 11, 2016)

John Fitzgibbon and Rob Maitner star in Wendy Beckett's A Better Place, directed by Evan Bergman, for the Directors Company at the Duke on 42nd Street.
Review: “A Better Place” at The Duke On 42nd Street (Through Saturday June 11, 2016)
By Wendy Beckett
Directed by Evan Bergman
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The current offering from The Director’s Company is a world premiere penned by Australian playwright Wendy Beckett entitled “A Better Place.” It turns out to be an urban synonym for the old suburban aphorism “the grass is always greener.” Only in this case, rather than a healthier lawn, it is a larger apartment in a luxury high rise in Manhattan. This script manages to successfully identify the basic human nature in today’s society that one is never satisfied with what they have or where they are. They always want to be in “a better place.” Unfortunately, this particular journey to get there is long, slow and predictable, offering no new insight and executed by stereotypical characters that are one dimensional. Direction by Evan Bergman seems forced at times, dealing with repetitive situations and trying to utilize dead space in empty apartments when the action is happening across the way. The scenic design of dual apartments across the street from each other by David L. Arsenault is beautifully created and spot on but, by no fault of his own, it actually overpowers the production.

The metaphor is blatant as the plot unfolds that unless you as a person are not in a good place moving to a bigger and better apartment will not change anything. The other problem that exists is the reality of some of the situations that try to drive the action forward. Very few people living in a rent controlled, doorman building in Manhattan would ever want to leave. There really is no better place. The $96,000-dollar windfall would not even cover the deposit on a closet in Manhattan, let alone leave anything to cover maintenance, taxes and insurance. The best you could hope for would be a new wardrobe, a few dinners with a Broadway show and a nice vacation. After almost all is resolved the slacker daughter is able to find a job and afford her own apartment after mom and dad sell and retire to Florida. It should all be that easy. All that said the dialogue does not move the plot or define the characters. Who cares if anyone ends up in a better place!

The cast does what they can to entertain, usually relying on forced comedic situations but there are too many obstacles to overcome so they succumb to stereotypes to produce humor. New York is a city filled with a tapestry of unique, very interesting people not concerned with suburban ideals. There are too many other opportunities and distractions. If this “better place” were located somewhere other than Manhattan perhaps it might be a bit more palatable. It just falls short of capturing a NYC state of mind.

A BETTER PLACE

The cast of A Better Place features Jessica DiGiovanni, John FitzGibbon, Judith Hawking, Edward James Hyland, Rob Maitner, and Michael Satow. The creative team includes David Arsenault (scenic design), Russell H. Champa (lighting design), Valerie Marcus Ramshur (costume design), and Sam Kunetz (sound design). Production photos by Jenny Anderson.

“A Better Place” will play Tuesdays-Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., with matinees on Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for all performances are $55.00 and are now on sale at www.dukeon42.org, by calling 646-223-3010, and in person at the Duke on 42nd Street box office (229 West 42nd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues). The running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Butterfly at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday May 14, 2016)

Photo L-R: Naomi Livingstone, Ramesh Meyyappan and Chris Alexander in "Butterfly," part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Review: Butterfly at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday May 14, 2016)
Adapted from John Luther Long’s Short Story Madame Butterfly
Adapted and Directed by Ramesh Meyyappan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The only barrier between immersing oneself in Ramesh Meyyappan’s brilliant “Butterfly” is attempting to connect the wordless well-choreographed “dance” of love, betrayal, and redemption with its namesake “Madame Butterfly” or with the interesting connections to the lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov. One needs to grapple with the piece itself and accept it as a unique piece of experimental theatre replete with stunning imagery and engaging music by David Paul Jones.

Naomi Livingstone is the protagonist Butterfly who constructs kites and sells them from her shop. When the Customer (played with sinister overtones by Chris Alexander) pushes his interest in kites to interest in their maker too far, Butterfly rejects his advances and he eventually returns and assaults her sexually. Nabokov (played with a naïve cunning by Ramesh Meyyappan) offers Butterfly an avenue of escape in collecting butterflies – a trope that easily connects with his interest in Butterfly herself and her journey to self-discovery and self-fulfillment. Butterfly’s engagement with the two men (are they one and the same perhaps?) is told with stylized movement, imaginative puppetry, and stark dream sequences that take the audience deep into Butterfly’s non-conscious reflections on love and motherhood. What is real and what is not keeps the piece interesting and Mr. Meyyappan’s direction keeps the piece moving and accessible.

Played without words, “Butterfly” depends heavily on symbolism and the ability of the actors to portray emotion successfully with only facial and body expressions. Mr. Meyyappan, Ms. Livingstone, and Mr. Alexander successfully navigate this terrain and deliver authentic and compelling performances. They bring kite-flying, butterflies, and Butterfly’s child to stunning realism – thanks to the brilliant craft of puppet maker Gavin Glover. Kudos to Ms. Livingstone whose emotional range is stunning and breathtaking.

Butterfly’s loss of love (Nabokov appears, disappears, and reappears with a knapsack on his back) and the ways she sustains herself until love reappears or reimagines makes for a wonderful story. There are two more opportunities to see “Butterfly” at 59E59 Theaters and the effort to see one of those performances is well worth the effort.

BUTTERFLY

“Butterfly” features Chris Alexander, Naomi Livingstone, and Ramesh Meyyappan. The design team includes Neil Warmington (set and costume design) and Kate Bonney (lighting design). The choreographer is Darren Brownlie. The production stage manager is Cressa Amundsen. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

The remaining performances are on Saturday May 14 at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 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 visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 60 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 13, 2016

Review: “You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase” at Theatre 167 at the West End Theatre

Review: “You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase” at Theatre 167 at the West End Theatre
By Mando Alvarado, Jenny Lyn Bader, Barbara Cassidy, Les Hunter, Joy Tomasko, Gary Winter, and Stefanie Zadravec
Conceived and Directed by Ari Laura Kreith
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase” is a modern day folktale, comprised of 21 scenes, with contributions from seven different playwrights, with an objective to meld a multiplicity of styles into one voice. It goes hand in hand with the mission of the producing company, Theatre 167, to create, cultivate and support new works by artists of wide ranging backgrounds traditions and beliefs. Their name refers to the 167 languages spoken in the community in which they were born, depicted in this magical and mystical tale, as Enchanted Jackson Heights.

Right from the start, as the audience is pleasantly serenaded by a street musician playing guitar and singing in different languages, you become aware of the first obstacle this production must overcome; namely, the inferior acoustics of the space. Sound drifts in and out depending on vocal direction and projection. This combined with the heavy accents afforded by the actors in order to elaborate the different cultures, the speed at which dialogue was delivered and poor projection, made it difficult at times to understand the actors.

There is really nothing wrong with the story. It is a simple, charming parable to express hope, the power of dreams, the importance of trust and the significance of unconditional acceptance and love. Add a spark of mysticism and magic realism and it becomes entertainment that can please a diverse and multi- generational audience. But in order for this to happen on stage the crucial element is a good storyteller, and that is where the second problem comes into play. As told in this production, it becomes a series of fragmented fairy tales, with difficulty in connecting scenes with fluidity and cohesiveness. Perhaps the lost preshow balladeer could have become the connective tissue needed to guide the audience through this complicated journey, if even with just his strolling guitar music weaving transitions more tightly.

The admirable but uneven cast exhibits an earnest attempt but falls short of attaining their goal. Some of this may be attributed to the direction which seems to be sporadic. It is a special type of fairy tale where real people integrate with fantasized events, and must be handled very delicately. The actors succumb to too many stereotypes, at times almost caricatures and the aforementioned heavy accents almost contribute to that problem. The heavy handedness also delineates the characters as being too familiar in the genre, whereas more original depictions would lend themselves to the inspired story.
I applaud Theatre 167 for their integrity and mission. I revere the cast for their dedication, perseverance, and craft. Go and experience this current production and support part of the rich theater scene we are so fortunate to have in this great city.

YOU ARE NOW THE OWNER OF THIS SUITCASE

“You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase” features Mariana Cardenas, Tori Ernst, Nathaniel Gotbaum, John D. Haggerty, Kevis Hillocks, Michael Markham, Elodie Morss, Mauricio Pita, and Derick James Sherrier. Set design is by Jen Price Fick; lighting by Jason Fok; costumes by Jessa-Raye Court; projections by Arthur Vincie and sound by Andy Evan Cohen.

“You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase” is performed through May 1 at the West End Theatre at the Church of Saint Paul and St. Andrew (263 W 86th Street b/w West End Ave. and Broadway). Take the 1 train to the 86th Street stop. Full price tickets are $18.00 and $16.00 for students and seniors. For performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit www.theatre167.org. Running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, April 11, 2016

Review: “The Father” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

Pictured (L-R): Frank Langella and Kathryn Erbe. Credit Joan Marcus.
By Florian Zeller, and Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Doug Hughes
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz – Between the light – and me – And then the Windows failed – and then I could not see to see.” (Emily Dickenson, “I heard a Fly buzz” – No. 465)
Anne (Kathryn Erbe) was “scared of [her father André] when [she] was little.” In the present – as he battles his advanced Alzheimer’s – André is more childlike, requesting Anne sing him to sleep with a lullaby. “The Father,” currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is playwright Florian Zeller’s seductive chronicle of the decline of a father deteriorating from Alzheimer’s and his daughter’s attempts to cope with his decline and with her overwhelming sense of loss and despair.

Unable to care for himself, and having threatened his caregiver Isabelle with a curtain rod, André (Frank Langella) moves into Anne’s flat with her husband Pierre (Brian Avers). In a series of sharply focused scenes, the seriousness of André’s condition becomes clear. He is not only forgetful, he is delusional, he experiences hallucinations, and he is beset with paranoia. Although he is able to be “charming” when he meets his new caregiver Laura (Hannah Cabell), his debilitating condition – which he denies – continues to weaken him and render him even more helpless. He confuses past and present, confuses the identity of the people around him, and withdraws further into an abyss of melancholy and loneliness. The scenes are separated by total blackouts and bright flashing lights surrounding the proscenium. This lighting design by Donald Holder mimics the brain’s electrical impulses firing and misfiring, seeking patterns of normalcy and healing and surcease from suffering – neurotransmitters that fail to fully cooperate or simply fail altogether.

Under Doug Hughes’ exacting and brilliant direction, the ensemble cast successfully creates a pantheon of characters that, depending on one’s point of view, are real or unreal. Their interaction with André is often disturbing and one wonders for instance whether the disturbing scene with the Man (Charles Borland) abusing André is purely delusional or whether it is reminiscent of some actual elder abuse by a caregiver or even by Anne or Pierre. Mr. Borland and Kathleen McNenny (the Woman) appear in scenes as – in André’s mind –Pierre and Anne. Kathryn Erbe captivates the audience in her performance as Anne, flawlessly transmuting the love of a daughter to and from the despair and anger of a frustrated primary giver of care. And Brian Avers balances his character Pierre’s respect for André with his impatience at his longevity and languorous presence.

Frank Langella’s performance as André is mesmerizing. He slowly peels away the layers of an insidious disease with a remarkable tenderness and vulnerability. He is the perfect choice for this role and one wonders if anyone could portray André with the same authenticity and believability. He balances humor with pathos in uncanny ways that challenge the audience to wonder whether their laughter is appropriate or unsuitable. Is it really funny, for example, that a distinguished older man who has always lived with dignity, forgets he was an engineer and convinces his new caregiver he was a tap dancer?

André’s missing watch is the perfect metaphor for the delusional behavior and the paranoia present in individuals with Alzheimer’s. Playwright Florian Zeller focuses the symptomology of André’s advanced dementia on his watch. When he cannot find it, André admonishes Anne’s disbelief with, “What do you mean, "no, it hasn't"? The watch must be somewhere! It can't have flown away! So why do you say "no, it hasn't"? Why do you say that, when it very well might have been stolen? My watch.”

Scott Pask’s stunning Parisian flat set doubles as an equally stunning trope for the disintegration of André’s memory and mind. Aided by illusion consultant Jim Steinmeyer, Mr. Pask creates a striking set which slowly morphs from a beautifully decorated flat with a high end kitchen and tasteful furnishings into a bare hospital room with only a bed. Catherine Zuber’s costumes and Fitz Patton’s original music and sound complement the set design with tasteful perfection.

One should not ignore Florian Zeller’s subtitle for “The Father.” The playwright identifies it as a tragic farce, a theatrical genre somewhat specific to a “new generation” of French playwrights akin to Beckett and Ianesco but who move beyond the confines of Absurdism and Existentialism to an "age of interpellation" that “reflects a larger trend in French literature in general, known as auto-fiction – a fiction whose creation is based on ‘facts’ and that serves as a conduit into the subconscious.” (Scott D. Taylor, “French Tragic Farce in an Age of Interpellation,” from “Modern Drama, Volume 51, Number 2, Summer 2008). Christopher Hampton’s translation of Mr. Zeller’s script handily plunges into the subconscious.

In “The Father” – as in the play’s pairing “The Mother” – Mr. Zeller constructs a fascinating puzzle for the audience to decipher. Solving the puzzle requires the audience to understand “The Father” is a point-of-view play. Mr. Zeller successfully provides the audience with a variety of points-of-view: André’s, his daughter Anne’s, and her husband Pierre’s (“or something along that line” as André describes Pierre). The audience leaves the theatre wondering which point of view might have been most accurate. The audience also exits the theatre with a new understanding of a disease where the familiar becomes unfamiliar, friends become enemies, and the worst nightmare possible becomes reality.

THE FATHER

The cast of “The Father” includes Brian Avers, Charles Borland, Hannah Cabell, Kathryn Erbe, Frank Langella, and Kathleen McNenny.

The creative team for “The Father” includes: Scott Pask (scenic design), Catherine Zuber (costume design), Donald Holder (lighting design), Fitz Patton (original music and sound design), and Jim Steinmeyer (illusion consultant). Production photos are by Joan Marcus.

Tickets for “The Father” are available by calling Telecharge at 212-239-6200, online by visiting www.Telecharge.com, or by visiting the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office (261 West 47th Street). Ticket prices are $70-$150. Running time is 90 minutes
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, April 9, 2016

Review: “Nathan the Wise” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday May 1, 2016)

Photo: F. Murray Abraham and George Abud. Credit Richard Termine.
Review: “Nathan the Wise” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday May 1, 2016)
By Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Adapted by Edward Kemp
Directed by Brian Kulick
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The Jerusalem of 1192 in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s “Nathan the Wise,” currently running at Classic Stage Company, is not unlike the Jerusalem of the present: still a divided city with the three major world religions vying for supremacy and claiming with pride a unique claim on being the “sole purveyors of divine revelation.” The Templar (Stark Sands) admonishes Nathan (F. Murray Abraham), “Fine words. But which nation was the first to set itself apart? To say, 'We are the Chosen People.' Well, Nathan? This may not be grounds for hatred, I admit, but can't I still condemn you for your pride? The pride with which you have infected Christian and Muslim alike, to say My G-d Alone Is Right.”

Lessing’s play – more in the style of a late play by Shakespeare than in his contemporary German style – is complex. Its characters are well-rounded and interesting; their conflicts engaging and relevant to the theme of the equality of all religions. Although Jerusalem in 1192 was experiencing a “brief and rare period of peaceful accord between the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities,” the key players of each community were involved in anti-Muslim, anti-Christian, and anti-Jewish enterprises elsewhere and the repercussions of those escapades ricocheted between members of the three communities in Jerusalem. These conflicts drive the captivating plot that includes a treasure trove of Shakespearean conventions: mistaken identities; love at first sight; soliloquies; and dramatic irony. There are even moments when one wonders whether Nathan the Wise is delivering lines in iambic pentameter!

It is impossible to rehearse the plot in any detail without disclosing important events that carefully prepare for the play’s surprise ending. It is enough to say that Nathan is the play’s gatekeeper who negotiates, bargains, confounds, and energizes the rest of the characters. Nathan is the play’s moral compass although even he is tempted sometimes by exclusive loyalty to his faith. F. Murray Abraham’s performance as Nathan is nothing short of brilliant and the quintessence of exquisite acting. Mr. Abraham is fully present in every moment he is on stage. His character charms his adopted daughter Rachel (Erin Neufer), Daya the Christian servant in his house (Caroline Lagerfelt) and constantly attempts to negotiate peace between Saladin (Austin Durant), the Patriarch (Caroline Lagerfelt) and the Brother (John Christopher Jones), the Templar (Stark Sands) who rescues his daughter from a fire after being spared by Saladin, and the “Jester” of the cast Al-Hafi (George Abud).

The play’s turning point comes when Nathan responds to Saladin’s challenge to identify “which code, which law, which faith have you found most enlightening?” Nathan tells the iconic story of the rings as his answer and provides the clear purpose for Lessing’s play: “Maybe this was your father's plan, to end the tyranny of the single ring. It's clear he loved you all, and loved you equally: why should he disadvantage two by favoring one? You could do worse than follow his example, strive towards such unprejudiced affection in yourselves. Vie with each other to prove the power of your ring, through gentleness, tolerance, charity, and a deep humility before the love of G-d.”

Under Brian Kulick’s artful and efficient direction, the equally accomplished ensemble cast successfully negotiates Lessing’s path to forgiveness and reconciliation embodying Nathan’s words, “Because G-d rewards the good we do on earth on earth as well. And you must learn this: dreams are easy, deeds are hard. Imagine angels all you like but let them inspire you to action, not distract you from it.” Tony Straiges’ set, Anita Yavich’s language and symbol coded costumes, and Joe Novak’s lighting all serve to give the production a splendid effulgence.

At the beginning of the play, Saladin introduces the play and the cast of characters in modern Arabic. Some members of the audience understand; however, the majority sit in silence waiting to somehow be rescued. It is difficult to understand when one’s own language is not being spoken and heard. Language and religion are closely connected in “Nathan the Wise” and much of what confounds the residents of Jerusalem in 1192 continues to confound the global community in the present. Failure to understand leads to fanaticism and intolerance which are both dangerous and insidious companions.

Perhaps the Templar summarized the dilemma best, ““I don't believe we ever lose the superstitions of our race. We drink them in with our mother's milk, and we may mock them but they are bred into our bones.” But Saladin’s words are those that give us hope, “Above all say nothing of this to the fanatics of your faith. Never be a Christian to spite a Jew. Or a Muslim.” Therein lies hope for tolerance and peace.

NATHAN THE WISE

The cast of “Nathan the Wise” includes F. Murray Abraham, George Abud, Austin Durant, John Christopher Jones, Shiva Kalaiselvan, Caroline Lagerfelt, Erin Neufer and Stark Sands. Set design is by Tony Straiges, costumes by Anita Tavich, lighting by Joe Novak and sound by Matt Stine. Production photos by Richard Termine.

“Nathan the Wise” will perform Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $60.00 on weeknights and $65.00 on weekends and are available at www.classicstage.org or by calling (212) 352-3101 / 866-811-4111 or at the box-office at 136 East 13th Street, New York City (between Third and Fourth Avenues). Running time is two hours with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, April 9, 2016

Review: “Exit Strategy” at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Friday May 6, 2016)

(from left) Brandon J. Pierce and Ryan Spahn in the Primary Stages production of Exit Strategy by Ike Holter, directed by Kip Fagan, at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre. (c) James Leynse.
Review: “Exit Strategy” at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Friday May 6, 2016)
By Ike Holter
Directed by Kip Fagan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“After great pain, a formal feeling comes -/The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs -/The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore, And Yesterday, or Centuries before?” (Emily Dickinson, #341)

Educators and academics have been trying to determine why schools fail for decades and have yet to identify successfully a formula for preventing the pandemic failure of education – particularly in America’s urban centers. Although Ike Holter’s luminous “Exit Strategy” is set in a failing high school somewhere in Chicago, the playwright avoids the temptation to address the larger issues of school failure – teachers, parents, systems, testing – and narrowly focuses on the exit strategies of seven individuals who discover their high school has one academic year left before being closed and bulldozed. Five teachers have their exit interviews with the school Tumbldn’s Vice Principal Ricky (Ryan Spahn) during the August prior to this terminal year. Only four teachers return in September and they and the Vice Principal are joined by an overzealous graduating senior for the nine-month rehearsal for the school’s final act.

“Exit Strategy” covers the ten-month period from the Exit Strategy Interviews on August 16th through June 16th - several days after the end of the school year. The action take place in Vice Principal Ricky’s office and in the Teacher’s Lounge. The set is designed with authentic detail by Andrew Boyce – the administrator’s office done up nicely and the teacher’s lounge infested with rats and lighted by those fluorescent lights that always seems to need new tubes or new starters. For ninety mind-splitting minutes, the six “survivors” squabble, bargain, organize, and grapple with fate, hoping to keep the school open and their lives salvaged from insignificance.

Arnold (played with a stolid and often reprehensible resignation by Michael Cullen) is the union representative who holds out for the victory of old school norms and prepares to let the City of Chicago win. Senior Donnie (played with an authentic youthful hope by Brandon J. Pierce) hacks into the school’s computer system, sets up an Ingiegogo fundraising page, and manages to inspire Ricky to work with him to fight the system. Sadie (played with a strident veneer but a caring core by Aimé Donna Kelly) and Jania (played with a combative but crumbling façade by Christina Nieves) cannot extricate themselves from their dislike for one another but decide to join the fight for what is right. And Luce (played with a compelling unconditional love by Rey Lucas) serves as the moral center of the group and Ricky’s faithful lover. They manage to organize a parade of “thousands” but their success in protest fails to move the monolithic heart of stone of the Chicago Public Schools.

Ike Holter’s script is richly complex with just the right number of surprises tucked away in the well-rounded characters’ Pandora’s Box of authentic conflicts. Kip Fagan’s staging is fast-paced, energetic, deeply engaging, and unravels each of the playwright’s episodic emotion-laden salvos with subtle seduction. Daniel Perelstein’s sound design is a cacophony of conscience that separates each scene, startles the audience with impassioned sensibility each time the lights come back up, and leaves the audience with no exit strategy from connecting with the extended catharsis of the play.

The City of Chicago apparently takes no prisoners in its battle with “failing” schools and that is certainly the case in “Exit Strategy.” After veteran English Teacher Pam (played with remarkable authenticity and genuine grit by Deirdre Madigan) takes her own life in her office after her interview in August, the entire school begins to mourn not only her loss but their loss: the loss of a colleague; the loss of their school; the loss of opportunities to care more and connect more with one another and their students; the loss of hope; and the loss of trust.

Nothing is the same for Arnold, Sadie, Luce, Jania, Donnie, or Ricky after the death of their colleague and the closure of their school. Some are able to move on and form new relationships. Others – stuck for a time in a matrix of grief and denial – wait for an opportunity to recover from their loss and reboot their lives and careers. But all are embraced by that formal feeling that comes after great pain so beautifully captured in Donnie’s face as the curtain goes down for the final time.

EXIT STRATEGY

The cast of “Exit Strategy” includes Michael Cullen, Aimé Donna Kelly, Rey Lucas, Deirdre Madigan, Christina Nieves, Brandon J. Pierce, and Ryan Spahn.

“Exit Strategy” features scenic design by Andrew Boyce, costume design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by Thom Weaver, sound design by Daniel Perelstein, with casting by Klapper Casting. Production photos by James Leynse.

“Exit Strategy” plays a limited engagement through May 6, 2016 at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street, www.cherrylanetheatre.org.) Performances are Tuesday - Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sun 3:00 p.m. There is an added 2:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, May 4. No performances April 19, 26, and May 3. Tickets are $70 and can be purchased online at PrimaryStages.org, by phone via OvationTix at 212.352.3101 or toll-free 866.811.4111 (9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday), or at the box office. Running time is 95 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 8, 2016

Review: “Cagney” Taps at the Heart at the Westside Theatre - Upstairs

(Left to right) Bruce Sabath, Ellen Zolezzi, Jeremy Benton, Robert Creighton, Danette Holden and Josh Walden. Credit Carol Rosegg.
Review: “Cagney” Taps at the Heart at the Westside Theatre - Upstairs
Book by Peter Colley
Music and Lyrics by Robert Creighton and Christopher McGovern
Arrangements by Christopher McGovern
Directed by Bill Castellino
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Cagney, you're playing the lead now. Got to carry the picture. Don't screw it up. Now get back on set. Oh, and Cagney - give me more of that grapefruit stuff!” (Jack Warner in “Cagney”)

Although “Cagney” has been playing since 2009 and has ostensibly been updated, expanded, and revised, the musical still needs some tweaking to bring it to its next and highest level. The cast is uniformly brilliant: what a collection of Broadway triple-threat actors! The problem might be that the five performers are simply working too hard. Each is required to play a variety (and quite a variety it is) of other characters. Despite this, these five hard-working actors deliver strong performances in this musical that pays tribute to James Cagney and the indomitable spirit of the Nation he loved unconditionally.

The musical is set backstage at the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Lifetime Achievement Awards in 1978 hosted by Jack Warner (Bruce Sabath). “Cagney” traces the actor’s life and career in a series of flashbacks that occur in James Cagney’s mind. These include Cagney’s (Robert Creighton) early days on the streets of New York where he struggled to support Ma Cagney (Danette Holden) and his younger brother Bill (Josh Walden); his stint on the vaudeville circuit; his meteoric rise to fame in Hollywood; his appearance before the Dies Committee in Washington. D.C.; his appearance at a USO show; and on sound stages in Hollywood.

Robert Creighton is simply splendid as James Cagney. It is not just that he looks like the iconic actor: Mr. Creighton embodies Cagney in a purely distilled form that oozes authenticity and honesty. His music and lyrics – as well as those of Christopher McGovern – chronicle Cagney’s fascinating story with integrity. Although the music is stronger than the lyrics, the lyrics remain serviceable and ring with honesty. Jeremy Benton is an engaging Bob Hope. Danette Holden’s Ma Cagney is appropriately tough with her love; her Jane (Warner’s Assistant) – through no fault of her own – is more a cartoon than a character. The audience sees more of Jack Warner than James Cagney and Bruce Sabath embodies the stingy curmudgeon with a steely core. Unfortunately, as is the case with Jane, the book and direction give the character an unfortunate cartoonish veneer, a choice this critic simply cannot understand.

Josh Walden and Ellen Zolezzi deliver strong performances as Cagney’s wife and brother respectively. Again, their requirement to play so many additional roles keeps them from developing their individual characters as deeply as they are capable of doing. Both are superb singers and dancers as well, and they – and the rest of the cast – are capable of more intricate and inventive choreography than provided by veteran Joshua Bergasse whose somewhat pedestrian choreography here becomes repetitive and bromidic.

Now to the creative team: you are all “playing the lead now” and on a new journey with an open run playing to houses of appreciative patrons. Time to get back around the table and give those devotees “more of that grapefruit stuff.” Add a small ensemble cast that can play all of the minor roles so the principals can dig deeper into their main character roles. The audience, for example, does not need to see the talented Jeremy Benton playing Bob Hope and a camera man. Develop a better book. Director Bill Castellino does what he can with Peter Colley’s tepid book that totters between a bio-musical and musical comedy. And hire a wig and hair designer: the actors deserve professionally designed and maintained wigs that will not make them seem like caricatures.

In its present form, “Cagney” is highly entertaining and well worth a trip to the iconic Westside Theatre. The cast’s performances of George M. Cohan’s “Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” not only bring down the house; they also link the two Irish song-and-dance-men in a matrix of wonder that serves as a fitting surcease to the contemporary malaise of a nation – and a world – that struggles to know how they “will be remembered.”

CAGNEY

The cast of “Cagney” includes Jeremy Benton, Robert Creighton, Dannette Holden, Bruce Sabath, Josh Walden, and Ellen Zolezzi.

The creative team includes James Morgan (set), Chip Schoonmaker (costumes), Michael Gilliam (lights), Janie Bullard (sound), and Mark Pirolo (projections). The Production Stage Manager is Larry Smiglewski. Carol Hanzel is the Casting Director and Brierpatch Productions provides General Management. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Cagney” runs at the Westside Theatre - Upstairs (407 West 43rd Street) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “Cagney” are priced at $89 and may be purchased by calling Telecharge: 212-239-6200, or by visiting Telecharge.com. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including a fifteen-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Review: “Bright Star” Celebrates Hope at the Cort Theatre

Photo: Carmen Cusack and the "Bright Star" Company. Credit Nick Stokes.
Review: “Bright Star” Celebrates Hope at the Cort Theatre
Music, Book and Original Story by Steve Martin
Music, Lyrics and Original Story by Edie Brickell
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And I understood that truth seeks us out - then walks beside us like a shadow, and one day it merges
with us. Until it does, we are not truly whole.” (Billy to Miss Murphy)

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s “Bright Star” is a welcomed infusion of optimism into the veins of the Broadway stage and a delightful breath of fresh air in the current theatrical season. It is an old fashioned Broadway musical with pleasing music, agreeable lyrics, and an engaging book that celebrates the strength of the human spirit and the redemptive power of unconditional and nonjudgmental love – a celebration of storytelling and the themes that undergird the importance of hope.

Because the characters in “Bright Star” are well-rounded and have universal conflicts that the audience can easily identify and connect with, the musical’s story is also universal and engaging. Its themes are important and life affirming. Portraying events in two different time periods can be a daunting task but Steve Martin and Edie Brickell succeed in counterpointing Billy Cane’s (A. J. Shively) and Alice Murphy’s (Carmen Cusack) journey across two decades to find what has been missing in their lives. Their stories are complicated and better left for the audience to unravel. It is enough to say that the stories develop in interesting ways with wonderful surprises and address the wonderful gift of a truth that “seeks us out” until “it merges with us” making us “truly whole.”

The cast, under Walter Bobbie’s careful direction is uniformly magnificent – wonderful to watch and outstanding to hear. Broadway newcomer Carmen Cusack knows how to deliver a country song and, right from the beginning, her Alice Murphy commands the stage and massages the hearts of the audience with authentic joy and hopefulness. Ms. Cusack shines in “If You Knew My Story,” “Sun Is Gonna Shine,” “So Familiar,” and “At Long Last.” A. J. Shively’s performance as Billy Cane is multi-layered and honest to the core. Mr. Shively delivers “Always Will” with tenderness and understanding. Paul Alexander Nolan has the difficult task of portraying Jimmy Ray Dobbs a complex character whose motives are conflicted, at times reprehensible, but ultimately redemptive. Mr. Nolan succeeds and delivers an authentic character capable of growth and grace. His “Heartbreaker” is honest and genuine.

Stephen Bogardus portrays Daddy Cane with honesty and believability. His early first act tribute to his character’s loss (with A. J. Shively) is an emotional anchor for the scene. One longs to hear more from this vocalist in the musical. Emily Padgett (Lucy Grant), Michael Mulheren (Mayor Josiah Dobbs), and Hannah Elless (Margo Crawford) all add their considerable craft to the success of “Bright Star.” Stephen Lee Anderson and Dee Hoty handle the complex characters Daddy Murphy and Mama Murphy with refined performances, particularly evidenced in “Firmer Hand/Do Right” and “Please Don’t Take Him.”

The ensemble transfixes the audience as the members execute Josh Rhodes’ exquisite choreography with a superb gracefulness and energy. Mr. Rhodes’ work does not merely complement the action of the musical, his movement is a character with a soul and a purpose. Eugene Lee’s scenic design works primarily because of the energy of the ensemble cast who move sets on and off seamlessly. The house-cum-bandstand sometimes seems intrusive but manages to complement the action most of the time. Jane Greenwood is an icon. Her costumes here are able to span two decades with subtle changes in hue, color, and design and with marvelous movement that counterpoint the choreography with perfection. And Japhy Weideman creates pure magic with his transcendent lighting that creates space and mood and memories.

“Bright Star” is not perfect – some of the story seems contrived and sometimes predictable – but director Walter Bobbie keeps the musical moving forward with an intensity and freshness that is remarkable and noteworthy. There are scenes that are pure magic and utilize the skills of the cast and creative team in perfect harmony. Alice Murphy’s story is one you will celebrate knowing and come away loving and remembering.

BRIGHT STAR

The cast of “Bright Star” includes Stephen Lee Anderson, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Stephen Bogardus, Carmen Cusack, Hannah Elless, Dee Hoty, Michael Mulheren, Paul Alexander Nolan, Emily Padgett, and A.J. Shively along with Maddie Shea Baldwin, Allison Briner-Dardenne, Max Chernin, Patrick Cummings, Sandra DeNise, Richard Gatta, Lizzie Klemperer, Michael X. Martin, William Michals, Tony Roach, Sarah Jane Shanks and William Youmans.

“Bright Star’s” creative team includes choreography by Josh Rhodes, scenic design by Eugene Lee, costume design by Jane Greenwood, lighting design by Japhy Weideman, sound design by Nevin Steinberg, hair and wig design by Tom Watson, musical supervision by Peter Asher, musical direction and vocal arrangements by Rob Berman, orchestrations by August Eriksmoen, and casting by Howie Cherpakov. Production photos by Nick Stokes.

“Bright Star” runs at the Cort Theatre (138 West 48th Street) on the following schedule: on the following schedule: Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.; and matinee on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets at $45.00 - $149.00 can be purchased by visiting Telecharge.com or by calling 800-447-7400. For groups of 10 or more, call 1-800-BROADWAY, ext. 2. For more info, visit www.BrightStarMusical.com. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Review: Danai Gurira's “Eclipsed” Resonates Deeply at the Golden Theatre

(L-R). Pascale Armand, Lupita Nyong'o, and Saycon Sengbloh in a scene from Danai Gurira's
Review: Danai Gurira's “Eclipsed” Resonates Deeply at the Golden Theatre
By Danai Gurira
Directed by Liesl Tommy
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Liberia’s Civil Wars created havoc in the fragile West African Nation from 1980 until 2003. The political upheaval often eclipsed the myriad of humanitarian crises generated by the fighting in the region including massacres of civilians, unlawful prison camps, refugee crises, and the capture, captivity, and rape of local women. Danai Gurira’s “Eclipsed” focuses narrowly on the lives of five Liberian women and their stories of survival during the Second Civil War: two have lived in a LURD rebel army camp base for some time; one left the camp base to become a soldier; one is a member of the Liberian Women’s Initiative; and one – The Girl – is a recent arrival.

The women who have lived in the camp base before The Girl’s arrival – and the one who left to fight - refuse to use their given names and choose to refer to one another as “Wife #1 (Saycon Sengbloh), Wife #2 (Zainab Jah), and Wife #3 (Pascale Armand).” Their identity in captivity has become defined by their relationship to their captor the Commanding Officer of the rebel compound they were brought to after being kidnapped. These “wives” prepare food for the CO, obediently line up when he shows up, and nervously wait for him to decide which he will victimize sexually. His victims have no choice in the matter: the only control they have is to cleanse themselves after their submissive encounters. In the midst of this horrific scene of captivity, The Girl (Lupita Nyong’o) finds her way into the compound seeking safety from the military struggle and serves as the “change agent” in what has become a family system entrenched in denial.

Although the events in “Eclipsed” are based on true events, the engaging play might best be viewed as an extended metaphor for raising the important rich and enduring question, “Are there alternatives to submission in situations of oppression?” This question legitimizes the actual struggle of all women who were incurred in LURD rebel army camp bases and radically engages the audience member to immerse themselves in the discussion by making rich connections to the rich plot lines driven by the authentic characters and their believable conflicts.

Under Liesl Tommy’s careful and inventive direction, the ensemble cast is uniformly brilliant and each delivers a powerful and authentic performance. Saycon Sengbloh’s Wife #1 and Pascale Armand’s Wife #3 have begun to wear the cloaks of oppression with some disregard for their humanity and have perhaps too easily settled into the roles of oppression and victimization and only envision being rescued as a remote possibility. Zainab Jah’s Wife #2, in shedding that cloak, decides to leave the camp, fight alongside the men and survive. She admonishes The Girl, “You feed dem, you not get eaten. Dat simple. Go and get de gals or I go’ have to tell dem you want to replace de gals today. Is it you or dem? Dis is how you survive, you understan’? So is it you or dem, Number Four?” And Lupita Nyong’o’s The Girl is torn between the two paths of coping and – after she initially joins Wife #2 on the battlefield – she faces the end of the war with painstaking choices that leave her and the audience deeply unsettled.

Finally, Akosua Busia’s Rita – the member of the Liberian Women’s Initiative – pleads with the women repeatedly to reclaim their identities by using their given names and prepare for the time when the Civil War would end. However, she knows her position is one of privilege that has brought her dangerously close to selling out. In her redemptive conversation with Wife #2, she confesses, “I stayed ’ere because I wont to profit from war, tinkin’ somehow my money gon’ keep me safe. It didn’t do noting for me dat day. How long you tink you can mock God before He mock you back?”

“Eclipsed” chronicles how five remarkable women face their captivity in a variety of ways – ways that women (and men) deal with oppressive and abusive situations daily and either survive, or escape, or die in their own very personal captivities. There are times one wishes playwright Danai Gurira’s writing could have been stronger, especially giving The Girl a more significant role throughout the play. She is the change agent and her struggles often seem to deserve more attention. She “can read and write and do all dem book ting” and reads from a biography about Bill Clinton which often gives the play a lighter touch. The Girl is a remarkable character that Lupita Nyong’o can certainly dig more deeply into if given the opportunity by the script and the direction.

This is an important play with an important story: the first Broadway production to feature an entirely black and female cast and creative team. “Eclipsed” is a redemptive and salvific story offered with distinctive grace and distinguished craft and not to be missed.

ECLIPSED

The cast of “Eclipsed” includes Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, Zainab Jah, Lupita Nyong’o, and Saycon Sengbloh. The creative team includes Clint Ramos (scenic and costume design), Jen Schriever (lighting design), and Broken Chord (original music and sound design). “Eclipsed” is produced on Broadway by Stephen Byrd, Alia Jones-Harvey, Paula Marie Black, Carole Shorenstein Hays, Kenny Ozoude, Willette Klausner, Michael Magers and The Public Theater. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Eclipsed” runs at the Golden Theatre (252 West 45th Street) through Sunday June 19, 2016 on the following schedule: Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.; and matinee on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Ticket prices range from $45.00 to $149.00 and can be purchased at the box office or by visiting the show’s website at http://www.eclipsedbroadway.com. Audience: May be inappropriate for 12 and under. (Strong subject matter.) Children under the age of 4 are not permitted in the theatre. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, April 4, 2016

Review: “Hamilton” Grapples Richly with the Past at the Richard Rodgers Theatre

Photo: Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson in "Hamilton." Credit Joan Marcus
Review: “Hamilton” Grapples Richly with the Past at the Richard Rodgers Theatre
Book, Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Directed by Thomas Kail
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” (Alexander Hamilton)

In March 2008 Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking “In the Heights” opened on Broadway after critically acclaimed runs Off-Broadway and in Connecticut. That story - set over the course of three days – celebrated the unique vicissitudes of the lives of those living in the largely Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. Mr. Miranda, with the “In the Heights” creative team that includes Alex Lacamoire, Andy Blankenbuehler, and director Thomas Kail, again brings his unique creative perspective to Broadway with “Hamilton” and in this new musical focuses on the creation of the United States and, specifically, on the role played in that process by one of its Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton.

With a refreshing book inspired by Ron Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton,” profoundly innovative music that includes hip-hop, jazz, blues, R&B, and Broadway, and scintillating lyrics, “Hamilton” exceeds all expectations of theatre-goers and rocks the Richard Rodgers Theatre stage with engaging performances and exhilarating choreography by Andy Blankenbuehle. Lin-Manuel Miranda weaves the story of “the bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman [who] grow[s] up to be a hero and a scholar” with sensitivity and a firm commitment to non-traditional casting. “Hamilton’s” diverse cast reverberates deeply with the rhythms of equality inherent in the Declaration of Independence.

Unlike Ron Chernow’s narrative about Hamilton that “sometimes becomes hagiographic,” Mr. Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton grows up to be a hero and a scholar with his shortcomings, flaws, misjudgments, and improprieties fully intact and exposed for all to see. “Hamilton” chronicles the Founding Father’s life from his arrival in the United States through his death at the hand of Aaron Burr (“I’m the damn fool who shot him”). Scenes in the musical highlight Alexander Hamilton’s meteoric rise to power and influence from becoming Washington’s right-hand-man to becoming the nation’s first Treasury Secretary.

The diverse cast is uniformly outstanding and brilliant. Javier Muñoz is a scrappy Alexander Hamilton wanting revolution and change and his chance to be in the middle of the action. Phillipa Soo is tenderly hopeful as Hamilton’s wife Eliza who seems willing to forgive him his transgressions and support his role as a Founding Father. Sisters Angelica (Renee Elise Goldsberry) and Peggy (Jasmine Cephas Jones) challenge Eliza’s mate with “new ideas in the air.” Leslie Odom, Jr. is exquisitely amoral as Hamilton’s nemesis Aaron Burr and delivers a consistent and splendid performance. Daveed Diggs’ engaging performances as Lafayette and Jefferson and Okieriete Onaodowan’s performances as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison command the stage and inhabit the memory. And Jonathan Groff’s performance as the defeated King George is a tour de force of comedic tyranny. At the March 30th performance, Austin Smith embodies George Washington with a graceful power that transcends the bounds of history and Andrew Chappelle handles his multiple roles with praiseworthy panache.

Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is innovative and precise, often leaving the actors mid-movement underscoring the book’s intent. David Korins’ multi-level set is massive in scale, and with its large turntable, parallels the enormity and unstationary nature of forging the new nation. Howell Binkley’s lighting is transcendent and mystical and marvelous as is Paul Tazewell’s costume design.

What is the ultimate importance of “Hamilton?” Watching the performance, the audience member is struck immediately with how the politics of the current Presidential election counterpoint with Alexander Hamilton’s life and legacy. In his endorsement of Jefferson for President, Hamilton says, “Jefferson has beliefs. Burr has none.” When he first meets Aaron Burr, Hamilton confessed, “I wanted to do what you did. Graduate in two, then join the revolution. He looked at me like I was stupid, I’m not stupid. You’re an orphan. Of course! I’m an orphan. God, I wish there was a war! Then we could prove that we’re worth more than anyone bargained for.” All Americans – perhaps in particular young Americans – want to prove that their nation is worth more than anyone bargained for.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s transformative and redemptive “Hamilton” not only begins a conversation about a Founding Father whose legacy has been overlooked but also raises deep enduring questions that need answers from every generation. What comes next for our fragile Democracy? What does it mean to live in a world where there is “no status quo?” What kind of revolution is needed in this political turning point? If that revolution is more than intellectual in nature, “Who lives, who dies, who tells [our] story?” Will the current “founding fathers and mothers” struggle as much as Hamilton to make our new nation “right” and to implement the opportunities needed for change? And finally, how willing are the new revolutionaries to take as their/our mantra, “Hey yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry and I’m not throwin’ away my shot!” Only time will tell and Alexander Hamilton has planted the seeds in a garden he never lived to see. How will our garden grow?

HAMILTON

“Hamilton” features scenic design by David Korins, costume design by Paul Tazewell, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound design by Nevin Steinberg and hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

The new musical is produced on Broadway by Jeffrey Seller, Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman and The Public Theater.

Tickets are available for purchase via phone 1-877-250-2929, online www.Ticketmaster.com or at the box office of the Richard Rodgers Theatre (226 W. 46 St.). For performance schedule, current ticket availability (including resale), and the full cast please visit www.hamiltononbroadway.com Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 1, 2016

Review: “House Rules” Change Rapidly at HERE Arts Center (Through Saturday April 16, 2016)

Photo: James Yaegashi, Tina Chilip, Jeffrey Omura, Mia Katigbak, and Tiffany Villarin. Credit Web Begole
Review: “House Rules” Change Rapidly at HERE Arts Center (Through Saturday April 16, 2016)
By A. Rey Pamatmat
Directed by Ralph B. Peña
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Casino rule number one: the house always wins! That is certainly the case in Vera’s (Mia Katigbak) house where her daughters Twee (Tina Chilip) and Momo (Tiffany Villarin) are encouraged to abide by their mother’s rules whether they are playing Gin Rummy, Mahjong, Monopoly, or the game of life. And it is life’s game – the vicissitudes of human existence – that take center stage at HERE during Ma-Yi Theater Company’s New York premiere of A. Rey Pamatmat’s “House Rules.”

Mr. Pamatmat’s new play – much like Amy Tan’s works – tackles the struggle between tradition and contemporary manners. Here, the players are two Filipino-American families that are struggling with the conflict of values, the expectations of parents and their second-generation children, and the sometimes stifling value system of the majority culture. Vera – matriarch of one of the families - left her sisters in the Philippians to start a new life in the United States. She raised her daughters to “fit in” to the majority white culture and only spoke to them in English refusing to even teach them Tagalog. Twee, a professional photographer, seems to lack the work ethic of her parents while Momo exemplifies that ethic and becomes a physician.

Ernie (Jojo Gonzalez) – the failed patriarch of the second family – lies in a hospital bed after collapsing at church. One of his sons Rod (James Yaegashi) is a physician; the other JJ (Jeffrey Omura) is a successful artist suffering a premature mid-life crisis who moves into Rod’s apartment under the guise of having been fired from his well-paying job. Rob and JJ live upstairs from Vera and her daughters and the two families spend time together on “game nights” and other occasions. Shortly after Rod’s father is hospitalized, Rod’s fiancé Henry (Conrad Schott) decides he is incapable of being a good helpmate to Rod and leaves him. Henry is the only non-Filipino character in “House Rules” and perhaps serves as the challenging foil to the cultural integrity so carefully guarded by the two Filipino families ultimately facing the unknown without Vera and (soon) Ernie.

All of the play’s characters are challenged to re-examine their unique house rules, the ideas and behaviors that – like those of their parents – have consistently trumped all opposition to their life choices. Too often, the conflicts of the characters – each believable and significant – collude to derail the forward progression of the play. There are conflicts between generations, between cultures, between siblings, and a myriad of internal conflicts – all begging for the attention of the audience and vying for supremacy. The important shift in values and the new rules required are clouded over by loud screaming and repetitive scenes that add nothing to the rising or falling action of the play.

This internal struggle in the script is perhaps the essential challenge of “House Rules.” Mr. Pamatmat has taken on a great deal in his new play and the conglomerate of plots and sub-plots prevents the satisfying resolution of any of them. The audience never really gets to know the characters on any deep level and that makes it difficult to connect with them and care for them as profoundly as might be desired to truly understand and commiserate with their problems. This is not the fault of the ensemble cast members that genuinely seem to be invested in their characters’ development. Unfortunately, Mr. Peña’s frenetic direction sacrifices depth for surface histrionics. And some of his directorial choices leave scenes flat and less interesting than the script requires. One example is the JJ’s monologue while sharing his brother’s couch with his new squeeze Twee.

Explaining his meltdown, JJ shares, “Collapse. I collapsed. And I keep on collapsing. Every day I realize more and more that all the things I believe define me are paper thin illusions. So thin that looking at them is enough to make them dissolve.” JJ’s self-therapeutic confession, under Mr. Peña’s direction, lacks energy and commitment and unfortunately comes across as less than sincere and less than a turning point in JJ’s life. On the other hand, Mia Katigbak thrives under the same direction and delivers her performance as Vera with rock-solid authenticity. Her Vera is not only the matriarch of one of the families; she is also the spiritual and emotional anchor of the play.

As a trope for the universal decisions about self-discovery, self-awareness, and self-fulfillment, “House Rules” is a worthwhile exercise in making decisions about what matters in life and what is worth fighting for and should be seen to enjoy the craft of the actors as they grapple with their characters’ decision-making and to marvel at Reid Thompson’s expansive set that splendidly sprawls over the entire playing area of HERE’s Mainstage Theatre – itself a fitting trope for the unsuppressed nature of cultural conflict and resolution.

HOUSE RULES

Directed by Ma-Yi Theater Company’s Producing Artistic Director Ralph B. Peña, “House Rules” cast features Tina Chilip, Jojo Gonzalez, Mia Katigbak, Jeffrey Omura, Conrad Schott, Tiffany Villarin, and James Yaegashi.

Scenic design for “House Rules” is by Reid Thompson; Lighting Designer: Oliver Wason; Costume Designer: Martin Schnellinger and Sound Design by Fabian Obispo. Production photos by Web Begole.

Scheduled through April 16th, “House Rules” will perform at HERE (145 6th Avenue) Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:30; Saturday and Sundays matinees are at 4PM. There is no performance on Sunday, March 27th. Tickets are $30-$35. For tickets and information: visit here.org, or call 212-253-3101. Information is also available at www.ma-yitheatre.org. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 31, 2016

Review: Keen Company’s Transformative “Boy” at the Clurman Theatre (Through Saturday April 9, 2016)

Photo: Rebecca Rittenhouse (Jenny Lafferty) and Bobby Steggert (Adam Turner). Credit Carol Rosegg
Review: Keen Company’s Transformative “Boy” at the Clurman Theatre (Through Saturday April 9, 2016)
By Anna Ziegler
Directed by Linsay Firman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I wouldn’t want to be Frankenstein.” (Adam to Jenny in “Boy”)

The Keen Company’s Mission is to create “theater that provokes identification, reflection, and emotional connection – enduring stories fearlessly told.” In order to fulfill that mission, there must be a master storyteller who knows how to create characters with conflicts (problems) that are not only engaging but connectable. The Keen Company has gloriously fulfilled their stated mission with their production of distinguished storyteller Anna Ziegler’s masterpiece “Boy” currently playing at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row.

The story is remarkably simple and under Linsay Firman’s steady and straightforward direction, the brilliant ensemble cast brings that story to a level of authenticity and catharsis rarely seen on the New York stage at present. Based on the events from the true “John/Jane” case, “Boy” chronicles the life of Adam Turner (Bobby Steggert) a Davenport, Iowa boy – one of twins – whose genitals are severely damaged during a botched circumcision procedure. Boston researcher Dr. Wendell Barnes (Paul Niebanck) hears of the boy’s story and reaches out to his parents suggesting – that since penile reconstruction surgery is not a possibility at the time – the boy be raised as a girl (Samantha) and gender reassignment begin under his continued care.

Playwright Anna Ziegler handles the telling of this Samantha to Adam story with just the right mix of pathos, ethos, and logos – her writing could not be more persuasive and her skilled use of rhetorical devices is a testament to her craft as a playwright. Each scene is tightly written and demanding on the actors to convey the action of the scenes with a deep sense of authenticity. Her writing demands and encourages honest and transparent performances. The play moves seamlessly between the past and the present and from one setting to another without any confusion or misunderstanding. Adam’s (the “boy’s chosen name after bravely claiming his identity) journey from loneliness to self-acceptance and self-understanding is spellbinding, challenging, and transformative of spirit.

Bobby Steggert delivers a profoundly exquisite performance as the mid-twenties Adam as well as the pre-school to thirteen-year-old Samantha. Mr. Steggert declines the temptation to separate the two characters by an exaggerated difference in demeanor, physicality, or speech pattern. He embodies Samantha’s sadness and Adam’s need for deep connection with grace and deep understanding. Rebecca Rittenhouse gives Jenny Lafferty – Adams’ love interest after reclaiming his gender identity and his grade school friend when he was Samantha – just enough combative grit to counter Adam’s effusive
interest in her and her son. The chemistry between Ms. Rittenhouse and Mr. Steggert at the end of “Boy” is powerful and deeply laden with appropriate emotional layering.

Heidi Armbruster and Ted Koch could not be more perfect as Adam’s parents. These two remarkable actors are able to balance a wide range of emotions and “identities” as two struggling working-class parents confronted with what seems an insurmountable problem. Their honest characters are vulnerable, confused, conflicted, and conscious that their care of Samantha and their ultimate acceptance of Adam transcends any medical intervention. The scenes between Adam and Doug are deeply moving and – in a very short space of time – manage to capture the complicated relationship between father and son.

Paul Niebanck navigates the emotional terrain of his character Dr. Wendell Barnes with palpable tenderness. Mr. Niebanck displays the delicate balance between his caring for Samantha and his need to publish her story for science with believability and heartfelt contention.

The creative team supports Ms. Ziegler’s script in serviceable, sometimes, extraordinary ways. Nick Francone’s lighting is exquisite; Sydney Maresca’s costumes are period appropriate across the twenty-two-year span of events; Shane Rettig’s original music and sound design are understated and appropriate; and Sandra Goldmark’s scenic design captures (with Mr. Rettig’s sound) the variety of settings with exactitude. The script is so strong, Ms. Goldmark need not have created the “two-tier” set convention to parallel the play’s emotional core – the audience understands what is going on solely on the durability of the script.

“Boy” is less about the intricies and complicated scientific details of “nurture versus nature” research (and speculation), and the complexities and complications of gender reassignment surgery and more about the indomitable power of Adam’s sprit of survival that enables him to hold fast to his identity despite the pressure of others for him to be other than he is. The audience can relate to Adam’s struggle on a variety of rich and challenging levels. And the play raises a significant number of deep, rich, and enduring questions about acceptance of self, human endurance, the healing power of true love, and the resilience of the human spirit. This is the story of a boy who just wants to be a boy. It is a story worth seeing more than once.

BOY

“Boy” is presented by the Keen Company, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The cast of “Boy” includes Heidi Armbruster, Ted Koch, Paul Niebanck, Rebecca Rittenhouse, and Bobby Steggert. The creative team includes Sandra Goldmark (set design), Sydney Maresca (costume design), Nick Francone (lighting design), and Shane Rettig (music and sound design). Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Boy” runs at the Clurman Theatre on Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street) on the following schedule: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m.; and Wednesday April 6 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $62.50 and are available by visiting http://www.keencompany.org/boy/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 28, 2016

Review: “Stupid Fu**ing Bird” Takes a Dive at the Pearl Theatre Company

Photo: Dan Daily and Christopher Sears - Credit Russ Rowland
Review: “Stupid Fu**ing Bird” Takes a Dive at the Pearl Theatre Company
By Aaron Posner
Directed by Davis McCallum
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Since its first production in 2013, Aaron Posner’s “Stupid Fu**ing Bird” – “sort of” adapted from Chekhov’s alluded to classic – cannot begin until a willing audience member takes Con’s (Christopher Sears) challenge and yells out, “Start the fu**ing play.” One wonders what would happen if the playwright had summoned enough courage to allow the audience – purportedly an essential member of the “cast” – to end the play with a similar statement. This critic – perhaps in the minority – would have claimed that option just after the first act and certainly would not have waited the overlong 2 hours and 30 minutes it takes for the playwright to wrap up his overwrought case on the state of relationships, romance, love, angst, and the thing we call the theatre.

It is not difficult to understand what Mr. Posner is trying to accomplish in his “Stupid “Fu**ing Bird” hereafter SFB) and there are moments when the play is engaging and proffers some interesting rich and enduring questions like, ‘Is it possible to create new forms of theatre that are passionate, real, and create personal and systemic change?’ Anton Chekhov struggled with that question in many of his plays including “The Seagull” and his query is echoed here in Mr. Posner’s play. Additionally, the playwright introduces the important theme of change.

When Sorn (Dan Daily) asks Con, “Why does [theatre] need to change things? Why do you want to change things,” Con responds: “Rampant stupidity. Inconceivable greed. Legitimized fear-mongering and xenophobia and the global glorification of meanness and indifference to suffering... Selfishness and neediness achieving new heights never before even imagined. Old forms. Old forms of everything, always being called New, but never actually being new. And new technologies and media onslaughts and and and, f**k, whatever… BREAKFAST CEREALS appealing with assassin-like accuracy to every worst impulse human beings have been subterraneanly cultivating for the past ten thousand years. Why do I want to change the world?” This is important but not the first time a playwright has asked this question.

The conversation turns unpleasant as the characters continue to address the need for change and Con takes a jab at commercial theatre and its patrons referring to “the tiny, tepid, clever-y clever-y clever-y little plays that are being produced by terrified theatres just trying to keep ancient Jews and gay men and retired academics and a few random others who did plays in high school trickling in their doors.” It is one thing to call into question the motivation of theatre companies in their choice of product and whether those choices are made solely on economic pressures. It is quite another to question the integrity and support of those who believe in the importance and the future of what we treasure as the theatre. And the reference to the ethnicity and sexual status of those supporters is quite frankly not only offensive but stupid. Assume the expletive.

Whatever goes awry in SFB is not the fault of the splendid cast or the efforts of director Davis McCallum. The seven cast members throw themselves headlong into the conflicts of their characters and their engaging performances drive the plot successfully. It is to their credit they are able to continue to bombard the audience with the same rhetoric for the duration of the play – managing all along to believe the audience is as involved as the playwright assumes they should be.

Christopher Sears’ histrionics work well for his character Conrad (Konstantin, get it?) and his brooding bombastic search for love and meaning. Joey Parsons and Dan Daily – both members of the Pearl’s Resident Acting Company – are splendid as Mash and Eugene Sorn respectively. Ms. Parsons’ Mash is powerful, unpredictable, and appropriately pensive as she puzzles over Con’s lack of interest in her affectations. Mr. Daily gives Sorn a contemplative core of enduring questions about life and work and the meaning inherent in both. The remainder of the ensemble cast also deliver authentic performances in the play, and in the play-within-the-play, and in their playing with the play.

Meta-theatrics become mostly the-same-as-usual in SFB. The energy of the first act dissipates too quickly as the audience discovers that houselights up and cast members traipsing around the theatre with microphones innovative theatre does not make. What might have worked in 2013 seems no longer to entice the audience into freely participating in the “exchange” between cast and audience. SFB does not extricate itself from a pantheon of heteronormative characters and their tiresome and timeless conflicts; the play includes senseless gratuitous nudity and sports an all-white cast. Where is the risk here? The fresh approach to theatre? The innovation?

Incidentally, Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson championed meta-theatrics in their “Pippin” in 1972 with considerable success. The author of Ecclesiastes (1:9) had it right: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” The search for innovation continues.

STUPID FU**ING BIRD

The cast of “Stupid Fu**ing Bird” features The Pearl’s Resident Acting Company members Dan Daily (Sorn) and Joey Parsons (Mash) alongside guest artists Joe Paulik (Dev), Christopher Sears (Con), Erik Lochtefeld (Trig), Marianna McClellan (Nina), and Bianca Amato (Emma).

The creative team includes Sandra Goldmark (Set), Amy Clark (Costumes), Mike Inwood (Lights), Mikhail Fiksel (Sound), and Katie Young (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Russ Rowland.

Performances of Stupid Fu**ing Bird will take place through May 8 at The Pearl Theatre (555 West 42nd Street, NYC) on the following schedule: March 29, 30, April 3, 4, 12, 13, 17, 20, 21, 26, May 2, 3, 8 at 7:00 p.m.; April 3, 9, 16, 17, 23, 27, May 1 at 2:00p.m.; April 8, 22, 29, 30, May 7 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $65.00 regular, $85.00 premium ($20.00 student rush, $20.00 Thursday rush) and can be purchased by visiting pearltheatre.org or calling 212-563-9261. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, March 25, 2016

Review: A Redemptive “The Humans” Plays at the Helen Hayes Theatre

Photo: Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Lauren Klein, Arian Moayed, Sarah Steele, Cassie Beck in a scene from "The Humans." Credit Brigitte Lacombe
Review: A Redemptive “The Humans” at the Helen Hayes Theatre
By Stephen Karam
Directed by Joe Mantello
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

From the opening of Stephen Karam’s deeply engaging play, the audience becomes aware that “The Humans” is somehow going to be Erik’s (Reed Birney) story. This patriarch of the Blake clan has just arrived from Scranton to visit his daughter Brigid (Sarah Steele) and her fiancé Richard (Arian Moayed) in their new Chinatown duplex just blocks from Ground Zero. Erik just missed being in the World Trade Center Observation Tower during the 9/11 blast and is uncomfortable his daughter is now living so close to the site. What he does not realize yet – nor does the audience – is that this current visit will leave him as changed and transformed as did that visit back in 2001. The first clue comes with the thud he hears coming from above, the first of many such clues in this carefully written play that meticulously peels away the protective layers surrounding a dysfunctional family to reveal the secret that lies at the very heart of the family’s inability to enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner.

This first thud is soon juxtaposed with Erik’s mother’s comment as she enters the apartment. Fiona “Momo” Blake’s (Lauren Klein) first words are, “You can never come back...you can never come back/...you can never come back...cannevery you come back...” Erik’s wife Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) responds, “Alright....you’re alright, Mom...” We humans tend to minimize all that is clearly not all right. Erik is typically the only one who notices or responds to the thud. The thud is a character in the play. Brigid does not really explore the provenance of the sound, just assumes it is a normal part of urban living and coming from the 70-year-old Chinese woman living upstairs. Humans often ignore signs that all is not quite right, preferring to assume whatever is trying to get our attention is irrelevant or that we have the strength to overcome whatever it might be.

After everyone is gathered, including Erik’s and Deirdre’s other daughter Aimee (Cassie Beck), the family engages in an upstairs-downstairs verbal slugfest of insults, put-downs, and often hateful barbs – all of which belie the matrix of insecurity and fear plaguing the fabric of the family.

There are a multitude of bathroom visits and issues. No toilet paper, no interior light switch, no window for ventilation, warnings about odors, all easily overlooked but all clearly related to an important Ur-genital subtext that inhabits the underbelly of the play. Things are not right in the intimate lives of the Blake family and that is yet one more hint to the discovery of the family’s secret. And there are issues with connectivity and communication – cell phones have difficulty picking up signals, depending on the service provider. This is a family whose members have been cut off from connecting in significant ways to the outside world in addition to their being disconnected from one another emotionally and spiritually.

Erik and Richard operate on the rich subconscious level (both dreaming) both “outsiders” really, one about to come into money, one having lost his inheritance (pension), both stepping into the abyss of the id and its discontents (for Erik venturing into the unknown thumps and whirs and creaks of the near-ground-zero apartment). The center is not holding, never has held, never will, and the ego loses its ability to defend against the “wolves” surrounding the family fire. Ego strength disintegrates – the old woman and trash compactor overcome sense and sensibility. It is not the humans vs. the extraterrestrials or the ghouls – tropes for the poltergeist-type goings on around the apartment – it is humans versus humans in this holiday gathering.

Richard shares his dream, “It’s about this species of like half-alien, half-demon-creatures with teeth on their backs -- but on their planet, the scary stories they tell each other...they’re all about us. The horror stories for the monsters are all about humans./ I love that...” And when he is alone with Richard, Erik shares his dream, “[Yeah]...I didn’t bring it up with -- The girls already think I’m losing it, you know but -- the woman without a [face]...she’s trying to get me in this, like a tunnel?” The rest of the important conversation follows:

RICHARD Yeah? And what do you do?

ERIK: Uh...I don’t move, I dunno...

RICHARD: Tunnels are -- in my class we got this list of primitive settings? -- tunnels and caves, forests, the sea...stuff so a part of us it’s...you know, 200,000 years ago...someone might’ve...closed their eyes and...seen a similar kind of [image]...? Get in it next time, the tunnel...

ERIK: Thanks,/ I’ll try that...

RICHARD I’m serious, get in it next time -- tunnels can just be, stuff hidden from yourself? so passing through one...[I dunno]...could be...a favorable omen...you know?

“The Humans” is a psychological thriller that manages to capture the human condition, its pain, its worries, its culpability, even its hopes in concrete images that often leave the audience spellbound. Joe Mantello’s direction is pure perfection as is David Zinn’s upstairs-downstairs, superego-ego set where human frailty and its fractious fault lines expose a misstep made by patriarch Erik – the misstep that has detonated the short fuse that has barely held this family together over the years. The ensemble cast is brilliant – one member better than the next – and with superb craft give each of their characters a gritty authenticity.

Sometimes we humans just have to let go and leap into the unknown of change that can ultimately be redemptive and restorative in seemingly unearthly ways.

THE HUMANS

Directed by Joe Mantello, the ensemble cast includes Cassie Beck, Reed Birney, Jayne Houdyshell, Lauren Klein, Arian Moayed and Sarah Steele.

The creative team includes David Zinn (Sets), Sarah Laux (Costumes), Justin Townsend (Lighting) and Fitz Patton (Sound). Production photos by Brigitte Lacombe.

Tickets for “The Humans” ($39 - $135) are available by visiting the Helen Hayes Theatre box office (240 West 44th Street in Manhattan) Monday – Saturday, 10am – 8pm and Sunday Noon – 6pm; online at Telecharge.com, or by calling 212 239 6200. For more information, including the detailed performance schedule, visit http://www.thehumansonbroadway.com/
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, March 25, 2016

Review: “The Effect” at the Barrow Street Theatre (Through Sunday June 19, 2016)

Review: “The Effect” at the Barrow Street Theatre
By Lucy Prebble
Directed by David Cromer
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Playwright Lucy Prebble attempts to cover an expansive range of themes in the North American premiere of her play “The Effect” at the Barrow Street Theatre. Although this choice gives her play a range of diverse and interesting conflicts, it fails to give the play a cohesive core leaving the audience to wonder what Ms. Prebble was trying to accomplish. Is “The Effect” about the over-prescribing of psychotropic medications? Is the play about the irresponsible behavior of clinical trial participants Connie Hall (Susannah Flood) and Tristan Frey (Carter Hudson) and by extension all Millennials? Or perhaps the play is about regret and revenge.

When Connie and Tristan enter the clinical trials for a new anti-depressant medication, they pledge to the study’s supervisor Dr. Lorna James (Kati Brazda) not to use cell phones (they interfere with the clinical equipment), not to engage in any sexual activity (Connie is the only female participant and Dr. James assumes they are both straight), and to keep their monitoring devices on at all times. The pair manages to break all the rules and assume their heightened interest in one another is the direct result of the increasing doses of the trial medication. So “The Effect” might be about what causes people to be attracted to one another – especially if they are straight.

Under David Cromer’s careful direction, the ensemble cast members deliver spirited performances and maneuver skillfully through the playwright’s plot surprises and thematic strands. Of particular interest is the parallel between the relationship between Connie and Tristan and the relationship between Dr. James and Dr. Toby Sealey (Steve Key) the anti-depressant medication’s manufacturer. If the attraction between Connie and Tristan can be attributed to the medication can Dr. James’ failure to establish a significant relationship with Toby a result of her not treating her depression in a proactive fashion?

One wishes to care more for Connie and Tristan and it is not immediately obvious why this does not happen but it appears to be something director David Cromer should have more assiduously addressed. This lack of the ability to connect in any meaningful way with the play’s principals leaves “The Effect” with a less than satisfying effect on the audience.

There is an extended and completely gratuitous sex scene between Connie and Tristan that occurs not only in an on-stage bed (upstage) but is projected on one (sometimes two) areas of Marsha Ginsberg’s versatile set. This scene adds nothing to the progress of the action and the decision to include it is another interesting choice made by the playwright and the creative team. Maybe the audience is part of a clinical trial about having salacious and/or voyeuristic tendencies.

More details about the human brain (like those outlined in “Super Brain” by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi) would have heightened Ms. Prebble’s premise. Despite this, the play is an interesting exploration into the vicissitudes of love and its provenance and should be seen in order to make up your own mind about its effect on you as an audience member.

THE EFFECT

The cast for “The Effect” features Kati Brazda, George Demas, Susannah Flood, Carter Hudson, and Steve Key. The design team includes Marsha Ginsberg (Scenic Design), Sarah Laux (Costume Design), Tyler Micoleau (Lighting Design), Erik T. Lawson (Sound Design), Maya Ciarrocchi (Projection Design), Daniel Kluger (Original Music), Carrie Mossman (Properties Design), J. David Brimmer (Fight Direction), Cindy Tolan, C.S.A (Casting), and Richard A. Hodge (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

“The Effect” is produced off-Broadway by The National Theatre of Great Britain’s North American wing (Tim Levy, Producer), Scott Morfee, Jean Doumanian, Tom Wirtshafter, Patrick Daly, Marc & Lisa Biales, Burnt Umber Productions, Scott M. Delman, Dominion Pictures, Dede Harris, JFL Theatricals, Roger E. Kass, Sheila Nevins, and Catherine Schreiber.

Tickets can be purchased by visiting SmartTix.com, on the phone at 212-868-4444, or in person at the Barrow Street Theatre box office (27 Barrow Street), open at 1:00PM daily and are priced at $79.50-$99.50, with Sunday evening performances priced at $59-$99.50. For more information, visit http://www.BarrowStreetTheatre.com.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Review: “Wolf in the River” at the Flea Theater (Through Monday May 2, 2016)

Photo: Kate Thulin and Company. Credit Hunter Canning.
Review: Adam Rapp's Allegory “Wolf in the River” at the Flea Theater
Written and Directed by Adam Rapp with Additional text by the Bats
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“It disturbs me no more to find men base, unjust, or selfish than to see apes mischievous, wolves savage, or the vulture ravenous.” (Jean-Paul Sartre) “If you live among wolves you have to act like a wolf.” (Nikita Khrushchev)

When is the last time (be honest) you smelled the scent of the heavy moist earthiness of potting soil and peat moss when you entered a theatre? The only stimulation of the senses – other than the auditory and visual ones emanating from the stage – might be the errant warble from a miscreant’s cell phone or the odor of smoke from actors still puffing on real cigarettes. Not so at the Flea as the audience enters to see Adam Rapp’s new “Wolf in the River.”

At the play’s opening – even before it opens – a character is in the process of planting, or perhaps burying something in carefully choreographed ritualistic movements. This is an important ritual – certainly as important as those that surround the redeeming individual depicted in the large graphic on the wall of the set. Whatever it is, we are all a part of it. We share its culpability, its horrific faith-base. And we are subject to its rules and are required to show obedience to its leader.

And whatever it is, it is an intentional community – think something like the lost boys in “Lord of the Flies” in a mashup with “The Walking Dead” – whose rituals center around a garden/burial/sacrificial mound, a refrigerator, and a living room straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Eventually “The Man” (Jack Elllis) jumps up from his seat in the audience, takes of his shoes and shirt, and becomes the narrator-ringmaster-travel guide for all that is to come. What follows is the story of how the belongings and bones of a teenage girl ended up buried near the river amidst the detritus of modernity strewn on its surface including the cell phone of the deceased – that phone “the Fall of Man” according to the narrator.

Many of the characters in this “lost community” have parallels in the “real world” of Mr. Rapp’s engaging and immersive play and what happens in the “netherworld” is one of the most powerful and disturbing allegories for what we experience daily as the “normal” world we have created and are too often re-created by. If the Wolf (aka “The Man”), Monty (Xanthe Paige)” and her Lost Choir are the new Folk Heroes of America – and they might be – then it is time for America to examine the “Scarlet A” around its neck and create a new future for its citizenry residing in the ninety-nine percent.

Now to that parallel world, a world of “possibility.” The Wolf introduces the audience to Tana Weed (Kate Thulin) and her brother Dothan (William Apps). “So let’s alight on this day for a minute, shall we? Cuz no matter how bad things get, everyone gets at least one day there where stuff looks downright possible. Objects attain a gilded edge. The sun marbles the skin of the water. The trees look plump and green. Even the fish start to look heroic. (to an audience member) I’m right, ain’t it, neighbor?”

Tana is a teenage orphan who survives by donating blood and her brother Private First Class Dothan (across the world serving in Afghanistan) is taking the blood of a “majestic, quarter-ton,
prolifically-horned steer” he encounters on the outskirts of Kabul. The Wolf’s description of what happens is spellbinding and life changing: “He happened upon a steer in the middle of the desert. Walked up to it and shot it like it was a man, just like a enemy man. Eyes so brown they go forever, which is where the water in Hell is. And this is where you take all the babies after they get laid in
the street, you take ‘em to this hellwater and put ‘em in it, you don’t even got to wash ‘em, you just drop ‘em in and wait for the water to rise up over their little faces.”

Tana wants to escape her existence and Dothan wants to escape his PTSD and Mr. Rapp’s allegory brings the audience to the river of the Lost Choir and to the edge of the realization that everyone in the room is culpable for whatever happens to Tana as she tries to escape her endless cycle of poverty and desperation and Dothan attempts to escape his nightmares. “Y’all are the river,” admonishes the Wolf, “And sometimes you’re the wolf. That’s the fun part of the riddle. That’s how come I left a part of me out there with you. Just so y’all can be reminded of that.”

Under Mr. Rapp’s extraordinary direction, the ensemble cast of “The Wolf in the River” brings the audience to a level of awareness and responsibility the theatre too often buries under the veneer of entertainment and the umbilical cord of numbness. Adam Rapp’s “The Wolf in the River” is nothing like you have ever seen before and nothing you are likely ever to see again. Sartre’s sentiments counterpoint the theme of this important play: “It disturbs me no more to find men base, unjust, or selfish than to see apes mischievous, wolves savage, or the vulture ravenous.”

WOLF IN THE RIVER

The Flea’s production features The Bats: William Apps, Maki Borden, Alexandra Curran, Karen Eilbacher, Jack Ellis, Kristin Friedlander, Jack Horton Gilbert, John Paul Harkins, Olivia Jampol, Artem Kreimer, Derek Christopher Murphy, Xanthe Paige, Mike Swift, Kate Thulin, and Casey Wortmann.

The creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (scenic design), Masha Tsimring (lighting design), Michael Hili & Hallie Elizabeth Newton (costume design), Brendan Connelly (sound design), Zach Serafin (props design), J. David Brimmer (fight choreography), Sarah East Johnson (aerial consultant), Anne Cecelia Haney (assistant director) Morgan Leigh Beach (stage manager), and Annie Jenkins (assistant stage manager).

“Wolf in the River” runs through May 2 on the following schedule: Thursday–Saturday and Monday at 7PM, Saturday at 1PM, and Sunday at 3PM during previews. After opening, Saturday matinees only play on select Saturdays. Tickets start at $20 with the lowest priced tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis. The production includes nudity, violence, graphic language, and sexual situations. The Flea Theater is located at 41 White Street between Church and Broadway. Purchase tickets by calling 212-352-3101 or online at http://www.theflea.org. Running time
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

“Barbara Cook: Then and Now” at New World Stages

“Barbara Cook: Then and Now” at New World Stages
Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Rehearsal begins today for “Barbara Cook: Then and Now,” a candid and intimate evening conceived by 3-time Tony Award winner James Lapine and directed by 10-time Tony Award winner Tommy Tune. The production will begin preview performances Tuesday, April 12, officially open Wednesday, May 4 and play a strictly limited engagement through Sunday, June 26 Off Broadway at New World Stages Stage One (304 West 50 Street).

Hers is a voice that’s become a constant in musical theatre for over 50 years. From the striking ingénue of Broadway’s Golden Age, to the legendary performer of the 21st century, Barbara Cook has sold out theaters and concert halls around the world with her masterful interpretations of music’s most memorable songs. This spring, she shares the best story of all - her own - in what promises to be a unique and intimate evening filled with music and memories to last a lifetime.

Together with a little help from her multiple Tony Award-winning friends, director Tommy Tune and playwright James Lapine, she returns to the stage in “Barbara Cook: Then and Now,” a poignant one-woman performance that takes you on a vibrant and candid journey through her remarkable life. Discover the people and the moments, the challenges and the triumphs that shaped her life - in a one-of-a-kind musical memoir you will never forget.

“Barbara Cook: Then and Now’s” celebrated Tony Award winning design team will feature scenic design by Robin Wagner and lighting design by Ken Billington and music direction by Emmy Award winner Lee Musiker. Additional creative team to be announced.

Barbara Cook’s anticipated autobiography bearing the same title, Barbara Cook: Then and Now, will be released by HarperCollins Publishers in June.

“As I began to write my upcoming memoir, I was surprised by how moved I was in revisiting my early years and later my alcoholic years,” Barbara Cook said, “I’ve always felt that the narrative of my life came through many of the songs I sing, both tunes I’ve introduced and favorites that have spoken to me through different chapters of my life. I’m hoping this evening will be a live companion piece to the book that taught me more about my own life than I ever would have expected.”
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 21, 2016

Baby Jane Dexter “It’s Personal” at the Metropolitan Room

Baby Jane Dexter “It’s Personal” at the Metropolitan Room
Musical Direction by Ross Patterson
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The only words that can come close to describing what Baby Jane Dexter is are “cabaret legend” and, of course, those who have seen her perform know that she is so much more. It seems almost senseless to find a new way to shower praise and applaud her recent performance at The Metropolitan Room. Critics, peers and music aficionados have already said everything there is to say many times over but once again Baby Jane refuses to concede to physical and emotional affliction and brings us closer in her latest show “It’s Personal” - and that it is. She draws us into her life, interpreting lyrics that reflect on her experience, emotional intelligence and positive outlook. She has accepted the responsibility of being honest and transforms that ability into the power that makes her audience shed a few tears, laugh with joy and somehow leave feeling reborn.

She begins her journey into your emotional core with “I’m in Love Again” (Cy Coleman, Peggy Lee, Bill Schliger) using broad gestures out into the room to verify it is her audience she loves. Using “Painted Lady” (Abbey Lincoln) as a portraiture of herself, continuing with the ironic “Bargain Day” (Billy Roy), she captures her audience and keeps them a prisoner in her heart. The patter begins with her exclamation that she has been referred to as a blues singer. She acknowledges this by leaping into “Birth of the Blues” (B.G. DeSylva, Lew Brown, Ray Henderson) and an incredible rendition of “House of the Rising Sun” (traditional English Ballad) that is intimate, exposing how close the lyric might be describing a reality. When she descends on “Orpheus” (Lance Horne) the sound is guttural and the emotion is raw, laced with verity as she proclaims “Give me the truth and I’ll take it.” On the lighter, fun side is the delightful “Experiment” (Cole Porter) which leads into “Everyone Is Gay” (Ian Axel, Chad Vaccarino).

In collaboration with Ross Patterson, Baby Jane Dexter’s musical director and accompanist for over twenty-four years, this show reaches a new level of excellence. Mr. Ross’s musical interludes are brilliant and exhilarating.

In closing, Baby Jane recalls the passing of her dear friend Julie Wilson and how this is the first show where she is not in the audience. What is remarkable is that Ms. Wilson is ever so present when we hear the lyrics to “For All We Know” (J. Fred Coots, Sam M. Lewis) prayerfully erupt from Ms. Dexter’s soul. She leaves us with the powerful “Everybody Hurts” (REM) which seems to be just a little more significant this time but overflowing with hope and gratitude. This cabaret icon insists on accepting everything life may deliver, embracing it and revealing what she has learned through her music. That is who she is!

BABY JANE DEXTER “IT’S PERSONAL”

Baby Jane Dexter’s final encore performance of “It’s Personal!” is on Saturday March 26 at 4:00 p.m. There is a $25.00 music charge and a two-drink minimum. For reservations call 212-206-0440 or to pre-pay online visit www.metropolitanroom.com. The Metropolitan Room, located at 34 West 22nd Street (between 5th & 6th Avenues), celebrates its 10th anniversary in May.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 21, 2016

Review: “Ironbound” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre (Through Sunday April 10, 2016)

Marin Ireland and Josiah Bania in "Ironbound" - Photo by Sandra Coudert
Review: “Ironbound” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre (Through Sunday April 10, 2016)
Written by Martyna Majok
Directed by Daniella Topol
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.” (Virginia Woolf, “Orlando”)
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” (Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”)

Darja (Marin Ireland) has not had a room of her own since she arrived in the United States from Poland with her first husband Maks (Josiah Bania) in 1992: a room she could really call her own. They both work in a factory in Elizabeth, New Jersey and depend on a bus to get them between work and home. Darja becomes pregnant and, after becoming discontent with the factory, Maks wants to make music – in Chicago, not in the Ironbound section of Newark, New Jersey where they have settled. He tells Darja, “People in this country need to know this so I don’t fall from this world like nothing ever happen.” But Darja believes since she followed Maks to The Unites States, “maybe now you follow me. And stay.”

Maks leaves and Darja stays and in Martyna Majok’s brilliant and engaging new play “Ironbound,” Darja’s journey to find herself and her son Aleks spans three decades of bittersweet encounters with men – young and not so young – who she hopes will not object to her thinking as long as she is not thinking of them. The play, currently running at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, begins at the aforementioned bus stop in the present – 2014 – with one of those men Tommy (Morgan Spector) attempting to convince her to stay with him – even marry him – despite his history of philandering infidelity. Darja has managed to tap Tommy’s phone (there’s an app for that) and is aware of his escapades – yet she wants to stay with him because she needs him even more than he needs her.

Between Tommy and Maks, Darja marries the man who owns the factory where she works. He turns out to be a physically abusive husband. In 2006, at the bus station, Darja meets Vic (Shiloh Fernandez) a high school sex worker from a wealthy family who turns tricks with older men hoping to find the sense of home he lacks with his parents. Vic comes closest to being the person who is interested in Darja and what she thinks. This is perhaps the most engaging scene in “Ironbound.” The chemistry between Ms. Ireland and Mr. Fernandez - who makes his New York stage debut with this performance - is remarkable and memorable.

Ultimately, however, Darja – back in 2014 – reconsiders Tommy’s offer to stay with him: sans employment and sans a permanent home, she brokers the best deal she can to protect what is more important to her in the world, her son Aleks, her “kochanie” whom she needs to find and needs a car to find him. She considers Tommy’s offer – even his offer of marriage after learning Maks has died in Chicago – in the hopes she will find Aleks and have Tommy’s insurance to cover her son’s rehab costs. In her appeal to Tommy, she says, “And it’s no guarantee your Blue Cross can do anything but what I can do but try? I am not this kind of person what sits and thinks Why whole the time. He it’s my son. He can do every horrible thing to me and I will look to him and say This is Mine. This is what I have in whole this world what’s mine. You have your love and you give to everybody. This world it have millions peoples like me, millions womens. But is only one me for him. He can’t to throw this away.”

Under Daniella Topol’s impeccable direction, the ensemble cast captures and shares the decision-making process of one woman who has for over three decades sought surcease from life’s seemingly insurmountable challenges. Marin Ireland offers a stunning performance of a woman whose decisions are driven by what matters to her most. “Ironbound” is about the dynamics of decision-making and confirms that what one chooses at any moment is connected to the past and the future and is driven by the commitment not - in Maks words - to “fall from this world like nothing ever happen.” One can claim to “be in the present” but what truly sustains is not just the present but the past and future. Ms. Ireland never leaves the stage and the detritus of 1992 through 2014 remain on stage throughout the performance. Josiah Bania, Shiloh Fernandez, and Morgan Spector deliver a trinity of authentic and believable performances of men who “would like [their] home in [Darja’s] mind to be nice place.”

Justin Townsend’s stark set looms large over Rattlestick’s stage and provides the perfect backdrop – a virtual mindscape really – for Darja’s journey to self-realization and self-empowerment. “Ironbound” is a play not to be missed. It is not the easiest play to watch at times but its challenges are worth every moment of provocative surprise. And it is often quite funny as well. No audience will soon forget the importance of this significant play.

IRONBOUND

“Ironbound” is produced by Women’s Project Theater and Rattlestick Playwright’s Theater.

The cast of “Ironbound” includes Josiah Bania, Shiloh Fernandez, Marin Ireland, and Morgan Spector. The creative team includes set and light designer Justin Townsend, costume designer Kaye Voybe, and sound designer Jane Shaw. Production photos are by Sandra Coudert.

For further information on “Ironbound,” please visit http://www.rattlestick.org/ironbound/. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre is located at 224 Waverly Place in New York City’s West Village. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, March 18, 2016

Review: “Disaster!” at the Nederlander Theatre (Tickets Currently on Sale through July 3, 2016)

Review: “Disaster!” at the Nederlander Theatre (Tickets Currently on Sale through July 3, 2016)
By Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick
Directed by Jack Plotnick
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The 1970s gave movie audiences a treasure trove of disaster films including “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Earthquake,” “The Swarm,” “Fire,” “S.O.S. Titanic,” and “Bees.” The careful observer might see the spirits of these (and other) disaster films in Seth Rudetsky’s and Jack Plotnick’s delectably smart and witty “Disaster!” currently running at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City. That is if the audience can stop laughing long enough to wonder whether Shelly Winters’ apparition might be swimming with the piranhas giving the jukebox musical pasquinade the royal thumbs up.

“Disaster!” begins with a worker falling to his death from his shaking construction platform while securing bolts on the Barracuda the new floating casino docked in Manhattan and ready for its auspicious opening night. The shaking is not related to construction on the West Side Highway. Professor Ted Scheider (Seth Rudetsky) claims the new ship is attached to a pier the contractor drilled directly into a fault line and the vibrations caused by the guests will trigger a deadly earthquake. Ted does all he can to convince guests not to board the Barracuda and sneaks on board to continue to encourage them to get off the ship immediately.

The creative team has assembled a stellar cast to portray the opening night guests, each with an engaging conflict that drives a hilarious plot supported by a songbook of 1970s hits that counterpoint the action in every scene. The characters include friends Chad (Adam Pascal) and Scott (Max Crumm) who are catering the event; Barracuda owner Tony (Roger Bart) who has cut corners in the construction of the ship, placing profit over safety; Marianne (Kerry Butler) Chad’s ex-fiancé who left him standing at the altar, eschewing marriage for a career in journalism; Sister Mary Downy (Jennifer Simard) the gambling addict turned nun; Shirley (Faith Prince) and Maury (Kevin Chamberlin) one suffering a terminal illness, the other pretending not to know; Jackie (Rachel York) a fading chanteuse hoping to marry Tony and traveling with twins Ben and Lisa (Baylee Littrell), and Levora (Lacretta Nicole) the diva past her prime but not her prowess.

The more these guests stomp around the ship’s casino, the closer they come to triggering the earthquake despite Ted’s repeated warnings. Their stories unravel as the ship begins to self-destruct and under Jack Plotnick’s splendid direction, the ensemble cast manages to engage the audience with their eccentric and campy conflicts. As much as the audience laughs at them and their foibles, each member of the audience recognizes something of themselves in these seemingly off-beat characters and the vicissitudes of their disparate lives.

What makes this wild, zany, over the top production viable is the incredible cast of seasoned professionals that are able to turn somewhat caricatures into believable characters, using endless opportunities to coax every ounce of humor from a line, song or situation. The vocal ability and comic timing of this group of fine actors, individually or together, is remarkable, keeping the audience intoxicated with laughter and pleasure. Their interpretations of these outlandish, eccentric personas are not only perfectly accentuated but are given a depth that creates a reality, relating on many different levels.

When Adam Pascal as Chad slides into his rendition of “Without You” (Peter Ham and John Evans) you hold onto your seat and just know you are in for a wonderful ride. You fall in love with Jennifer Simard as Sister Mary Downy instantly from the first notes of “Our Father” and her initial fall (literally) from grace. Her show stopping “Never Can Say Goodbye” (Clifton Davis) is an absolute tour de force. Another outstanding musical moment is “I Am Woman” (Helen Reddy and Ray Burton) given a powerhouse duet performance by Kerry Butler (Marianne) and Baylee Littrell who portrays twins Ben and Lisa with uncanny charm. These are just a few highlights but in truth there is not a musical number in this show that has fault. It is pure listening joy.

“Disaster!” is a delightful musical that knows what it is and celebrates that with inexorable joy. It is smart enough to be an incisive parody of a film genre and still know how to be a successful parody of itself. It is difficult to imagine “Disaster!” without its remarkable cast. Not one star or ensemble member is expendable. This is an impressive, near miraculous accomplishment and one not to be missed.

DISASTER!

The cast of “Disaster!” includes Roger Bart, Kerry Butler, Kevin Chamberlin, Adam Pascal, Faith Prince, Rachel York, Seth Rudetsky, Jennifer Simard, Max Crumm, Baylee Littrell, Lacretta, Nicole and ensemble members Paul Castree, Manoel Felciano, Casey Garvin, Travis Kent, Alyse Alan Louis, Maggie McDowell, Olivia Phillip, and Catherine Ricafort.

“Disaster!” features scenic design by Tobin Ost, costume design by William Ivey Long, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, and sound design by Mark Menard.

“Disaster!” features music direction by Steve Marzullo, fight direction by Rick Sordelet and Christian Kelly-Sordelet, orchestrations by Joseph Joubert, vocal arrangements by Michael McElroy, dance arrangements by David Dabbon, music coordination by Charles Gordon and choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter. Production photos are by Jeremy Daniel Photography.

The 2016 “Disaster!” Performance schedule (subject to change) is as follows: Beginning March 14: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Thursdays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. There will be an added performance on Wednesday, March 23 at 2 p.m. There will be no 7:30 p.m. performance on Sunday, March 27. Beginning April 4: Tuesday and Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.

Ticket prices range from $30-$135 and are available at the Nederlander Theatre box office (208 West 41st Street), http://www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 877-250-2929. Running time is 2 hours and five minutes including a 15 minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, March 18, 2016

Review: “The Way West” at Labyrinth Theater at Bank Street Theatre (Through Wednesday April 6, 2016)

Photo (L to R) Nadia Bowers, Deirdre O’Connell, Anna O’Donoghue. Credit Monique Carboni.
Review: “The Way West” at Labyrinth Theater Company at Bank Street Theatre (Through Sunday April 3, 2016)
Written by Mona Mansour
Directed by Mimi O’Donnell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“You think I care that you’re judging me? I have a job, okay? /I work. At least I can go home and order food and pay for it. /I’m solvent.” (Delivery Guy)

Time after time, in Town Hall Meetings, Primary Election exit polls, and Caucuses in the 2016 Race for the President, the main concern of the electorate seems to be the economy, the lack of employment possibilities, and heroin addiction. Voters are understandably frustrated and angry that a country founded on self-reliance and westward expansion could be in such a fractured state. It would seem the perfect time for Mona Mansour’s “The Way West” which received its world premiere in 2014 at the Steppenwolf in Chicago and is enjoying a revival by the Labyrinth Theater Company in New York City.

There are numerous important plays that use the “way west” as a trope for self-discovery, determination, fortitude, hope in the face of calamity, and forging ahead. Unfortunately, Mona Mansour’s play forages its way across David Meyer’s expansive set at the Labyrinth Theater and just falls short of being one of those important plays. Ms. Mansour’s intent is genuine, but the play – in its present form – wobbles between realism and absurdism never giving either genre the opportunity to realize her noble dramatic goals. Does “The Way West” want to be Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” or Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America?” Had Ms. Mansour leaned more toward a “fantasia” the play would have had more strength and a sturdier dramatic core.

Mom (played with a frenzied despair by the polished Deirdre O’Connell) loves to tell her adult daughters far-fetched stories that have sustained her and she hopes can sustain the stay-at-home Meesh (played with the clueless persona of a loser on the loose by the wonderful Anna O’Donoghue) and the helper-come-lately Manda (played with a dangerous naiveté by Nadia Bowers) as they struggle with the challenges of finding a footing in an unsteady economic environment. Her first story – addressed as much to the audience as to her daughters – is entitled “The Story of the Woman Who Turned a Problem into a Weapon.” This is Mom’s mantra really as she navigates her way through serious illness (her right arm is completely numb and she is wearing adult diapers), financial ruin (she has filed for bankruptcy), and relevance (she has become a parody of herself).

Mom’s struggle would be more interesting and more relevant if she had not brought most of her calamitous ruin upon herself. It is not just that the California economy is tanking leaving behind as many non-survivors as the 1846 Conestoga-crossing from Independence, Missouri to Sacramento City (outlined in Mom’s story “This Is a Basic Story about Crossing the Prairie”). The problem here is that all of the characters, Mom, Meesh, Manda, Robbie (played with a slippery core of amorality by the versatile Curran Conner) and entrepreneur friend Tress (played with a trusting but naïve honesty by Portia) are hapless creatures who have made terrible mistakes in judgement, engaged in criminal behavior, and are – except for Tress who has the modicum of a moral fiber – unlikable and unmotivated to move forward despite Mom’s mantra. And Manda’s ex-boyfriend Luis (played with only a modicum of relevance by Alfredo Narcisco) seems completely extraneous to the play’s rising action – and this is no fault of the skilled Mr. Narcisco.

Under Mimi O’Donnell’s reasoned but sometimes inconsistent direction, the ensemble cast gives each of their characters an often intense and hyperactive authenticity that fills the stage with an aching for redemption and release from the captivity of meaninglessness. The creative team has made some interesting choices: restricting the depth of the stage to serve the “surprise” ending of the play and using the entire length of the Bank Street Theatre space often making it difficult for audience members sitting audience right, for example, to see clearly what is happening on stage right. Giving the cast more room to navigate might have been a more judicious choice.

“The Way West” leaves the audience wanting to know more about how Ms. Mansour’s characters fell off life’s radar and how their current calamities might connect to the pizza delivery man’s (also played by Curran Conner) joy at having a job at thirty-three allowing him to be solvent and “go home and order food and pay for it.” Where did Mom’s clan make a wrong turn? Is their current status their responsibility or society’s shortcoming? “The Way West” seems to be a work in progress much like our country’s attempt to provide “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all its citizens. This is a play to be seen and judged on its own merit.

THE WAY WEST

The cast of “The Way West” includes Nadia Bowers as Manda, Curran Connor as Robbie/Delivery Guy, Alfredo Narcisco as Luis, Deirdre O’Connell as Mom, Anna O’Donoghue as Meesh, and Portia as Tress.

The creative team includes David Meyer (sets), Bradley King (lights), Ryan Rumery (sound), Ásta Bennie Hostetter (costumes) and Lily Perlmutter (production stage manager).

Performances of “The Way West” will take place through Sunday April 3, 2016 on the following schedule at Bank Street Theater, located at 155 Bank Street in Manhattan: Tuesday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday–Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $30.00–$40.00 and can be purchased by visiting labtheater.org or by calling 212-513-1080. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, March 16, 2016

“Ideation” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 17, 2016)

Photo: L-R: Michael Ray Wisely, Jason Kapoor, Mark Anderson Phillips, and Ben Euphrat in
“Ideation” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 17, 2016)
By Aaron Loeb
Directed by Josh Costello
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Aaron Loeb’s intriguing “Ideation” – currently playing at 59E59 Theaters – could easily be categorized as a delightful off-beat Drawing Room farce (except the room here is a corporate Board Room) were it not for the play’s underbelly of moral ambiguity, suspicion, mistrust, conspiracy, paranoia, and an extra-marital affair. Coming off a successful business venture in Crete, Brock (Mark Anderson Phillips), Ted (Michael Ray Wisely), and Sandeep (Jason Kapoor) join their boss Hannah (Carrie Paff) and her less than competent assistant Scooter (Ben Euphrat) to initialize plans for a highly secret project that somehow involves “saving the human race.”

The mystery begins when Ted goes to the whiteboard and writes: “Project Senna.” Underneath, “Rules: 1. No PPT 2. Assume the worst 3. No N-Word” He also draws a system diagram: “I.D. -> Collection -> Containment -> Liquidation -> Disposal.” The audience is immediately aware that all that follows – most of which cannot be shared without multiple spoiler alerts – will assuredly be a “bumpy ride” in the guise of a not-so-typical corporate ideation session. Aaron Loeb’s play was originally developed in the Just Theater New Play Lab and the Bay Area Playwright’s Festival and is produced by San Francisco Playhouse which produced the play in 2013. Its revival here as part of 59E59’s 5A Season is an auspicious and fortuitous event in the current climate of national and international ideation scenarios – real and imagined.

What might be threatening humanity and the global community appears to be a virus, one which could wipe out the entire civilization. At least that’s the team’s assumption as they race to pitch their initial proposal to J.D. the corporate head who only appears as a voiceover (Brian Dykstra) and a flicker on a conference phone call. But as the ideation session proceeds, suspicion mounts as the members begin to question whether their methods have disadvantages “on the moral axis, as it were.” What exactly is J.D. asking them to do and is an incurable virus the real target of “Project Senna?” What could merit the extinction and disposal of millions of human beings?

Things change dramatically when Sandeep expresses his concern about Project Senna: “I mean about the camps. I think about... I’ve been thinking/about it all the way from Crete. I believe in what we are/doing and I understand why there should be a plan -- must be/a plan like this. I do. But... what if? You know? What if it/were instead for brown guys named Mohammed – foreigners/or... People who look like me. People like me.” Sandeep exits the room leaving his team mates questioning their own safety and longevity.

Sandeep’s apparently paranoid speculation thrusts the collaboration into a tailspin and the closer the group’s deadline to report to J.D. the more fractured the team’s cohesion and mutual trust. What they imagine and what they begin to speculate is the remarkable and powerful story line of Mr. Loeb’s script and the ensemble cast capably brings that story to a chilling and disturbing climax. Director Josh Costello keeps the pace of the piece at the frenetic and horrifying level needed and his creative vision never misses the opportunity to turn the audience’s expectations into a delectable chaotic psychological disarray.

That disarray loses steam briefly about eighty minutes into the performance at no fault of the brilliant cast or the director. Mr. Loeb might consider making a few judicious cuts to keep the action consistent throughout (a much shorter make-out scene between Sandeep and Hannah would be one possibility). Despite this, “Ideation” is a splendid mental exercise in speculation and culpability that keeps the audience guessing from beginning to end.

IDEATION

Produced by San Francisco Playhouse, “Ideation” is part of the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Reprising their roles from the San Francisco Playhouse run are Ben Euphrat, Jason Kapoor, Carrie Paff, Mark Anderson Phillips, and Michael Ray Wisely. The design team includes scenic design by Bill English; lighting design by Gertjan Houben; costume design
by Abra Berman; and sound design by Theodore J.H. Hulsker. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Ideation” runs through Sunday, April 17. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM. Please note there is no performance on Saturday, March 6 at 2 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 14, 2016

Review: “Starting Here, Starting Now” at the York Theatre Company (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)

Photo: Charlotte Maltby, Bobby Conte Thornton and Krystal Joy Brown. Credit: Ben Strothmann.
Review: “Starting Here, Starting Now” at the York Theatre Company (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)
Music by David Shire
Lyrics and Direction by Richard Maltby, Jr.
Music Direction by Kevin Stites
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

In the final show of the York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti Winter 2016 Series, “Starting Here, Starting Now” passes the test of time with high marks as it explores the trials and tribulations of love, relationships, and self- discovery with a diverse compilation of lesser known songs by the familiar team of Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire. The 26 musical numbers are organized in a revue format and presented by a triad of actor/singers who integrate from solo, to duet, to trio producing tight harmonies and interesting dramatic and comedic situations. Mr. Maltby has the unique ability to make each song a complete story with clever and revealing lyrics that allow the performer to access their emotional core. He might be described as an upbeat, optimistic Sondheim without bowing to melancholy to convey the message. Mr. Shire’s music is a kaleidoscope of styles, producing easy, lilting, lyric tempos or sometimes creating forceful, driving rhythms that reflect emotional turbulence.

The order of the musical numbers has no distinct continuity except for the fact that all the songs in Act 1 deal with relationships and Act 2 is devoted to self-awareness. Songs flow easily from one to the next but in an attempt for a more contemporary staging, might be bridged together musically with no interruption. Also the production is heteronormative for this day and age and might be better served by adding another male actor, since the material is very accommodating to any type of relationship.

The cast of three are all talented and capable as they assume specific characters for each of their musical stories, demonstrating familiar feelings of insecurity, fear, regret, joy, delight and disappointment. They must be commended for undertaking the amount of music and staging involved in this production and will undoubtedly feel more comfortable with every performance. Krystal Joy Brown provides a strong Broadway belt to “What about Today” and also handles “Crossword Puzzle” with great comedic timing and emotional control. Soprano Charlotte Maltby adds her clear timber to “Autumn” and “Song of Me” while adding her manic charm to “I’m Going to Make You Beautiful.” Bobby Conte Thornton provides an intense, dramatic interpretation of “I Don’t Remember Christmas,” a sincere, powerful “I Hear Bells,” and an easy, pleasing vulnerability in “Flair.” These three are generous performers and understand collaboration as they fuse their individual skills to become a theatrical force.

Musical director Kevin Stites on piano, accompanied by Danny Weller on bass, guide the singers through the evening with ease. At times tempos seemed off and that musical drive reminiscent of Weil was lacking in certain numbers. This is not an easy show to master and no one should miss the opportunity to immerse themselves in the intricate music of David Shire and the intelligent lyrics of Richard Maltby, Jr.

STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW

The cast of “Starting Here, Starting Now” includes Krystal Joy Brown, Charlotte Maltby, and Bobby Conte Thornton. The creative team includes James Morgan (scenic consultation) and Mary Jo Dondlinger (lighting design). Production stage manager is Elis C. Arroyo. Production photos by Ben Strothmann.

The performance schedule for “Starting Here, Starting Now” is Saturday, March 12 at 2:30 p.m.* and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, March 13 at 2:30 p.m.* and 7:00 p.m., Wednesday, March 16 at 7:00 p.m., Thursday, March 17 and Friday, March 18 at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, March 19 at 2:30 p.m.* and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, March 20 at 2:30 p.m. (*audience discussions follow these matinee performances).

Single tickets for “Starting Here, Starting Now” are priced at $45.00 and available online at www.yorktheatre.org, by calling (212) 935-5820, or in person at the box office at the York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s (619 Lexington Avenue, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue), Monday through Friday (12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.) For additional information, please visit www.yorktheatre.org. Running time is 2 hours including a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 14, 2016

Stephen Petronio Company – “Bloodlines” at The Joyce Theater (Through March 13, 2016)

Stephen Petronio Company "MiddleSexGorge" - Photo by Sarah Silver
Stephen Petronio Company – “Bloodlines” at The Joyce Theater (Through Sunday March 13, 2016)
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Stephen Petronio Company returns to The Joyce Theater with the second season of “Bloodlines,” a multiyear project that embraces significant works by trailblazers of American postmodern dance. The 2016 season features Trisha Brown’s “Glacial Decoy” (1979), Mr. Petronio’s “MiddleSexGorge” (1990), and the world premiere of Petronio’s “Big Daddy (Deluxe).”

Trisha Brown’s landmark “Glacial Decoy” (1979) was her first work for the proscenium stage. This dance for five women uses the edges of the stage to magnify the reach of dance beyond its frame. It features an iconic visual design of projected images depicting classic Americana, along with billowing white costumes, both by Robert Rauschenberg. Mr. Petronio’s description of this iconic piece could not be more accurate: “it celebrates the intelligence of a gender-driven story like no other.” Against the backdrop of images of Americana moving left to right, five female dancers enter and exit in stunning patters of pairing, mirroring, counterpointing movement often leaving the stage bare with anticipation. The movements are in synch, just out of synch, and are mirrored by dancers who disappear into the wings with just an arm visible – powerful images representing the sometimes ephemeral and elusive nature of emotional strength and gender identity.

Mr. Petronio plays Brown’s cool, all-female meditation against the heat and volatility of “MiddleSexGorge,” (1990) his signature anthem to gender and power in the midst of repressive cultural norms. The piece is set to a commissioned score by the British post-punk band Wire, with costumes designed by H. Petal. The now iconic “bare-bottomed” male dancers clad in pale corsets or flower-bedecked “pants” collide with one another and the Company’s female dancers in a kaleidoscope of beautiful images that defy gender conformity or definition. These striking images explore a matrix of strength, weakness, sorrow, compassion, healing, and community. Ken Tabachnick’s lighting - as it does in “Big Daddy (Deluxe)” – embraces the dancers with an ethereal and enchanting glow that accentuates each movement with grace.

Mr. Petronio’s company of formidable dancers are the stars in the premiere of his talking dance, “Big Daddy (Deluxe).” Based on an uncharacteristically personal and emotional solo, “Big Daddy,” the work - originally commissioned by the American Dance Festival in 2014 - features text about his father culled from his recent memoir, “Confessions of a Motion Addict.” Mr. Petronio is to be commended for continuing to push the envelope in the development of dance in America (the genre is thankful he changed his major from pre-med); however, the “lecture demonstration” convention introduced in this world premiere seems not to serve well the overall strength of this otherwise impressive memoir to his father. The imagery in the movement settles in the memory here – not the spoken word. The calculated exits of the dancers to demonstrate the gradual dissolution of Petronio’s father’s “v-shaped” body and sharp mind is a remarkable trope better served by silence or a recording of his important reminiscence.

“Bloodlines” is not around for long and should not be missed.

STEPHEN PETRONIO COMPANY - BLOODLINES

The Stephen Petronio Company dancers are Davalois Fearon, Kyle Filley, Gino Grenek, Cori Kresge, Jaqlin Medlock, Tess Montoya, Nicholas Sciscione, Emily Stone, and Joshua Tuason. Lighting design is by Petronio’s longtime collaborator Ken Tabachnick. Production photo by Sarah Silver.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

“Red Speedo” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Extended through Sunday April 3, 2016)

Photo: Lucas Caleb Rooney and Alex Breaux in "Red Speedo" - Credit Joan Marcus
“Red Speedo” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Extended through Sunday April 3, 2016)
By Lucas Hnath
Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“You did the only thing you could,/and the only thing you should./When you go for what you want,
when you think about yourself,/when you do what’s best for you,/everyone benefits” – Peter to Ray

On the eve before the qualifying trial for the Olympics, Ray (Alex Breaux) stands by the pool at his club listening to his brother Peter (Lucas Caleb Rooney) try to convince his Coach (Peter Jay Fernandez) to destroy the evidence found in the Coach’s refrigerator in his office. That evidence is a cooler full of performance enhancing drugs ostensibly owned by Ray’s nemesis Tad. Ray breaks into the exchange between his brother and his Coach suggesting his brother “hold on to the drugs for safe keeping until after the race, and once Coach has decided what to do after he’s had more time to think.” That suggestion foreshadows the central conflict in Lucas Hnath’s “Red Speedo” currently running at the New York Theatre Workshop: the drugs, in fact, belong to Ray and he has been taking them to increase his chances of getting to the Olympics.

The wonderful grit of “Red Speedo” results from the playwright’s ability to develop rounded characters with intriguing conflicts that drive 80 minutes of multilayered plots with enough twist and turns to keep the audience on their toes and on the edge of their seats throughout. After Ray’s startling admission, all bets are off as to whether he will be able to compete in the Olympics or whether Peter’s deals based on that competition will come to fruition. There is a great deal at stake for all four characters. Questions needing to be addressed are: who suggested Ray needed performance enhancing drugs, what he was thinking when he decided to take the drugs, where he obtained the drugs, why he thought he could get away with taking the drugs, and when will the money from the speedo deal start coming in?

The characters, ostensibly eschewing the arguments of their “opponents,” use the same rhetorical devices embedded in those arguments to counter and win. The fascinating device here is that they do not even know they are using the same style of rhetoric to argue their own point. As the “defrocked” sports therapist Lydia (Zoë Winters) battles with Ray over drugs, marriage proposals, the need to win and the perils of losing, she and Ray use the same tropes to win over the other and avoid the loss of pride and power. For the audience, embedded in all of these altercations is a delicious dose of dramatic irony.

Words fly fluidly across the stage and shoot out over the audience in rapid fire succession as the members of the ensemble cast of Lucas Hnath’s “Red Speedo” make their cases for winning and the dynamics of succeeding in competition. Enduring questions catapult off Riccardo Hernandez’ sturdy swimming pool wall and ricochet off the characters and the audience members with unrelenting ferocity. Is there only one set of values that determine how an individual competes? Is there only one moral path to winning? What does it mean to win? An air horn sounds to signify the beginning of a new scene or episode in the play and paves the way for the epistemological exercise that turns the heads of the audience members as quickly as marathon tennis match.

Under Lileana Blain-Cruz’ animated and resolute direction, the ensemble cast maintains a rigorous and energetic pace right up until the surprising, shocking, and somewhat disturbing ending. Alex Breaux’s Ray balances his accomplished street smarts with his somewhat off-putting “he’s no scholar” persona. Lucas Caleb Rooney’s Peter is an exasperating morally bankrupt attorney who, in the end, might be the only one who truly understands his conflicted younger brother. Peter Jay Fernandez’ Coach makes opportunism look like a values-laden construct. And Zoë Winters’ Lydia has the uncanny ability to convince Ray that the length of his fingers determines the chances of his ability to win so she can sell him performance enhancing drugs! Riccardo Hernandez’ swim club set is sleek and realistic to a fault – complete with a swimming pool. Yi Zhao’s lighting design is both subtle and stark. And Matt Tierney’s sound design reverberates with power and pathos.

“Red Speedo” – in a profound way - reintroduces for discussion the tenants of the theologian Joseph Fletcher’s “Situation Ethics: The New Morality” of the late 1990s. While trying to convince Lydia to get more HCG drugs for him, Ray argues, “I’m just saying all I’m tryin to get at is that/we all do things that are sorta good/and sorta not so good.” And in his appeal to Ray to stay with the swim club, the Coach asks, “Why would you want to mess around with something that works?/Why take the risk?” In other words, there seem to be no moral absolutes. The rich question throughout the play is, what are the characters willing to do to achieve what they want and/or perceive they need?

The play’s underbelly of moral ambiguity is counterpointed by the ambiguity extant at the conclusion of “Red Speedo” – ambiguity that leaves the audience wishing there were at least one more act!

RED SPEEDO

The cast of “Red Speedo” features Alex Breaux, Peter Jay Fernandez, Lucas Caleb Rooney, and Zoë Winters.

The production features scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez; costume design by Montana Blanco; lighting design by Yi Zhao; sound design by Matt Tierney; and fight direction by Thomas Schall. Production photos are by Joan Marcus.

“Red Speedo” will run through March 27, 2016 for a limited engagement at New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday – Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $49.00 and are available for purchase at http://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 3, 2016

“Smokefall” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)

Photo: Tom Bloom, Robin Tunney, Brian Hutchison, and Taylor Richardson in a scene from "Smokefall." Credit Joan Marcus
“Smokefall” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)
By Noah Haidle
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Neither need you tell me,” said Candide, “that we must take care of our garden.” “You are in the right,” said Pangloss; “for when man was put into the garden of Eden, it was with an intent to dress it: and this proves that man was not born to be idle.” “Work then without disputing,” said Martin; “it is the only way to render life supportable.” (Jean Jacques Voltaire, “Candide” 1759)

No one can excel at magical realism as well as the genre’s founder Gabriel García Márquez whose short stories and novels use magical elements and events in otherwise ordinary and realistic situations and typically explore the theme of solitude. However, Noah Haidle has written a splendid play in which magical realism counterpoints a family drama with considerable success. There is even a bit of manic vaudeville thrown into the literary mix. After two productions in Chicago at the Goodman (2013 and 2014) “Smokefall” is being produced in New York by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

The setting is a fictional “Father Knows Best” house in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The inhabitants are anything but Father-Knows-Best-fare. The head of the household is the Colonel (played with a shattered sternness by Tom Bloom) whose accelerating dementia has required the return home of his daughter Violet (beautifully played by the remarkable Robin Tunney), her husband Daniel (played with deep disquietude by Brian Hutchison), and their daughter Beauty (played with a hopeful vacancy by Taylor Richardson). Violet is pregnant (due any day) with twins. Daniel has had enough of both marriage and Violet and is on his way out the door – for good. Hoping somehow to break the cycle of dysfunction, Beauty has sacrificed speaking and a normal diet, hoping eating dirt and drinking paint might distract her parents from bickering. Beauty’s disturbing behavior is ignored and the dissolution of the family system progresses.

However, the audience cannot and must not ignore the disturbing themes of Noah Haidle’s accomplished foray into magical realism. Those themes are best understood in a scene which unfortunately cannot be described here without a spoiler alert. In fact, much of the action in the play is so surprising it cannot be described in great detail without detracting from its visual and emotional impact. Time is of no importance in “Smokefall” and the four generations of fractured family collide on one another and meet one another in remarkable ways. The play’s narrator Footnote (played with a flawless intensity by Zachary Quinto) guides the audience through the manic matrix of Violet’s past, present, and future and the time-warped hesternal narratives of her forebears and offspring.

The first act of “Smokefall” is the stronger of the two. Playwright Noah Haidle establishes the essential themes of his play carefully and strongly. It is in the second act when the playwright tells and retells the same stories over and over again – and adds the seasoning of hopefulness – that the power of the first act diminishes. Overall, under Anne Kauffman’s direction, the cast portrays the host of characters with honesty and believability and leads the audience into the womb of wonder that is the autumnal smokefall of life.

The specter of T. S. Eliot pervades Mr. Haidle’s work and deepens the playwright’s exploration of humanity’s despair of residing in perpetuity just East of Eden. “Smokefall” begins to wobble when Mr. Haidle attempts to sugar-coat that interminable residency. The power of this interesting play is in its perception of the disquietude of humanity and its fear of never quite breaking the cycles of despair. Both Noah Haidle and Gabriel Garcí¬a Márquez understood this dilemma. In “Love in the Time of Cholera,” Gabriel Garcí¬a Márquez writes, “He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” “Smokefall” is at its best when its richly developed characters discover that they have and will continue to give birth to themselves forever.

It is all right for Violet’s grandson Samuel (also played by Mr. Quinto) to choose to “take care of his garden” as long as he understands that he is ambushed in yet “Another variation on the theme of a love that can’t cease transforming.”

SMOKEFALL

“Smokefall” by Noah Haidle, directed by Anne Kauffman, stars Tom Bloom, Brian Hutchison, Zachary Quinto, Taylor Richardson, and Robin Tunney. The creative team includes Mimi Lien (scenic design), Asta Bennie Hostetter (costume design), David Weiner (lighting design), Lindsay Jones (sound design). Amber Mathis is production manager and Vanessa Coakley is production stage manager. Casting is by Telsey + Company. Production photos are by Joan Marcus.

“Smokefall” performs at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street in Manhattan’s West Village) on the following schedule: Tuesday – Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday – Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $49.00 - $99.00 and can be purchased at http://www.mcctheater.org/tickets.html or by calling 866-811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 1, 2016

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