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Off-Broadway Review: “Everything Is Super Great” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday December 14, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Everything Is Super Great” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday December 14, 2019)
Written by Stephen Brown
Directed by Sarah Norris
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Loss looms large over four Texas residents in Stephen Brown’s “Everything Is Super Great” currently running at 59E59 Theaters. Nineteen-year-old Tommy (a sullen and hapless Will Sarratt) has lost his father, his brother, and he’s “not really allowed inside of an Applebee’s ever again.” Tommy’s mother Anne (a bellicose and overwhelmed Marcia Debonis) has lost her friends, her husband, one of her sons, and feels she is slowly losing Tommy. Tommy’s Starbucks coworker Alice (a rebellious and overburdened Lisa Jill Anderson) is losing her mother to the ravages of Alzheimer’s. And Tommy’s therapist Dave (an overzealous and lonely Xavier Rodney) loses, finds, and loses again his estranged girlfriend. Perhaps even more painful is the dramatic loss of “self” that each of these characters and their often-self-inflicted brokenness.

Given the extent of this collective loss and brokenness, sarcasm becomes palpable in the tile of Stephen Brown’s play. Clearly, everything isn’t super great for these four inter-related characters whose lives are like many others living cross the United States and the world. Loss permeates the vicissitudes of life. Broken relationships, family dysfunction, irreversible age-related illness, and loneliness insert themselves uninvited and unannounced into the lives of individuals and families. “Super great” dissolves into the realm(s) of the languorous.

Tommy’s mother is overbearing, possessive, and often inappropriate in her interactions with her son. Anne allows Tommy very little privacy and very little personal space. Tommy is full of anger and his mother’s behavior magnifies his “normal” adolescent angst. After setting a fire at his workplace Applebee’s, Tommy loses his job and is charged with a felony which is reduced to a misdemeanor after his mother “blasted into the cop station and was like, ‘It was an accident, he has problems, blah blah blah!’” Anne – without Tommy’s knowledge or permission – secures a former coworker at Walmart to counsel Tommy. Dave has an MFA in music therapy and has never had a client.

The narrative continues with Tommy’s interactions with Alice and his attempts to help her deal with her mother’s dementia and disappearance from her home. In all this action, playwright Stephen Brown works toward a resolution of his characters’ conflicts and a journey to a better place called super great. Under Sarah Norris’s sensitive direction, the ensemble works hard maintaining the authenticity and believability of their characters and allowing the plot to be successfully driven by their conflicts. The scenes are, unfortunately, uneven in both writing and presentation.

Predictably, all’s well that ends well for these four characters who begin to separate and individuate from one another. Tommy begins to face his brother’s disappearance with more maturity and his move with his mother to a new home bodes more healing and self-awareness. One wishes to know more about each character’s “background” and a more gradual revelation of Anne’s pernicious behavior.

Brian Dudkiewicz’s multi-purpose scenic design (Walmart, Starbucks, Tommy’s room, Alice’s home, and Dave’s office) are differentiated by Elaine Wong’s lighting design and Mari Taylor’s costume design.

It’s a good thing that sometimes all things work out for the best for some. To some extent, “Everything IS Super Great” confirms that optimism.


EVERYTHING IS SUPER GREAT

The cast features Lisa Jill Anderson; Marcia Debonis; Xavier Rodney; and Will Sarratt.

The design team includes Brian Dudkiewicz (scenic design); Elaine Wong (lighting design); Mari Taylor (costume design); Janet Bentley (sound design); and Sarnah George (prop design). The production stage manager is Alannah O'Hagan.

“Everything Is Super Great” runs at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street) through Saturday December 14, 2019. For further information and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.59e59.org/. Running time is 95 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Will Sarratt, Marcia Debonis in “Everything Is Super Great” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Hunter Canning.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Broadway Review: “A Christmas Carol” at the Lyceum Theatre (Through Sunday January 5, 2020)

Broadway Review: “A Christmas Carol” at the Lyceum Theatre (Through Sunday January 5, 2020)
By Jack Thorne, Adapted from the Novella by Charles Dickens
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

New York City has several options of entertainment that certainly succeed in spreading some holiday cheer, but there happens to be something special happening at the Lyceum Theatre that might capture your heart, make you smile, and possibly shed a tear, all in the spirit of Christmas. It is the Old Vic Production of the Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol” adapted by Jack Thorne, and directed by Matthew Warchus. It is performed on a relatively empty stage without the distraction of lavish romanticized sets of old England and is quite dark with atmospheric lighting by Hugh Vanstone that creates exquisite paintings for the characters existence. Those familiar with the novella may notice a few liberties taken with the storyline but that does not hinder the emotional impact and only supports the overall design of this production. The result is rich in morality, complex in its simplicity, and delivers an honest and realistic message bursting with emotion.

Before the story unfolds a few musicians step onstage with instruments in hand to entertain as cast members in costumes roam about the theatre with large baskets of clementines and cookies, which they distribute to the audience. The simple smell of citrus as patrons peel the small oranges, invokes a warm memory of a different time and place with the proceedings enhancing the festive mood.

Then the classic tale begins with Ebenezer Scrooge (an imposing Campbell Scott) in his office on Christmas eve ordering his clerk Bob Cratchit (a vulnerable Dashiell Eaves) to work late even though he is expected home and his disabled son, Tiny Tim (a loving Sebastian Ortiz) awaits, to start celebrating the holidays. Scrooge dismisses carolers collecting donations for the poor and rejects an invitation from his nephew (a kind and studious Brandon Gill) to join him and his family in a holiday feast. Alone after closing shop Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his deceased partner (an eerie Chris Hoch) who warns him he will be visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, (the infectious Andrea Martin), Present (the compelling LaChance), and Yet To Come (a telling Rachel Prather) before the night’s end. They all appear and bring revelations that affect the temperament of Scrooge and instill a greater moral integrity. He is changed and begins to repent, becoming an honest, generous and compassionate human being. The end is Joyous!

The cast is remarkable, exhibiting all the skills needed to assure a beautiful holiday musical including forming an entertaining hand bell choir to delight with familiar carols. Costumes by Rob Howell are imaginative reflecting the era and his set design casts a haunting spell that evolves into an exuberant arena filled with joy. Mr. Warchus has carefully orchestrated the proceedings with the utmost consideration to physical detail and emotional depth of the characters without being stagnant.

As I watched a child in the audience interacting with the cast members preshow and participating in the festive activities towards the end of the show, her wide eyes and broad smile were evidence that she had been swept away by the magic of the moment. In fact, I can honestly report that nearly everyone was filled with a joyous feeling as they watched Scrooge learn what happiness he could bring to his fellowman. As the hand bell choir assembles like a Christmas card vignette to chime “Silent Night,” while real snowflakes fall, melting as they land upon your cheek, you become enchanted by the spirit of this miraculous season and this extraordinary production.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

The cast of “A Christmas Carol” features Erica Dorfler, Dashiell Eaves, Hannah Elless, Brandon Gill, Evan Harrington, Chris Hoch, Sarah Hunte, Matthew Labanca, LaChanze, Andrea Martin, Alex Nee, Dan Piering, Rachel Prather, and Campbell Scott. Sebastian Ortiz and Jai Ram Srinivasan share the role of Tiny Tim.

The creative team includes Rob Howell (set and costume design), Hugh Vanstone (lighting design), Simon Baker (sound design), Campbell Young Associates (wig, hair, and make-up design). David Lober serves as production stage manager.

“A Christmas Carol” runs at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street) through Sunday January 5, 2020. For the full performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://achristmascarolbroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission.

Photo: Campbell Scott and the cast of “A Christmas Carol.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, December 1, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Seared” in the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (Through Sunday December 22, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Seared” in the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (Through Sunday December 22, 2019)
By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Successful entrepreneurs like Harry (an overzealous but hypersensitive Raúl Esparza) typically attempt to guard their “art” from “commerce” for as long as possible. They feel frightened by the prospect of commercial success overwhelming their sense of artistic integrity. At least that is Harry’s point of view in Theresa Rebeck’s “Seared” currently running in the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space. With the financial backing of his friend Mike (an overly nervous and conspiring David Mason), the cantankerous chef Harry establishes a popular eatery in New York City that allows him to both satisfy his customers’ palates and his own creative spirit.

After receiving a rave review for his seared salmon, Harry must decide whether to include the dish (he really does not like cooking fish) as a regular choice on his restaurant’s menu. Certainly, his patrons want that salmon dish after the review, and his partner – explaining the establishment’s financial difficulties – wants Harry to sear the salmon regularly. The restaurant’s only waiter Rodney (a compassionate and resourceful W. Tré Davis) also believes Harry should bow to the successful review and prepare the salmon daily. Harry protests that the salmon that garnered the positive review is difficult to find and doesn’t want to bow to pressure from his patrons. They will eat what he chooses to cook.

“Seared’s” temperature heats up when, on the sly, Mike hires Emily (a provocative and gumptious Krysta Rodriguez) as a consultant to convince Harry it is time to expand his business which includes offering salmon on the menu – even if he has to settle for farm-raised salmon instead of the wild-caught salmon that won the food critic’s praise. Emily’s suggestions include almost doubling the seating, sponsoring Japanese cutlery manufactures, and – in short – becoming a better business partner for Mike by agreeing to all she suggests.

The bulk of the over-long play includes arguing, frequent screaming matches, a secret tryst, more arguing, all leading up to Harry walking out just after the arrival of the New York Times food critic. Rodney takes over and prepares the critic’s meal which garners the restaurant, and absent Harry, more accolades. Harry returns weeks later to a restaurant that is functioning quite nicely without him and everyone must decide how to move forward with Harry’s unexpected return.

Tim Mackabee’s set is a perfectly appointed commercial kitchen with a working stove. Under Moritz Von Stuelpnagel’s keen direction, the cast fills the kitchen with authentic and believable frenzy during dinner rush and with the same energy during “downtime” when the characters broker the restaurant’s future. Theresa Rebeck’s script raises rich questions about art and commerce and provides enough “moral ambiguity” to allow the audience to grapple with possible answers to those questions. Should Harry have left? Should Rodney take over the role of chef? Would it be more honest to just close the restaurant if Harry’s artistic choices could not have been met? Can art and commerce ever peacefully coexist?

Ms. Rebeck’s fine script serves as a tantalizing trope – here an extended metaphor – for the place art occupies in America’s commercial environment and for the future of all artistic endeavors in that milieu.

SEARED

“Seared” stars W. Tré Davis, Raúl Esparza, David Mason, and Krysta Rodriguez.

The creative team for “Seared” includes set design by Tim Mackabee, costume design by Tilly Grimes, lighting design by David J. Weiner, sound design by Palmer Hefferan, prop supervision by Andrew Diaz, and casting by Telsey + Company; Adam Caldwell, CSA; Will Cantler, CSA; and Karyn Casl, CSA. The Production Stage Manager is Rachel Gross.

“Seared” runs in the Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (511 West 52nd Street-between 10th and 11th Avenues) through Thursday December 26, 2019. For the full performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://mcctheater.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including intermission.

Photo: Raúl Esparza, W. Tré Davis, Krysta Rodriguez, and David Mason. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, December 1, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Bella Bella” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I (Through Sunday December 1, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Bella Bella” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I (Through Sunday December 1, 2019)
Written and Performed by Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Kimberly Senior
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

There are times during Harvey Fierstein’s performance in his “Bella Bella,” currently playing at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I, that the audience is convinced – sans dress, sans hat, sans props – that he is the iconic social activist “Battling Bella.” When Mr. Fierstein channels Bella’s admonitions about the “voice of the people” superseding the importance of leadership or her differentiation between “transform” and “transfer,” the audience is “hearing” those words being spoken by Ms. Abzug. The response is authentic and somewhat surreal.

To construct his engaging account of Bella Abzug, hold up in her room in the Summit Hotel at the corner of Lexington and 51st awaiting the results of her 1976 Democratic Primary run against Daniel Patrick Moynihan for an open Senate seat, Mr. Fierstein uses her words and works. The result is a compelling pastiche of Abzug’s thoughts on local and national politics, feminism, systemic racism, homophobia, as well as a detailed rehearsal of her many legislative successes and cultural impacts. This playwright/actor manages to compress an iconic life into conversations with/to the audience in the confines of a hotel room.

Harvey Feinstein wisely chooses to “be” Bella Abzug and not simply “portray” her. There are no gimmicks here, no backups, no filters, no frills – just Bella. Mr. Fierstein draws on his skills of connecting with his audience to raise the rich and enduring questions raised by Ms. Abzug’s life and legacy. Deftly directed by Kimberly Senior, Fierstein moves around the Summit Hotel room and manages to create spaces and scenes far removed from Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Set designer John Lee Beatty’s well-appointed and realistic hotel room sits center stage surrounded by a detailed scaled down blue-green façade of the iconic Summit Hotel designed by Morris Lapidus that opened in 1961 – Las Vegas-esque sign and all. Looking closely at the windows of the hotel, one can occasionally see the shadows of a guests walking through their rooms. Tyler Micoleau’s lighting design and Jill BC Du Boff sound design further add to the richness of reality that pervades the entire performance.

Oscar Wilde might have been sincere when he claimed that, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” However, “Bella Bella” is neither imitation nor flattery. The play is pure emulation and deep respect for one of America’s most revered and successful politicians, activists, and champions of truth. Kudos to Harvey Fierstein for sharing this authentic and believable account of Bella Abzug in a time when it is much needed and much appreciated.

BELLA BELLA

“Bella Bella’s” creative team includes John Lee Beatty (Scenic Design), Rita Ryack (Costume Design), Tyler Micoleau (Lighting Design), Jill BC Du Boff (Sound Design), and Caite Hevner (Projection Design).

“Bella Bella” runs at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I (131 West 55th Street) through Sunday December 1, 2019. For information on the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Harvey Fierstein in “Bella Bella.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “The Michaels” at The Public’s LuEsther Hall (Through Sunday December 1, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “The Michaels” at The Public’s LuEsther Hall (Through Sunday December 1, 2019)
Written and Directed by Richard Nelson
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Once again playwright Richard Nelson has gathered another family around the colloquial table to observe their trials and tribulations as they conquer another day of survival in Rhinebeck, New York. This time around it is “The Michaels” who are the subjects of this intimate study of human behavior. The revelations evolve almost in real time as friends and family convene for an evening meal in the kitchen of Rose Michael, a semi-retired choreographer, who is suffering from ovarian cancer. A friend, Kate Harris is a retired high school history teacher, who has become somewhat of an adopted caretaker or possibly more. Ex-husband, David Michael, an arts manager and producer is also present, along with his new wife Sally Michael who was a member of Rose’s dance company. Lucy Michael, daughter of Rose and David, is a dancer and choreographer, joined by another dancer, her cousin May Smith, who have come to recreate some of Rose’s early pieces for a retrospective performance. Also visiting and joining the somewhat pensive proceedings is another dancer from Rose’s company and good friend, Irenie Walker.

This is a quiet evening that involves discussions and decisions that might change the lives of some of the participants and establishes the characters identities and motives. It explores the avenues of rejection, acceptance, creativity, mortality, vulnerability and commitment with precise scrutiny perhaps at times discovering hidden truths. Although Rose Michaels may be dying of cancer, this is not a play about death but more so, resurrection. Bygone relationships are rekindled. Creative works are revived. Opportunities arise and hope emerges from the shadows of despair. It is an honest dialogue that dissects the density of life.

The cast is remarkable and even in all respects. Ordinary tasks from baking quiche to making salads almost exist as part of the dialogue, along with the rehearsal of modern dance routines that circle the observers for inspection. This is how the Michaels live. This production seems to be a great example of the “art of experiencing” as opposed to the “art of representing” which is the basis for method acting developed by Russian theater practitioner Stanislavski. Even the slightest movement is driven by purpose, exposing the actor’s inner thoughts.

Brenda Wehle settles into the character of Rose filling her with strength, honesty and determination as she battles the irremediable disease. David Rose is captured by Jay O. Sanders as a man saturated with compassion, all the while being practical and buoyant. Rita Wolf evokes the pragmatic nature of Sally with an ostensible charm. Katie is revealed as a sincere, giving friend, haunted by a past relationship that could possibly be resurrected which would mean abandoning Rose. Haviland Morris brings a solid Irenie to the table executing careful judgment to avoid disruption. Accomplished dancers Charlotte Bydwell as Lucy and Matilda Sakamoto as May, add a spark of life and youth to the festivities as they flood the kitchen with emotional movement.

As director, Mr. Nelson delivers a slice of life episode that is deftly unleashed on a stage of the Public Theater with courage and conviction. It is not packed with explosive emotional conflict but is a compelling study of human behavior that is subtle in its exposition. One can only look forward to the next chapter to unfold in the life of this artistic clan, as they navigate troubled times and celebrate friends and family.

THE MICHAELS

The cast of “The Michaels” features Charlotte Bydwell (Lucy Michael), Haviland Morris (Irenie Walker), Maryann Plunkett (Kate Harris), Matilda Sakamoto (May Smith), Jay O. Sanders (David Michael), Brenda Wehle (Rose Michael), and Rita Wolf (Sally Michael).

“The Michaels” features scenic design by Jason Ardizzone-West, co-costume design by Susan Hilferty and Mark Koss, lighting design by Jennifer Tipton, sound design by Scott Lehrer, dance coaching by Sara Rudner based on original choreography by Dan Wagoner, and choreography consulting by Gwyneth Jones.

“The Michaels” runs at the Public’s LuEsther Hall (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday December 1, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater. Running time is 2 hours without intermission.

Photo: Haviland Morris, Brenda Wehle, Maryann Plunkett, and Jay O. Sanders in The Michaels. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Einstein’s Dreams” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday December 15, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Einstein’s Dreams” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday December 15, 2019)
Book and Lyrics by Joanne Sydney Lessner
Music and Lyrics by Joshua Rosenblum
Directed by Cara Reichel
Based on the novel by Alan Lightman
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is no denying that a retrospect on of the life of Albert Einstein and the development of his renowned Theory of Relativity would be compelling and extremely interesting. To present this study in the form of musical theatre is a challenging and difficult task that requires a keen intellectual and creative perspective. The discerning approach to this undertaking used by Prospect Theater Company in the new musical “Einstein’s Dreams” is to present an adaptation of Alan Lightman’s bestselling novel of the same name. Consequently, the outcome is contrived, bewildered, somewhat controlled, and struggles to find a distinct artistic translation to deliver the character of Einstein or the importance of his discovery.

The plot revolves around a young Albert Einstein (an engaging Zal Owen) working as a clerk in a patent office in the early years of the twentieth century evaluating new patent applications. His work and intelligence are underappreciated by his priggish boss Klausen (a staunch Michael McCoy). Albert’s marriage is having problems and he consistently falls asleep when working late at the office to avoid returning home. In his dreams he meets and falls in love with the enigmatic Josette (a zealous Alexandra Silber) who guides him through his discovery of time in reference to relativity. Besso (a charming Brennan Caldwell) is the friend and co-worker who helps him navigate reality. The even keel secretary Marta (a pleasant Tess Primack) and the conscientious assistant to the boss, Hilda (a distinguished Stacia Fernandez) all show concern for the young Einstein. Every time Einstein meets Josette in his dreams, he comes closer to discovering his renowned theory of relativity.

The thin book and simple lyrics are credited to Joanne Sydney Lessner and although serviceable, are lackluster and at times trite. The music created by Joshua Rosenblum is lush and emotive but is mostly derivative. Isabel Mengyuan Le provides a sleek, attractive and effective two-level set. Costume design by Sidney Shannon depicts the period attractively. The projections designed by David Bengali are absolutely stunning and lighting by Herrick Goldman is moody and atmospheric complimenting every scene. The orchestrations by Mr. Rosenblum and Tim Peierls are gorgeous and executed by the six-piece orchestra with deft precision. Director Cara Reichel constantly distracts from the significant content with the choice of erratic and quirky movement of hands and arms by the ensemble and fails to instill an emotional depth in the characters.

The cast rounded out with Vishal Vaidya, Lisa Helmi Johanson and Talia Cosentino are fully competent and vocally accomplished although voices have some difficulty blending in duets. The highlight of the show is the wonderful song “I Will Never Let You Go” delivered with clarity and emotion by Ms. Primack.
This present incarnation is an admirable attempt but needs some adjusting and fine tuning. It just seems that the intent overshadows the content.

EINSTEIN’S DREAMS

Zal Owen plays Einstein. Joining him in the cast are Brennan Caldwell, Talia Cosentino, Stacia Fernandez, Lisa Helmi Johanson, Michael McCoy, Tess Primack, Alexandra Silber, and Vishal Vaidya.

The design team is Isabel Le (scenic design); Sidney Shannon (costume design); Herrick Goldman (lighting design); Kevin Heard (sound design) and David Bengali (projection design). The Production Stage Manager is Elizabeth Ann Goodman.

“Einstein’s Dreams” plays at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison) through Sunday December 15, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For schedule adjustments, visit https://www.59e59.org/ and to purchase tickets, call the 59E59 Box Office at 646-892-7999 or
visit the website. The running time is 95 minutes, including intermission.

Photo: Alexandra Silber, Zal Owen, Michael McCoy, Tess Primack, Vishal Vaidya, Lisa Helmi Johanson in “Einstein’s Dreams” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Richard Termine.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, November 21, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “The Underlying Chris” at Second Stage Theater’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday December 15, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “The Underlying Chris” at Second Stage Theater’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday December 15, 2019)
Written by Will Eno
Directed by Kenny Leon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

A three-month-old infant named Chris looks up from his stroller at his thirty-something mother (Hannah Cabell) as she makes an appointment with his pediatrician for the next day at 11:15. Chris has twisted himself and possibly hurt his back after his big stuffed toy carrot hits him in the eye. Chris’s back injury isn’t the worst of his or his mother’s problems on that fateful day. Shortly after his father arrives home after work, he dies suddenly from a brain hemorrhage. This is scene one of twelve parsing the vicissitudes of life through the experiences of characters “underlying” the Chris who appears at the beginning of the play.

This isn’t Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man.” This is playwright Will Eno’s twelve stages of Chris, the subject of his engaging but complex “The Underlying Chris” currently playing at Second Stage Theater’s Tony Kiser Theater. Chris is a ten-year-old black child (Nicholas Hutchinson) who fantasizes being the Chinese Olympic diver Jianguo Tong Wu. Chris/Christine (Isabella Russo) is a pubescent girl hospitalized with injuries from diving chatting with the physician who later becomes her adoptive father. Chris/Kris is a twenty-one-year-old tennis player (Lenne Klingaman) being interviewed on radio. Twenty-seven-year-old Chris/Christopher (Luis Vega) is a resident uncomfortable with medicine who, after meeting veterinarian Louise in a café, assists her in a procedure, marries her, and has a daughter Joan.

The characters continue to cascade through the decades – all suffering from those initial injuries of twisting the wrong way (an event not to be taken literally) and becoming fatherless (one of many tragedies that “stifle” growth). Chris is the therapist Kristin; the actor Topher (Howard Overshown); sixty-year-old Krista (Lizbeth Mackay) on a park bench with her grandson; the seventy-year-old Kit (Michael Countryman) at the DMV unable to renew his license because he cannot pass the vision test; the eighty-two tear old Christiana (Nidra Sous Le Terre) celebrating her birthday at a nursing home (where swaddled in a blanket “little Chris” rests in a stroller); the blind and almost-ninety Khris (Charles Turner) waiting for his physical therapy appointment “for his back;” and, finally, the Chris hosting his own funeral where a myriad of characters gather to pay their respects.

Under Kenny Leon’s keen direction, the eleven members of the cast grapple successfully with the multiple roles they play with distinction. Arnulfo Maldonado’s movable set accommodates twelve different and distinctive scenes lighted beautifully by Amith Chandrashaker. Dede Ayite’s costumes grace the ages and decades with appropriate style.

It would be easy to make the claim that Will Eno’s exploration of the interconnectedness of life is more confusing than complex. It is true that it is sometimes difficult to identify the characters surrounding the eleven manifestations of “Chris.” Some, in fact, seem extraneous to the playwright’s purposes. However, this accusation is only relevant if the viewer becomes overly concerned about logic, linear thinking, and the sensibleness of life itself. Perhaps it is easier to “blame the messenger” that to admit that life is rarely logical, more episodic than linear, and often populated by the surreal.

Let the images in “The Underlying Chris” roll over the bumpiness of memory and imagination and be prepared to see or hear something that becomes relatable or uncomfortable. It is at those intersections that the underlying Chris, “the formative minutes, the pauses, the speechless years, the little touches” of his life might just connect in redemptive and cathartic ways.

THE UNDERLYING CHRIS

The cast of “The Underlying Chris” features Denise Burse, Hannah Cabell, Michael Countryman, Nicholas Hutchinson, Lenne Klingaman, Lizbeth Mackay, Howard Overshown, Isabella Russo, Nidra Sous Le Terre, Charles Turner and Luis Vega.

The creative team includes settings by Arnulfo Maldonado, costumes by Dede Ayite, lighting by Amith Chandrashaker, sound by Dan Moses Schreier, and casting by Telsey + Company.

“The Underlying Chris” runs at Second Stage Theater’s Tony Kiser Theater (305 West 43rd Street) through Sunday December 15, 2019. For the full performance schedule, visit https://2st.com/. Tickets for “The Underlying Chris” are available by phone at (212) 541-4516, online at https://2st.com/, or in person at the Tony Kiser Theater. Running time is 1 hour and 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Charles Turner, Lizbeth MacKay, and Nicholas Hutchinson in “The Underlying Chris.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, November 21, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “One Discordant Violin” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday November 24, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “One Discordant Violin” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday November 24, 2019)
By Anthony Black, Adapted from a Short Story by Yann Martel
Directed by Ann-Marie Kerr and Anthony Black
Original Score by Aaron Collier and Jacques Mindreau
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Layers of discord populate the story line of Anthony Black’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s short story “The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton.” The short story appeared in Martel’s 2004 “The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios.” Reviewer Christopher Priest in the “The Guardian” called it “the best of the stories” with a subtle point “about the ephemeral quality of achievement, how near one can come, how far away it often is.”

That subtle point remains the theme of Anthony Black’s adaptation of the short story for the stage. The unnamed narrator (Anthony Black) visits his friend in Washington, DC in August 2001, a few weeks before the 9/11 attacks and happens upon the Merridew Theater and a notice for a special concert to be played that night at the theater. The program includes works by Albinoni, Bach, Telemann, and the world premiere of The Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin,
by John Morton. Intrigued by the program and with nothing else to do, the narrator attends the concert.

Mr. Black is the consummate storyteller. He relates the events prior to, during, and after the concert using a full complement od literary tropes, including imagery, figurative language, repetition, logos, ethos, and pathos. He engages the audience with authenticity and makes every account believable and engaging. Throughout the storytelling, Jacques Mindreau plays an original score composed by Mindreau and Aaron Collier as well as selections from the baroque composers. Whether setting the mood or portraying John Morton, Mr. Mindreau’s artistry is remarkable and transcendent.

Under the co-direction of Ann-Marie Kerr and Anthony Black, the narrator moves around the decaying Merridew Theater (Mr. Black also designed the set) with a mixture of curiosity and fear and Jacques Mindreau plays (live-looped by sound designer Aaron Collier) behind translucent walls. When the violinist “represents John Morton, [he] stalks the stage, nearly like a ghost in the memory of the storyteller.” The surreal nature of the proceedings is furthered by the projection and lighting design by Nick Bottomley and Anna Shepard.

The narration “about the ephemeral quality of achievement, how near one can come, how far away it often is” is compelling and easily connects with the aspirations of each audience member and whether those aspirations ever reached fruition. The narrator’s meeting with John Morton at his workplace at a nearby bank is cathartic as Morton shares his life as Vietnam veteran, composer, and janitor for employees who “never ask for more.”

Somehow, Jacques Mindreau’s performance as actor and musician overshadows the text of Anthony Black’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s short story but that matters not. As a whole, “One Discordant Violin” satisfies the theatergoer’s palate with an enchanting story that rings true, is compellingly relatable, and plucks the strings of the heart with cosmic vibrations.

ONE DISCORDANT VIOLIN

The cast of “One Discordant Violin” features Anthony Black with a live score played by violinist Jacques Mindreau.

The design team includes Anthony Black (set design); Nick Bottomley and Anna Shepard (lighting design); Aaron Collier (live sound design and music direction); and Nick Bottomley (projection design). The production stage manager is Ingrid Risk.

“One Discordant Violin” runs at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street) through Sunday November 24, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:15 p.m.; Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; Sunday at 2:15 p.m. Single tickets are $25 - $35 ($26 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call the 59E59 Box Office at 646-892-7999 or visit www.59e59.org. The running time is 70 minutes with no
intermission.

Photo: Jacques Mindreau and Anthony Black in “One Discordant Violin” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, November 18, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Fear” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Sunday December 8, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Fear” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Sunday December 8, 2019)
Written by Matt Williams
Directed by Tea Alagiæ
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Perhaps the most problematic element in the new play “Fear” by Matt Williams is that it is flooded with too many sources of fear that tend to diminish the fear that might actually be present during the action of the play. Characters display their fear of infidelity, bullying, child welfare and safety. These concerns and fears are all revealed while conducting a debate over whether an adolescent, who is being held captive tied to a chair in an abandoned shed, is guilty of harming a missing girl. It is a good cop (the intellectual white-collar college professor) verses a bad cop (the tormenting blue collar plumber) parley, that drives the plot, not the fear of the detained child and what will happen to him. The distracting discussion might be character exposition and contain some emotional outbursts but does not quite provide the necessary tension to elevate this scenario to a thriller. The suspense comes in fits and starts that undermines the urgency of the situation and dissipates the anxiety. The twists and turns are trite and calculated.

Director Tea Alagic is successful in moving the real time event at a quick pace but lacks the ability to bring doubt or the necessary conjecture needed to produce the so called “fear” the piece revolves around. Enrico Coloantoni fills the antagonist plumber Phil with a strong bravado and an unexpected vulnerability but cannot avoid be trapped by a stereotype. Obi Abili provides the protagonist professor Ethan with an air of pretension and a boatload of morality. Alexander Garfin, a LaGuardia high school student making his off-Broadway debut, holds his own as he instills a false innocence and frail demeanor into the captive boy Jamie. All three actors are admirable and do what they can with the material but the characters and set of circumstances are shallow and implausible. Sound design by Jane Shaw and lighting design by D.M. Wood are worthy of mention adding an interesting element to the proceedings. It is the impressive abandoned shed that covers the entire area of the stage of the Lucille Lortel Theatre, created by scenic designer Andrew Boyce, that steals the show. There is no chewing up this scenery!

Even with a somewhat predictable surprise ending, a foregone conclusion is that too much “fear”, erases the only “fear” that could make this new play entitled “Fear” become a suspenseful thriller.

FEAR

“Fear’s” cast features Obi Abili, Enrico Colantoni, and Alexander Garfin.

The creative team includes scenic designer Andrew Boyce, lighting designer D.M. Wood, costume designer Oana Botez, sound designer Jane Shaw, fight director J. David Brimmer. Christine Catti is the production stage manager and casting is by Mary Jo Slater.

“Fear” runs at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street) through Sunday December 8, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday – Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. (added performances on November 25 at 7:00 pm. and Friday, November 29 at 3:00 p.m.). Tickets are $65 - $89 (plus a $2 facility fee) and can be purchased by visiting https://feartheplay.com/ or by calling (866) 811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Enrico Colantoni, Alexander Garfin, and Obi Abili, in “Fear.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, November 18, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: Ars Nova’s “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” at Greenwich House (Through Saturday November 23, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: Ars Nova’s “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” at Greenwich House (Through Saturday November 23, 2019)
Written by Liza Birkenmeier
Directed by Katie Brook
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Commissioned by Ars Nova in 2016 and currently playing at New York City’s Greenwich House, “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” claims to be one thing but delivers something markedly different from its hype. Harriet (Kristen Sieh), Matilda (Erin Markey), Norma (Susan Blomaert), and Meg (Marga Gomez) are “a group of women with passionate opinions and no opportunities [sitting] on a sweltering St. Louis rooftop [in 1983] watching life pass them by. Their uncharted desires bump up against American norms of sex and power in this intimate snapshot of queer anti-heroines.” Given that there have been millennia of LGBTQ+ folk bumping up against their specific cultural/historical norms of sex and power, playwright Liza Birkenmeier has her work cut out for her.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, this reviewer settled into my seat with high expectations. The theatre needs new plays that focus on the uniqueness of the communities under the acronym’s umbrella. Unfortunately, this older, white, cisgender, queer reviewer (full disclosure is always commendable) found nothing new in Birkenmeier’s play, identified more than one straight stereotype that the LGBTQ+ communities have struggled to eschew for at least the span of the last several decades (much longer, of course), and found some of the content offensive to the queer community.

Harriet and Matilda, founders and sole members of the “Two Serious Ladies Book Club,” gather on the rooftop to share stories from past and present, compare notes about Matilda’s husband Arthur and their ailing daughter Leslie, and Matilda’s boyfriend Luke. Matilda seems underwhelmed about her dual roles as mother and spouse. Harriet, commenting on pregnancy and sex with her boyfriend Luke, opines, “Carbon refigured into fetal cells is disgusting, and sex with Luke is disgusting.” She confirms her feelings about men admonishing Matilda to “never talk about men on the roof.” Although these concepts might align with queer theory’s disdain for patriarchy, they do nothing here to address personal responsibility and ownership of decision making.

One such decision is Harriet’s unexpected tryst with the limping motorcyclist she meets at the hospice center (visiting her dying mother) and who invites her back to his house. Despite her “aversion to men,” she parses the experience as the opportunity to demonstrate her power and her ability “to control a room.” How this sex-infused event, detailed in an overwrought and overlong dialogue with Matilda, can be described as relevant to queer theory or identifying Harriet as a “queer anti-hero” is completely baffling and objectionable.

Counterpointing the plot driven by Harriet’s and Matilda’s conflicted relationship is the visit to the roof by Meg (Marga Gomez) and the story of Sally Ride on the night of her historic launch and the visit by her lover Molly Tyson. Matilda invites Meg to the “book club,” an act that devastates Harriet and serves to clarify her feelings for Harriet and expose her jealousy. Once again, the queer must arrive on the scene and “save” the closeted Harriet and rescue her from a life of self-degradation and despair.

Clearly, Matilda and Harriet have a deep affection for one another, a latent queer love that has been repressed and likely unexplored in any depth. What remains unclear is the provenance of the repression and the reasons for not exploring the rich levels of their relationship. There is a story of anguish wrought by repression, misguided choices, and systemic cultural homophobia and gender bias; however, “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” does not rise to an epic tale of “queer anti-heroes” forging a pathway to self-acceptance and claiming true power and control. Under Katie Brook’s direction, the cast does what it can to authenticate their character’s conflicts despite the weakness of Liza Birkenmeier’s script.

DR. RIDE’S AMERICAN BEACH HOUSE

The cast for “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House includes” Susan Blommaert, Marga Gomez, Erin Markey, and Kristen Sieh.

The creative team for “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” includes Kimie Nishikawa (Scenic Design), Melissa Ng (Costume Design), Oona Curley (Lighting Design), Ben Williams (Sound Design) and Alex H. Hajjar (Production Stage Manager).

Ars Nova’s “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House” at Greenwich House (27 Barrow Street, Manhattan) through Saturday November 23, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Monday–Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Tickets, starting at $20.00, are currently on sale at www.arsnovanyc.com and by calling 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Marga Gomez, Kristen Sieh, and Erin Markey in “Dr. Ride’s American Beach House.” Credit: Ben Arons Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Broadway Review: “The Sound Inside” at Studio 54 (Through Sunday January 12, 2020)

Broadway Review: “The Sound Inside” at Studio 54 (Through Sunday January 12, 2020)
Written by Adam Rapp
Directed by David Cromer
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“In this poetic exploration of the auditory imagination, the third in his series on sonic aesthetics, Seán Street peoples silence with sound, travelling through and the shadow lands of the inner psyche. Our mind is a canvas on which the colours of the sound world leave permanent impressions. It is the root of all listening.” – “The Sound inside the Silence - Travels in the Sonic Imagination” by Seán Street (2019)

College professor Bella (a hauntingly introspective Mary-Louise Parker), with pen always in hand and her notebook not too far away, recalls the “colours of the sound world” that have left permanent impressions on her mind’s canvas in Adam Rapp’s surrealistic “The Sound Inside” currently playing at Studio 54. Unfettered by the linear constraints of realism, Rapp displays Bella’s canvas of the mind streaked with images of past events that are far from ordinary and challenge the norms of the sanctity of life and the challenges presented by physical and mental illness.

A brilliant writer and successful teacher, Bella has navigated her way through academia with distinction. She publishes (though perhaps not enough), teaches, and keeps regular office hours so her students can meet with her – until one of her students Christopher (a seemingly troubled and somewhat desperate Will Hochman) shows up without an appointment with a demanding agenda for his new mentor. Much of Christopher’s motivation for meeting with Bella seems entrenched in his confrontational and deeply philosophical weltanschauung. Despite Bella’s admonitions to make appointments to see in the future, Christopher returns repeatedly unannounced and unabashed.

Indeed, Christopher could easily be Bella’s doppelganger. They both reside just outside society’s norms and expectations; both exhibit signs of a deep brokenness; and they both have secrets that slowly are unearthed and unraveled in the course of the ninety-minute mind-bending and emotionally challenging play. Bella and Christopher expose these secrets to one another in a series of meetings at Bella’s office, the cafeteria, and at Bella’s home. These “mysteries,” ordinarily the stuff of spoiler alerts, can be revealed because what matters here is Adam Rapp’s exacting sense of mystery and miracle.

Is “The Sound Inside” a rehearsal of ‘actual’ fictional events? Do Bella and Christopher (the beautiful and the bearer of Christ) meet, or is one the imagination of the other, or both the imagining of some omniscient entity? Does Bella convince Christopher to assist her in taking her own life to escape the scourge of cancer? And is Christopher capable of sparing Bella and thereafter taking his own life? Finally, does Mr. Rapp’s invention (think music) counterpoint melodies yet to be composed in the viewer’s mind? Under David Cromer’s austere and esoteric direction, Ms. Parker and Mr. Hochman skillfully navigate the corners of the audience members’ minds projecting sound and sight on the empty canvases found there.

Heather Gilbert’s lighting easily shares the star spotlight with Mary-Louise Parker and Will Hochman. Sometimes focusing on the reality of the action (if any of the action is real) and often highlighting the surreal in Adam Rapp’s script, Gilbert’s “film noir” feel carefully sets the stage for each surprise – each revelation – that emerges from the dialogue. This is lighting that morphs from design to brilliance without notice and surrounds Alexander Woodward’s enticingly dichotomized set with wonder.

Adam Rapp explores and mines the “shadow lands of the inner psyche” in “The Sound Inside” leaving those who watch and listen scores (think music) of rich and enduring questions about “time and space, the distant past, and the infinite future” and suggests, perhaps, the journey might be accomplished with redemption and release “on the other side.”

THE SOUND INSIDE

“The Sound Inside” stars Mary-Louise Parker with Will Hochman.

The creative team includes Alexander Woodward (Scenic Design), David Hyman (Costume Design), Heather Gilbert (Lighting Design), Daniel Kluger (Original Music & Sound Design), Aaron Rhyne (Projection Design) and Telsey + Company, William Cantler CSA and Karyn Casl, CSA (Casting).

“The Sound Inside” runs at Studio 54 (254 West 54th Street) through Sunday January 12, 2020 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday-Thursday evenings at 7:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday and Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “The Sound Inside” range from $49.00 - $169.00 and are available at www.telecharge.com or the Studio 54 Box Office. For further information, visit https://soundinsidebroadway.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Will Hochman and Mary-Louise Parker in “The Sound Inside.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, November 11, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Macbeth” at the Lynn F. Angelson Theater at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday December 15, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Macbeth” at the Lynn F. Angelson Theater at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday December 15, 2019)
By William Shakespeare
Directed by John Doyle
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There has always been a curiosity and appreciation for bold attempts at new interpretations or the reimagining of the classics and it seems there have been endless attempts on putting a new spin on more than one of these masterworks. There appears to be one more paradigm of this artistic endeavor in the Classic Stage Company’s new production of “Macbeth” designed and directed by Artistic Director John Doyle. The aesthetic branding of mounting a production on a bare stage with a scarcity of props, which has almost become Mr. Doyle’s trademark, was developed to focus more on the text and less on visual distractions. This is a brilliant concept but becomes very dangerous when a director starts to fiddle with the content, creating confusion with partial gender bending, actors playing multiple roles, and dialogue reassignment. Unfortunately, these examples are the confounded decisions that plague this current production.

This current reincarnation may come easy for those who are ever so familiar with the script, but for students, Shakespeare novices and newcomers to the classics it could be baffling. From the opening line scripted to be delivered by one of three witches, “When shall we three meet again,” in this production it is delivered by everyone in the cast except Macbeth, with all the witches’ scenes conveyed in this manner. The following scene introduces Duncan played by a female, with the same actor portraying an old woman throughout the play after Duncan’s death. The remainder of the production follows this precedent making it difficult for a novice to comprehend the plot. Ann Hould-Ward adds to the confusion, designing the unisex costumes worn by the entire cast which consists of various shades of grey fabric draped in different configurations, depending on the character and scene. The results are drab and uninspiring. No argument that the text is strong and can stand alone but when sabotaged by the extenuating circumstances, it becomes weak and ineffective.

The cast is packed with talented actors who fail to overcome the situation and hit their stride. At times some cast members drop the rhythm of Shakespeare’s blank verse making the dialogue lose its natural cadence, feeling strained. Movement is stilted and rigid except for combative scenes which are natural and effective, credited to fight director Thomas Schall. There are some audacious choices that could be credited to the director or the actor that prove worthwhile punctuating nefarious deeds and the consequences but appear blatant when incorporated into the lackluster backdrop. “Less is more,” could possibly be the mantra of Mr. Doyle’s recent endeavors but this incarnation of Macbeth is more or less distorted and inconsequential.

MACBETH

The cast of “Macbeth” features Barzin Akhavan, Raffi Barsoumian, Nadia Bowers, N'Jameh Camara, Erik Lochtefeld, Mary Beth Peil, Corey Stoll, Antonio Michael Woodard, and Jade Wu.

The creative team for “Macbeth” includes John Doyle (Production Scenic Design), Ann Hould-Ward (Costume Design), Solomon Weisbard (Lighting Design), Matt Stine (Sound Design), Telsey + Company (Casting), Bernita Robinson (Production Stage Manager), and Stephanie Macchia (Assistant Stage Manager).

“Macbeth” runs at the Lynn F. Angelson Theater at Classic Stage Company (136 East 13th Street, New York) through Sunday December 15, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays - Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets for “Macbeth” are $75 October 10-26 and $80 October 28-December. $125 prime seats are available at all performances. Tickets and membership packages can be purchased at http://www.classicstage.org/ or 212.352.3101 (or toll free 866.811.4111). Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes, without intermission.

Photo: Nadia Bowers as Lady Macbeth in Classic Stage Company’s “Macbeth.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, November 11, 2019

Broadway Review: “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (Currently On)

Broadway Review: “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (Currently On)
Book by Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins
Additional Music by Nicholas Skilbeck
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There are two major elements that undeniably contribute to the success of the entrancing new Broadway Show “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical” now playing at the Lunt- Fontanne Theatre. The first is the captivating life journey of the musical icon and the second is the truly remarkable performance of Adrienne Warren that solidifies her star status on the Great White Way. They are joined by all the other components needed to establish an electrifying evening of entertainment; however, as powerful and striking as these are, it is the split second you close your eyes and swear you are listening to Tina Turner and when you open them it actually takes a moment to realize it is not her. The dynamic and relentless performance is riveting.

Although the book by Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins is abbreviated, it tries to capture the high and low points of Turner’s life and career. Beginning at an early age as a rambunctious child singing gospel in church in Nutbush, Tennessee, Tina makes history when she performs in South America for the first time at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro before a crowd of one hundred and eighty thousand people. Sent to live with her Grandmother after her mother left her with her abusive father, she returns to live with her mother and sister in St. Louis as a teenager beginning her musical career after meeting musician Ike Turner. Pregnant with another musician’s child, she has the baby but still marries Ike who becomes even more controlling and abusive until she gathers the strength to leave with thirty-six cents in her pocket. The second act of the show is devoted to her comeback and rise to stardom as a solo performer. Her life was filled with rejection, abuse, and racism, but it never broke her spirit. The writing team has taken some artistic and literary license but most of what is presented is factual.

The cast is remarkable turning in some memorable performances which support the production. Young Anna-Mae (Turner’s birth name) is given an exuberant portrayal by Skye Dakota Turner with a vocal rendition of “Nutbush City Limits” that brings down the house, marking a phenomenal Broadway debut. Myra Lucretia Taylor brings an endearing Gran Georgeanna filled with wisdom and sensitivity to the stage and captures the hearts of the audience with an emotional rendering of “Don’t Turn Around.” David J. Watts epitomizes the brutal, abusive husband in Ike Turner with little reservation and reckless, ostentatious behavior. Then there is Adrienne Warren who indisputably is the show, as she steamrolls through two hours and forty-five minutes of singing, dancing and emotional drama with poise and boundless energy. Her vocals are captivating as a balladeer or rock star. She does not fall prey to emulating this musical legend but embodies her soul giving a performance that will surely find its place in the chronicle of Broadway history.

Unfortunately, what surrounds this superstar is not as impressive and does not elevate the production. Lighting design by Bruno Poet becomes repetitious and loses its impact. Projection design by Jeff Sugg repeatedly reduce incredible musical numbers into quasi music videos with a panorama resembling an abstract kaleidoscope of moody colors. Mark Thompson fares much better with his endless array of costumes then with the mundane set designs. Regardless of their shortcomings throughout the show this creative team does not disappoint in delivering an eleven o’clock musical number and finale that shakes the rafters and is worth the price of admission.

The show is not perfect, but it is certainly a felicitous tribute to a brave woman who beat the odds and rose to stardom because of her talent and determination. Ms. Warren gives an award-winning performance that exhibits the passion and defines the spiritual strength of Tina Turner, as well as demonstrating her own powerful commitment to perfection, establishing herself as a bona fide Broadway star.

TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL

“Tina” stars Adrienne Warren with Daniel J. Watts, Dawnn Lewis, Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, Myra Lucretia Taylor and Steven Booth, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Gerald Caesar, Holli’ Conway, Kayla Davion, Leandra Ellis-Gaston, Charlie Franklin, Judith Franklin, Matthew Griffin, Sheldon Henry, David Jennings, Ross Lekites, Robert Lenzi, Gloria Manning, Rob Marnell, Mehret Marsh, Jhardon DiShon Milton, Destinee Rea, Mars Rucker, Jessica Rush, Justin Schuman, Alyssa Shorte, Carla Stewart, Jayden Theophile, Skye Dakota Turner, Antonio Watson and Katie Webber.

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd and written by Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, “Tina” features choreography by Anthony van Laast, with set and costume designs by Mark Thompson, musical supervision, additional music and arrangements by Nicholas Skilbeck, lighting by Bruno Poet, sound by Nevin Steinberg, projection design by Jeff Sugg, orchestrations by Ethan Popp and casting by Telsey + Company.

“Tina” is currently running at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (205 West 46th Street). For further information on “Tina,” including the full performance schedule and how to purchase tickets, visit https://tinaonbroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Adrienne Warren as Tina Turner. Credit: Manuel Harlan.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, November 8, 2019

Broadway Review: “The Rose Tattoo” at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway (Through Sunday December 8, 2019)

Broadway Review: “The Rose Tattoo” at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway (Through Sunday December 8, 2019)
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Following in the footsteps of Maureen Stapleton in the original and first revival and Mercedes Ruehl featured in the second revival on Broadway comes Marisa Tomei as Serafina Delle Rose in the current production of “The Rose Tattoo” at Roundabout American Airlines Theatre. This rare tragic comedy by Tennessee Williams about a heartbroken, widowed, Italian American who shuts herself off to love and living, expecting her daughter to do the same, is a roller coaster of emotion illustrating the conflicts between faith, loss, and desire. Rooted deep in Italian tradition and Roman Catholic credence, the play gives Williams the utmost opportunity to showcase his poetic and passionate sensibility with a rare comedic flair.

This is a livelier production than its predecessors but that is an advantage allowing the two-and-a-half-hour revival to fly by at a very rapid pace without eradicating the tragic undertones. In this revival director Trip Cullman has taken a slightly new approach, not getting bogged down by the melodramatic grief that Serafina is experiencing but rather focusing on the folly of the situation, which is perpetrated by Sicilian tradition and religious persuasion. Her bereavement should have ended long ago, but her guilt, friends, faith, and surroundings prevent her from moving on and she fears that her daughter might experience the same punishment and torment, if she disregards the moral doctrine of the church.

In a star turn Ms. Tomei infuses her character with an infectious charm, capturing all the passion and power needed to brand Serafina as one of Williams’ unforgettable delusional women and simultaneously constructs a comedic demeanor that is endearing. The first act is mostly exposition and a set up for what is to follow, but is filled with imaginative characters such as Assunta (a somber yet intense Carolyn Mignini) the local soothsayer and apothecary, The Strega (an animated Constance Schulman), the irritable witch with an evil eye and Estelle Hohengarten (a cold and cutting Tina Benko) as a seductive mistress. It is in the second act when the fireworks really start to ignite when Serafina meets Alvaro (a charming and zealous Emun Elliott), and daughter Rosa (a solid and convincing Ella Rubin) brings home her heartthrob Jack (a sensitive Burke Swanson). The chemistry between Tomei and Elliott is remarkable, with each of them never wasting a moment to solidify their attraction and take advantage of the comedy that surrounds their passion.

The production is not perfect with some equivocal elements, one of which is the decision of the sparse set design of Mark Wendland with a prodigious flock of plastic pink flamingo lawn ornaments engulfing the background. The Italian accents are fine, but the southern accents often fluctuate. Although the music by Jason Michael Webb is quite atmospheric. it seems to be too somber and repetitive. On the other hand lighting by Ben Stanton creates moody pictures that capture the Gulf Coast along with vivid panoramic projections of the sea by Lucy Mackinnon. It is a smart revival that is fresh and certainly highlights the wonderful and skillful performances of Ms. Tomei and Mr. Elliott who ensure a great evening of entertainment.

THE ROSE TATTOO

“The Rose Tattoo” stars Cassie Beck, Alexander Bello, Tina Benko, Andréa Burns, Susan Cella, Emun Elliott, Paige Gilbert, Greg Hildreth, Isabella Iannelli, Jacob Michael Laval, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Carolyn Mignini, Portia, Ella Rubin, Jennifer Sánchez, Constance Shulman, Burke Swanson, and Marisa Tomei.

The design team includes Mark Wendland (sets), Clint Ramos (costumes), Ben Stanton (lights), Fitz Patton (original music & sound), and Lucy Mackinnon (projections).

“The Rose Tattoo” runs at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway (227 West 42nd Street) Through Sunday December 8, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays at 7:00 pm., Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “The Rose Tattoo” are available by calling 212-719-1300 or online at roundabouttheatre.org. Ticket prices range from $59-$159. Running time is 2 hours 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Emun Elliott and Marisa Tomei in “The Rose Tattoo” at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 31, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” at The Public Theater’s Martinson Hall (Extended through Sunday December 8, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” at The Public Theater’s Martinson Hall (Extended through Sunday December 8, 2019)
Written by Ntozake Shange
Directed by Leah C. Gardiner with Choreography by Camille A. Brown
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Since its premiere at The Public in 1976 and its subsequent transfer to Broadway later that year, much has happened to continue to impact the lives of the women of color celebrated by Ntozake Shange in her choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” currently running at The Public Theater’s Martinson Hall.

In this incarnation, wearing a color of the rainbow (brown replacing indigo), each of the seven universal characters voices her survival story of having to exist in a world shaped by sexism and racism. This is a pure revival of “Colored Girls,” not a retelling or an adaptation; therefore, the scourge of homophobia and the important issues emerging from the LGBTQ+ communities are not addressed. Although this is understandable, not referencing gender fluidity, concerns of the transgender community, and sexual identity is a deeply felt loss.

Under Leah C. Gardiner’s sagacious direction, Sasha Allen (Lady in Blue), Celia Chevalier (Lady in Brown), Danaya Esperanza (Lady in Orange), Jayme Lawson (Lady in Red), Adrienne C. Moore (Lady in Yellow), Okwui Okpokwasili (Lady in Green), Alexandria Wailes (Lady in Purple) perform Camille A. Brown’s choreography en troupe and en solo and serve as part of an eerie chorus as well as immersing the audience in an engaging solo spoken word performance of a unique conflict that affects women of color as they attempt to maintain their center, their rhythm, their sanity, their voice, their ability to love, and their children.

There are occasions when the actors seem not to be fully connected with the characters portrayed in the spoken word. Ntozake Shange’s powerful words prevail nonetheless, which proves their enduring quality and abiding importance. By far the most engaging and cathartic piece is The Lady in Red’s final slam. Following the Lady in Blue’s story of her “mean/ low-down/ triflin/ & no count” partner who is “always inconsistent/ doin somethin & then bein sorry/ beatin my heart to death,” the Lady in Red delivers an impassioned and tragic narrative about Crystal and Beau Willie and their “two children/ a little girl/ “naomi kenya & a boy/ kwame beau willie brown.” Unable to escape the abusive Beau Willie, he returns uninvited and commits an unspeakable crime. The audience suddenly goes silent (for the first time) and there are the sounds of deep sadness and trembling throughout the house. This is theatre at its best.

Prior to this stillness, the audience showed approval and connection to the material by waves of shouting and finger snapping. I have snapped my fingers, shouted out, stomped my feet, and raised my hands in affirmation during worship, during rallies, during speeches at protests, even on rare occasions at a service of death and resurrection when the clergyperson zeroes in with perfection on the life and legacy of the one who has passed. I have never snapped shouted, stomped, nor waved my hands during a theatre performance. All those activities would be for my benefit, not for the actors. I find them distracting and disruptive for the actors and for my fellow audience members who came to SEE and HEAR the performance.

That said, “For Colored Girls” has not been created for me: this iconic and relevant work is for women, primarily women of color navigating their way through an often antagonistic world, making life-and-death decisions about survival and future and “dancing” toward a hopeful place, a rainbow that might be enough to provide redemption and relief from sexism, systemic racism, homophobia, abuse, and the “erasure” of their history and their rhythm. As much as this older, white, cisgender queer can “connect” to “Colored Girls,” it is my responsibility to listen as well as speak/write and continue to do my own work to end the systemic racism that continues to threaten the lives of people of color in America and globally. “For Colored Girls” is in its third extension: see it before it closes.

FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF

The complete cast of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” features Sasha Allen (Lady in Blue), Celia Chevalier (Lady in Brown), Danaya Esperanza (Lady in Orange), Jayme Lawson (Lady in Red), Adrienne C. Moore (Lady in Yellow), Okwui Okpokwasili (Lady in Green), Alexandria Wailes (Lady in Purple), and D. Woods (Understudy).

“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” features an all-women of color creative team with scenic design by Myung Hee Cho, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Jiyoun Chang, sound design by Megumi Katayama, and original music by Martha Redbone.

“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” runs at The Public Theater’s Martinson Hall (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday December 8, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Single tickets, starting at $75, can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater. Running time is 90 minutes, without intermission.

Photo: The company of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,” written by Ntozake Shange and directed by Leah C. Gardiner, with choreography by Camille A. Brown, running at The Public Theater. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: "Soft Power" at The Public¡¯s Newman Theater (Extended through Sunday November 10, 2019)

¡°Off-Broadway Review: ¡°Soft Power¡± at The Public¡¯s Newman Theater (Extended through Sunday November 10, 2019)
Play and Lyrics by David Henry Hwang
Music and Additional Lyrics by Jeanine Tesori, with choreography Sam Pinkleton
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

¡°Soft Power¡± ¨C the culture-bending, plot-twisting musical within a play currently running at The Public¡¯s Newman Theater ¨C challenges the notion that the only effective parameters of power are money, race, and sex. These constructs of ¡°hard¡± power are the hallmarks of greed, systemic racism, and misogyny and, from Xue Xing¡¯s (a sensitive and alluring Conrad Ricamora) point of view, typically manifested in America. Xue Xing is ¡°President for North America. Of Dragon Entertainment Group¡± and is in his New York City office persuading David Henry Hwang (a cantankerous yet impassioned Francis Jue) to write the script for the musical to open Dragon¡¯s new Broadway District in Shanghai.

Xue Xing hopes DHH¡¯s script will change China¡¯s view of America and America¡¯s view of China. Xue is not a devotee of democracy and his agenda transcends mere establishing better relationships. ¡°What a truly great civilization achieves is ¡°soft power¡± ¨C through our ideas, inventions, culture ¨C to change the way people think,¡± claims Xue. ¡°America has produced so many international products -- such as ¡°Catcher in the Rye,¡± ¡°Saturday Night Fever,¡± so many! Now, ¡°Ji¨¡ng Cu¨° Ji¨´ Cu¨°: The Musical¡± will bring Chinese values to the world.¡±

In this first act, there are multiple references to the American political process, including: Hillary Clinton¡¯s (Alyse Alan Louis) loss of the 2016 presidential election; the foibles of the electoral college with a stunning song-and dance number by the Chief Justice (and energetic and convivial Jon Hoche); and the questioning of the viability of the democratic form of government. Powerful ¡°stuff¡± in this time of impeachment inquiries and concerns about the relationship of America to its allies worldwide.

Approximately twenty minutes into ¡°Soft Power¡± DHH, after being attacked and stabbed, hallucinates attending a performance of ¡°The King and I¡± from China¡¯s point of view. The audience hears an orchestra tuning up and a multi-tiered orchestra is revealed signaling a ¡°fast-forward¡± into the musical within the play. An ¡°actor¡± portraying Xue (none other than Conrad Ricamora) has a flirtatious encounter with the defeated Hillary Clinton. America¡¯s ¡°Veep¡± announces the Leader¡¯s intent to bomb ¡°Cheatin¡¯ China¡± intoning, ¡°It¡¯s time to get real tough with folks/So¡¯s we can liberate ¡®em/Drop our bombs to help ¡®em/And not because we hate ¡®em.¡±

Xue counters with hope for the future. ¡°It¡¯s time to build a new road. One that connects the whole world.¡± Xue calls this new road the ¡°Silk Road¡± and admonishes the Veep and the Senator, ¡°Since the Ballot Box chose your new President, they¡¯re all coming our way.¡± The future of democracy is challenged when DHH reappears and asks Xue, ¡°What if America -- really does become more like China? What if everything we thought we knew . . . is over?¡±

The title of Xue¡¯s proposed play ¨C ¡°Ji¨¡ng Cu¨° Ji¨´ Cu¨°: The Musical¡± ¨C translates ¡°Stick with your mistake!¡± alluding to how a couple that has fallen out of love should resolve their conflict. DHH initially disagreed with this sentiment, believing if a relationship is not working it should be terminated. However, at the play¡¯s conclusion, he advocates for hope in the future of America. He affirms, ¡°D¨¤ n¨¤n b¨´ s¨«, b¨¬ y¨¯u h¨°u f¨². Good fortune will follow. If we somehow survive.¡± A resounding chorus of ¡°Believe¡± concludes ¡°the real¡± David Henry Hwang¡¯s compelling parsing of the viability of not only America, but also, it¡¯s sacred commitment to the values of democracy.

There are threads of musicals within a musical within this complex and engaging play. Musical theatre aficionados will recognize many references to important (and even obscure) Broadway musicals. These references are in both Jeanine Tesori¡¯s alluring score and in Sam Pinkleton¡¯s powerful choreography. Under Leigh Silverman¡¯s impeccable and focused direction, the ensemble cast creates a palette of strong emotions and enduring questions about the future of humankind.

SOFT POWER

The complete cast of ¡°Soft Power¡± includes Billy Bustamante, Jon Hoche, Kendyl Ito, Francis Jue, Austin Ku, Raymond J. Lee, Alyse Alan Louis, Jaygee Macapugay, Daniel May, Paul HeeSang Miller, Kristen Faith Oei, Geena Quintos, Conrad Ricamora, Trevor Salter, Kyra Smith, Emily Stillings, Emily Trumble, and John Yi.

¡°Soft Power¡± features orchestrations by Danny Troob; music direction and supervision by Chris Fenwick; dance arrangements by John Clancy; scenic design by Clint Ramos; costume design by Anita Yavich; lighting design by Mark Barton; sound design by Kai Harada; sound effects design by Bart Fasbender; video design by Bryce Cutler; hair, wig, and makeup design by Tom Watson; special effects by Lillis Meeh; music contracting by Antoine Silverman; and additional orchestrations by Larry Hochman and John Clancy.

¡°Soft Power¡± runs at The Public¡¯s Newman Theater (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday November 10, 2019. Full price tickets can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.

Photo: Alyse Alan Louis and Conrad Ricamora in ¡°Soft Power.¡± Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Broadway Review: “The Great Society” at the Vivian Beaumont Theater (Through Saturday November 30, 2019)

Broadway Review: “The Great Society” at the Vivian Beaumont Theater (Through Saturday November 30, 2019)
Written by Robert Schenkkan
Directed by Bill Rauch
Reviewed by Joseph
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The Great Society,” the second installment of playwright Robert Schenkkan’s biographical account of the years Lyndon B. Johnson spent as president in the White House, is less a drama and more a chronological list of the destructive events the plagued his second term in office. To the playwright’s credit, it is extensively detailed and factual; however, to his discredit, it is brutally long with absolutely no affect. The effort begins to feel much like a boring history lesson. Yes, it is about the “The Great Society,” the phrase coined to describe the social and domestic programs that LBJ devised to combat poverty and racial injustice, but it needs to be more about the character of the man and those that surrounded him in allegiance or confrontation in order to command attention. This production assembles political figures of the time in what begins to feel like the waiting room in a doctor’s office where, one by one they enter to utter a few words of comradery or – more often – discontent. If it were not for name recognition or some flimsy impersonations the lines could have been read by cardboard cutouts. These characters were given not enough time or interesting material to establish an emotional connection to the events taking place. Most of the dialogue is merely spewed out as information, at times regurgitated, and ends up being shouted to change the narrative and create an impact.

The enormous cast of nineteen with the brilliant Brian Cox as LBJ at the helm, tries to infuse energy into the interminable script but is unsuccessful. Mr. Cox never manages to capture the down-home charm or the intriguing coercing tactics that were a trademark of his character, perhaps because of a clichéd ridden text and cursory scenes that seem more like vignettes filled with impersonations. Vice President Hubert Humphrey (Richard Thomas) was depicted as more a prop to activate a situation rather than a political companion that was there to help run the country. As history has it “Lady Bird” Johnson (Barbara Garrick) broke new ground as First Lady by directly interacting with Congress, employing her own press secretary and was responsible for “The Highway Beautification Act.” In this production, she serves tea and bakes non-fattening cupcakes. The depiction of an endless list of influential politicians that were important to that era is notably unremarkable and bland. The Rev. Martin Luther King (Grantham Coleman), J. Edgar Hoover (Gordon Clapp), Robert Kennedy (Bryce Pinkham), George Wallace and Richard Nixon (David Garrison) are all portrayed admirably, with different degrees of impersonating vocals and physical presence but gravitate more towards delivering the cumbersome dialogue than establishing depth of character.

Too much information is packed into the nearly three-hour verbal onslaught and none of it is new or delivered in a fresh manner that results in entertainment. Director Bill Rauch has done nothing to elevate the actors to permeate the one-dimensional characters in order to add an emotional connection. The pace becomes sluggish especially in the second act which just continues the litany of facts that get so jumbled and repetitive that lines begin to be dropped and delivered hesitantly. When it is all said and done, what does come to mind is the question whether those who were alive during these troubled times, which seemed to be most of the audience, needed to relive or be reminded of those disruptive and horrible events.

THE GREAT SOCIETY

Leading the nineteen-member ensemble cast of “The Great Society” are Brian Cox, Grantham Coleman, Marc Kudisch, Bryce Pinkham, Frank Wood, Gordon Clapp, and Richard Thomas. They are joined by Marchánt Davis, Brian Dykstra, Barbara Garrick, David Garrison, Ty Jones, Christopher Livingston, Angela Pierce, Matthew Rauch, Nikkole Salter, Tramell Tillman, Ted Deasy, and Robyn Kerr.

“The Great Society’s” creative team includes David Korins (sets), Linda Cho (costumes), David Weiner (lights), Paul James Prendergast (composer/sound), Victoria Sagady (projections) and Daniel Swee (casting).

“The Great Society” runs at the Vivian Beaumont Theater (150 West 65th Street) through Saturday November 30, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 1:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 800-447-7400, online at GreatSocietyBroadway.com or in person at the Lincoln Center Theater box office. Ticket prices range from $107-157. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Barbara Garrick and Brian Cox in “The Great Society.” Credit: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2019.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, October 28, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater (Extended through Sunday November 17, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater (Extended through Sunday November 17, 2019)
Written by Will Arbery
Directed by Danya Taymor
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Three Gen Y Conservative Christians gather at Justin’s (a thoughtful and broken Jeb Kraeger) backyard in Lander, Wyoming to celebrate Generation X Gina’s (a confident and willful Michelle Pawk) inauguration as president of Transfiguration College of Wyoming. These “heroes” are preparing for a battle of Armageddon-like proportions. They do not simply disagree with those infidels on the left: they despise them and consider them to be in league with the anti-Christ. These young adults, according to Teresa (an opinionated and dangerous Zoë Winters) need to identify themselves with the heroes described in William Strauss’ and Neil Howe’s 1997 “The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy - What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny.”

By Strauss’ and Howe’s reckoning, these Conservative Christians know they are in the authors’ “Crisis,” the fourth turning, and there is a war coming. if this war – this unraveling – is to be won, it is up to them to win it. The opposition forces – the LGBTQ+ communities, the “pro-lifers,” the “left-wing liberals” – are strong and highly organized. Just as Justin offers his “animal sacrifice” on the altar of his doorstep, the holy warriors will need to make additional personal sacrifices. There will be blood and the cleanup, just as Justin’s attempt to “disappear” the blood of the troublesome dead, gutted deer, will be difficult.

King Henry’s Crispin Crispian’s monologue seems relevant. “But we in it shall be rememberèd—We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother.” (“Henry V,” Act 4, Scene 3) These Young Christians consider themselves a band of siblings willing to shed their blood for their “King” and “His Kingdom.” There is, however, more dysfunction in this Gen Y band than cohesion. Justin is conflicted, Emily (a suffering and compassionate Julia McDermott) is conflicted about the “evil” of the pro-life movement, Kevin (a distracted and discordant John Zdrojeski) is sex-deprived and addicted with a sexual status falling somewhere in the gender fluid spectrum, non-saint Theresa is hateful and less than loving unconditionally, and Gina’s understanding of the Christian conservative movement is wholly different than that of her overly zealous charges.

This is a frightening group of devotees hell bent on prying open the gates of hell to usher in all who would disagree with their conservative polemic. In “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” currently running at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater, playwright Will Arbery has shared a dystopic slice of American life that continues to fester on the nation’s socio-political underbelly. If these young adults and their mentor are the heroes of the current iteration of the fourth turning, there is reason for fear and trembling. If the “rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem” (William Butler Yeats) is anything like these Christian conservatives’ hope, then pro-life, gender equality, democracy, and the Constitution of the United States are in jeopardy.

Under Danya Taymor’s intuitive and exacting direction, the accomplished cast delivers believable and authentic performances and embodies the characteristics of Yeats’ rough beast with cathartic effect. Laura Jellinek’s scenic design and Isabella Byrd’s shadowy lighting are the perfect backdrop for the clandestine gathering two days before the solar eclipse. And Justin Ellington’s sound design gives apocryphal voice to what Justin identifies to be a malfunctioning generator, the perfect sign that “the center is not holding” and that everyone needs to hold on tightly to any fabric woven with equality, unconditional love, non-judgmental love, and an escape hatch to redemptive freedom and release.

HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING

“Heroes of the Fourth Turning” features Jeb Kreager, Julia McDermott, Michele Pawk, Zoë Winters, and John Zdrojeski. The creative team includes Laura Jellinek (Scenic Designer), Sarafina Bush (Costume Designer), Isabella Byrd (Lighting Designer), Justin Ellington (Sound Designer), J. David Brimmer (Fight Director), and Jenny Kennedy (Stage Manager).

“Heroes of the Fourth Turning” runs at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater (416 West 42nd Street) through Sunday November 10, 2019. For the full performance schedule, visit www.phnyc.org. Tickets are available at www.phnyc.org or by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200. Running time is 2 hours.

Photo: Jeb Kreager, John Zdrojeski, and Zoë Winters in “Heroes of the Fourth Turning.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 25, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Scotland, PA” at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday December 8, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Scotland, PA” at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday December 8, 2019)
Book by Michael Mitnick
Music and Lyrics by Adam Gwon
Directed by Lonny Price
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Bloody, gory, horror films certainly have been around for quite a while and have been successful in creating a cult audience that supports the genre. Transforming one of these for the stage would certainly be an audacious task. To go one step further, choose the horrific tale of Macbeth penned by William Shakespeare and take some extreme liberties to create a stage musical comedy filled with blood, violence and production numbers is downright dauntless. Michael Mitnick (book) and Adam Gwon (music and lyrics) have undertaken this endeavor and the result is “Scotland, PA” based on the indie film by Billy Morrissette, and now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre. Scenes of murder by pushing someone’s face into a deep fryer or committing suicide by leaping off a building and landing on the peaks of the letter “M” of a fast food logo, will surely appeal to the fans of schlock horror films. As far as having appeal to musical theatre aficionados it could be a mixed bag.

This incarnation of the classic Shakespeare play is placed in the small town of Scotland, PA. The three witches from the original script are replaced by three foretelling stoners, one male and two females, who act as the Greek chorus throughout. The kingdom is a fast food hamburger joint aptly named “Duncan’s” with an atrocious owner of the same name. Mac (a fresh and vulnerable Ryan McCartan) and his wife Pat (an assertive, ambitious Taylor Iman Jones) murder the owner Duncan (a staunch, irritable Jeb Brown) and buy the restaurant from his gay son Malcom (a solid, sensitive Will Meyers). They build an incredible business but are scrutinized by detective McDuff (a determined, feisty Megan Lawrence) who is trying to solve the mysterious homicide. Pat, focusing her guilt on the burn she received on her hand during the murder (which has already healed) chops off her hand to relieve the anguish and subsequently bleeds to death. Mac finds her dead on the roof of the restaurant and leaps to his gruesome death, knowing the detective has solved the case. In the end McDuff buys the vacant fast food establishment and opens a vegetarian restaurant. That’s about it!

Music by Mr. Gwon is eclectic which works to some extent to provide interest, but the problem is that it never finds a groove that builds to a climax and actually feels sluggish. His lyrics are at times mundane not providing any movement of the plot. As a whole the musical is a bit lackadaisical and convoluted without a lot of structural sense. Characters appear in a cartoonish manor even during dramatic turns which sabotages any real emotional development. There are a few highlights in this production but perhaps they capture the spotlight because of their dismal surroundings. Will Meyers’ well sung and sensitive “Why I Love Football” is a breath of fresh air that lets the audience relish the charm of musical comedy. “Kick Ass Party” by the dolt Banko (a perfectly moronic Jay Armstrong Johnson) livens things up and invades his character with delight. Alysha Umphress as one of the stoners can do no wrong with her sultry vocals but is sorely missing a sturdy solo she can sink her teeth into.

The competent cast does what it can but cannot transcend the inferior material they have to work with or the haphazard direction by Lonnie Price who usually delivers an exceptional product. Another
drawback that hinders the success of this venture is the fact that it has been done before, done better and is competing with a show running concurrently across town. It is basically a “Little Shop of Horrors” meets “American Psycho” without the brilliant music and lyrics, and with much less blood and carnage. It is not the worst musical to be seen but is extremely far from being the best.

SCOTLAND, PA

The cast of “Scotland, PA” includes Jeb Brown (Duncan), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Banko), Taylor Iman Jones (Pat), Lacretta (Mrs. Lenox), Megan Lawrence (McDuff), Ryan McCartan (Mac), Will Meyers (Malcolm), Wonu Ogunfowora (Stacey), Alysha Umphress (Jessie) and Kaleb Wells (Hector).

The creative team includes choreography by Josh Rhodes, set design by Anna Louizos, costume design by Tracy Christensen, lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, sound design by Jon Weston, orchestrations by Frank Galgano and Matt Castle.

“Scotland, PA” runs at at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street) through December 8, 2019. For further information and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.roundabouttheatre.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Taylor Iman Jones and Ryan McCartan in “Scotland, PA.” Credit: Nina Goodheart.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 25, 2019

Broadway Review: “Linda Vista” at Second Stage Theater’s Helen Hayes Theater (Through Sunday November 10, 2019)

Broadway Review: “Linda Vista” at Second Stage Theater’s Helen Hayes Theater (Through Sunday November 10, 2019)
Written by Tracy Letts
Directed by Dexter Bullard
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The sharp and witty dialogue of the latest dramedy penned by playwright Tracy Letts is foreshadowed by the title “Linda Vista” which means “pretty view” in Spanish. The midlife crisis of a bitter fifty-year-old, divorced, white male, who seems to have an insatiable libido and absolutely no respect for women – preferring to exhibit his unbridled male testosterone – is in no way, shape or form a pleasant sight to observe. The woeful and somewhat physical breakdown of the antihero character Wheeler (an angst-ridden Ian Barford) is the focus of this latest dysfunctional emotional drama that is a dismal commentary on marriage, relationships and the alpha male.

Although Mr. Letts provides yet another example of his prolific writing in “Linda Vista,” it is also filled with long, incendiary sex scenes that do nothing to move the plot forward and almost seem gratuitous. What we learn about Wheeler during these escapades is that he is getting old, his body is deteriorating, and that he has no consideration for women – something already established on a more literal level. This is also repeated during a blind date in an overlong Karaoke bar scene and when attempting to seduce a younger woman just to establish his disdain for independent, intelligent females. These scenes could possibly add a morsel of character exposition but could be cut considerably allowing a better focus on the droll dialogue.

The plot follows Wheeler moving from his ex-wife’s garage in Chicago to a new apartment in sunny, San Diego, California to start a new life as a fifty-year-old bachelor. His old friends Paul (a solid and supportive Jim True-Frost) and Margaret (a forceful, optimistic Sally Murphy), who is an ex-girlfriend and now married to Paul, are already there to help him navigate his new journey. He strikes out with a co-worker at the camera repair shop, Anita (a feisty Caroline Neff), who bluntly tells him she will never date him and also fails to pick up a younger Vietnamese woman, Minnie (a vibrant Chantal Thuy) in a dive bar, who eventually recognizes him as her neighbor in the “Linda Vista” apartment complex.

Options running low he concedes to a blind date with Margaret’s friend Jules (an honest, realistic Cora Vander Broek) who is a life coach. Wheeler starts a relationship with Jules who stays over quite a bit for an active sex life. Minnie shows up at the door pregnant by a boyfriend who abandoned her and is now homeless. Wheeler takes her in and of course ends up cheating and indulging in a sex marathon which he is loses. Jules leaves him, Minnie eventually leaves him and surprise, he tries to reconcile with Jules which will never happen. He is once again alone and broken, physically and emotionally with a deteriorating hip and wounded psyche. If this were not bad enough, he castigates his deviant man-child boss Michael (a disturbing Troy West) so he gets fired and is left unemployed. There are no surprises but a few funny lines that keep the story moving.

All this would probably be easily acceptable ten years ago, but in the current socio-political ideology it is difficult to subject an audience to this counterculture even though existing remnants are still being unearthed. If there was something, anything to like about Wheeler the audience may have some empathy for the character but even his quick wit wears thin after two hours and forty minutes. The entire cast is remarkable, and Mr. Barford certainly turns in an impressive performance but at times the content diminishes the vulnerability of Wheeler, leaving only an angry, despicable, incorrigible moron with no redeeming values. It would have been advantageous to dig a bit deeper to define the character so at the end, there might be a glimmer of hope rather than a whimper of uncertainty.

LINDA VISTA

“Linda Vista” stars Ian Barford, Sally Murphy, Caroline Neff, Chantal Thuy, Jim True-Frost, Cora Vander Broek, and Troy West.

The full creative team for “Linda Vista” includes scenic design by Todd Rosenthal, costume design by Laura Bauer, lighting design by Marcus Doshi, sound design by Richard Woodbury, and casting by TELSEY + COMPANY.

“Linda Vista” runs at Second Stage’s Broadway home, The Hayes Theater (240 West 44th Street) through Sunday November 10, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., 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. For further information and to purchase tickets, visit https://2st.com/shows/linda-vista. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Cora Vander Broek, Ian Barford, and Chantal Thuy. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 24, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Westside Theatre (Through Sunday January 19, 2020)

Off-Broadway Review: “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Westside Theatre (Through Sunday January 19, 2020)
Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Michael Mayer
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The most recent revival of “Little Shop of Horrors” by the musical theatre team Howard Ashman and Alan Menken surely proves to be timeless and timely. The musical numbers still seem to linger in your head long after you leave the theater just as they did when the show first opened off-Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre in 1982. The plot revolves around Seymour (a delightfully evil Jonathan Groff) a nerdy florist who discovers a weird tropical plant during a total eclipse of the sun and names it Audrey 2 after his co-worker in the flower shop Audrey (a pathetic Tammy Blanchard), whom he has a crush on. He learns the plant only feeds on human blood, so he complies with the plants demands, murdering characters one by one and feeding them to Audrey 2 in order to allow the plant to grow and achieve fame and fortune for both plant and owner. All this is done to win Audrey’s heart and to make her simple American Dream come true.

All the elements that made this musical so successful remain, but what seems to be missing is the down and out, dirty, grimy feel of its characters on skid row. Although it addresses so many difficult issues that are even more relevant in today’s socio-political atmosphere, it does so through a sort of obscure tinted lens. There is the weak orphan who is manipulated and taken advantage of; the battered woman who cannot leave her abuser; the homeless street people; greed, power, violence and the American Dream gone haywire. All these topics are front and center, but the evil, emotional trauma and immorality has been stripped away leaving everything clean and shiny as if to say there is nothing wrong here, everything is just fine. There is no contrast between the physical presence and depth of the characters and the beautiful music and satirical lyrics they sing, to provide the jolt needed to drive the message home as you are distracted by the brilliant performances. To simplify, it looks like Disney, a fantasized vision of reality, all squeaky clean. Even the street urchins who act as the Greek chorus are coiffed and fashionable as they collect money for giving directions and comment on the action in true doo wop form.

The stellar cast is more than competent but seems to have succumbed to the heavy handed, muddled and indistinct direction of Michael Mayer. Mr. Groff is delightful to watch but lacks the depth of an emotionally scarred introvert coerced into committing evil acts to attain love and approval. As always, his vocals are a gift to cherish. Ms. Blanchard delivers an Audrey that is the closest to reality but in contrast to the other characters, she appears to be out of place in a rather cartoonish environment. Christian Borle is absolutely hysterical as Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, the menacing, sadistic dentist, Orin and every other character he portrays. Although all the characters he depicts are exaggerated stereotypes, they could have and should have been a source of fantasy and comic relief, but rather appear as parts of the assembly of caricatures, therefore loosing part of the impact. Mr. Borle is a joy to watch implementing his impeccable comic timing and executing his quick changes with ease. Tom Alan Robbins is fully capable as Mushnik the owner of the flower shop but produces a pedestrian character that lacks any intrigue.

Even with the fore mentioned problems this production manages to provide a good evening of entertainment mostly due to the book, lyrics and music of a legendary team of musical theatre aficionados. The fact that it diminishes some horrid social issues that are so relevant today may provide a pleasant escape and a chance to experience the talent of some remarkable Broadway stars.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

The cast of “Little Shop of Horrors” includes Jonathan Groff, Tammy Blanchard, Christopher Borle, Tom Alan Robbins, Kingsley Leggs, Ari Groover, Salome Smith, Joy Woods, Stephen Berger, Chris Dwan, Kris Roberts, Chelsea Turbin, Eric Wright, and Teddy Yudain.

The creative team for “Little Shop of Horrors” includes Scenic Designer Julian Crouch; Lighting Designer Bradley King; Costume Designer Tom Broecker; Sound Designer Jessica Paz; Puppet Designer Nicholas Mahon; Puppets by Monkey Boys Productions; and Music Supervisor, Orchestrator and Arranger Will Van Dyke. Casting is by Jim Carnahan, CSA, and General Management is by Live Wire Theatrical/ Chris Aniello.

“Little Shop of Horrors” runs at the Westside Theatre (407 West 43rd Street) through Sunday, January 19 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are available at www.Telecharge.com, by calling 800-432-7250, and at the box office. For further information, visit www.LittleShopNYC.com. Running time is 2 hours including one intermission.

Photo: Jonathan Groff and Tammy Blanchard in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Credit: Emilio Madrid-Kuser.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 18, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Kingfishers Catch Fire” at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Through Sunday October 20, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Kingfishers Catch Fire” at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Extended through Sunday October 27, 2019)
Written by Robin Glendinning
Directed by Kent Paul
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Four years after the Ardeatine Caves Nazi Massacre, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty (a conflicted and contrite Sean Gormley) visits Colonel Herbert Kappler (a robust and tenacious Haskell King) in his cell in an old-fashioned prison in Gaeta, Southern Italy. Kappler, an SS Colonel and head of Hitler’s Gestapo in Rome, was responsible for the massacre of 355 Italians (a random number of random locals) in reprisal for an attack by resistance fighters resulting in the deaths of 33 men of the SS Police garrison in Rome. Kappler was also in charge of Jewish roundups for deportations to Auschwitz. O’Flaherty (“The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican”) was responsible for saving 6,500 Allied soldiers and Jews during World War II.

This seemingly unlikely visit is the substance of Robin Glendinning’s “Kingfishers Catch Fire,” currently running at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre through Sunday October 20, 2019. In the first act, the playwright provides extensive exposition about both characters and their “contributions” to the Second Word War – Keppler’s despicable contribution and O’Flaherty’s honorable contribution. At times, it seems this exposition is overlong and, perhaps, overwrought.

The play’s title is the title and first line of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s Petrarchan sonnet that deals with “becoming one’s highest self or acting to the highest of one’s capacity.” It is in the second act that Robin Glendinning turns to the theological, spiritual, and moral content of the visit. Kappler and O’Flahery engage in a lengthy discourse about right and wrong, motive, justice, war and peace, guilt and innocence, confession, forgiveness, and redemption.

The “moral gap” between Kappler and O’Flaherty seems to lessen as the two discuss God and Jesus and all things spiritual. What might be reprehensible as opposed to what might be redemptive becomes more ambiguous as the pair parley over the Colonel’s request to be blessed by the Monsignor. Clearly, the playwright intends to expand here the conversation about moral absolutes and moral ambiguity. As noble as this might be, this mostly academic exploration is difficult to accomplish given the principals involved.

Yes, human beings are complex and operate from vastly different moral perspectives. It is less clear, at lest to this critic, that an individual complicit in the death of Jews during World War II falling to his knees asking for a blessing contributes substantially to the already perplexing conversation around moral ambiguity.

That said, under Kent Paul’s judicious direction, Haskell King and Sean Gormley faithfully explore the underbelly of moral absolutes and moral ambiguity with consummate performances. Mr. King seems more present in his role as the SS Colonel as he challenges his stage-mate to the extremes of moral combat. It is unfortunate that the work of these two skilled performers are unable – due to the script – to usher the members of the audience into any morally satisfying catharsis.

KINGFISHERS CATCH FIRE

The cast of “Kingfishers Catch Fire” includes Sean Gormley and Haskell King.

“Kingfishers Catch Fire” features set design by Edward Morris, costume design by Linda Fisher, lighting design by Matthew McCarthy, and sound design by Rob Rees.

“Kingfishers Catch Fire” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) through Sunday October 27, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets to Kingfishers Catch Fire range from $45.00 - $50.00 and are available through Irish Rep’s box office at 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes including a 15 minute intermission.

Photo: Haskell King in “Kingfishers Catch Fire” at Irish Repertory Theatre. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Sunday” at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (Through Sunday October 13, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Sunday” at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (Through Sunday October 13, 2019)
Written by Jack Thorne
Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Jack Thorne’s “Sunday,” currently running at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater, seems to elicit one of two responses: disappointment or robust enthusiasm. A group of Gen Z friends gather in a New York City apartment for one of what has become Sunday Book Club gatherings. This Sunday’s meeting is at Marie’s (a somewhat broken and conflicted Sadie Scott) and Jill’s (a self-assured and Juliana Canfield) place, a modest studio with a mountain of books at its center. The pair are joined by narrator Alice (Ruby Frankel), Keith (Christian Strange) and Milo (Zane Pais). Milo is now dating Jill whose relationship with Marie seems fluid.

Mr. Thorne seems to have assembled an interesting group of twenty-somethings to discuss Anne Tyler’s broken-family novel “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.” What is disappointing about this assemblage? This quintet is comprised of seemingly stock characters – these are important characters, just without any significant depth. It is difficult for these fine actors to develop this bunch of Gen Z “misfits” without more substantial traits and attributes. The audience members – particularly other Gen Z persons – connect to these characters “by proxy” and not because there are fully developed, real characters on stage.

Disappointing also are the dance sequences imbedded in the action of the play. There were one, perhaps two, that seem “logical” in the sense the choreography provides some exposition and some “revelation” of a character dancing around the room. Otherwise the movement, choreographed somewhat aimlessly by the arguably excellent Lee Sunday Evans, adds little to the development of the plot and is about as inspiring as Daniel Kluger’s repetitive, bass-heavy pre-curtain music that seems interminable.

That said, there should be robust enthusiasm about Jack Thorne’s attempt to portray a generation seemingly at odds with itself and searching for some identity in the present social media, dating app, “insta-gratification” culture. Although his characters need further development, their conflicts are authentic. This disconnect makes for a shaky plot development. There needs to be both strong characters and solid believable conflicts. The popularity of the piece arises from these connectable conflicts which obviously the members of the audience become surrogate characters for.

And then there is Bill (Maurice Jones), Marie’s older downstairs neighbor who, at the beginning of the play, stops by to remind her that he has work on Sunday and needs to sleep and hopes there won’t be too much noise coming from the book club. Bill seems to have some feelings for Marie; however, she handily dismisses him. But Bill returns at the end of the play to share with Marie all the things he likes about her and his hope to get to know her better. This scene is the most convincing scene in “Sunday.” Mr. Jones and Ms. Scott are magical here but to say more about what ultimately transpires during the visit would be unfair to future audiences.

Mr. Thorne rightly recognizes the importance of Gen Z’s concerns for “owning” a personal morality. Keith challenges his friends to identify their personal morality by presenting a hypothetical situation about what each would do as a thirteen-year-old if confronted with the decision whether or not to dance with someone who “tells you that you’re attractive [yet] happens to have Down’s Syndrome.” Thorne also explores this generation’s confusion between having “self-pity” and “being reflective.” The issues of alcohol and drugs (cocaine) are also addressed with honesty.

Lee Sunday Evans directs this conflicted piece with great sensitivity. She knows how to bring the best from her cast. However, even her direction, the scenic design by Brett J. Banakis, the costume design by Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene, and the lighting design by Masha Tsimring cannot substitute for the lack of rich characterization which unfortunately tips the disappointment – robust enthusiasm scale more toward disappointment.

SUNDAY

“Sunday” features Juliana Canfield, Ruby Frankel, Maurice Jones, Zane Pais, Sadie Scott, and Christian Strange.

“Sunday” features scenic design by Brett J. Banakis, costume design by Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene, lighting design by Masha Tsimring, sound design by Lee Kinney, original compositions by Daniel Kluger, and casting by Telsey + Company: Will Cantler, CSA; Karyn Casl, CSA.

“Sunday” runs at the Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20th Street) through Sunday October 13, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Sunday evening performances at 7:00 p.m. on 9/22 and 9/29. Regular tickets begin at $65. Order online at www.atlantictheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or in person at the Linda Gross Theater box office. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Maurice Jones and Sadie Scott in “Sunday.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 4, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: Gingold Theatrical Group's New Production of “Bernard Shaw’s Caesar & Cleopatra” in Theatre 1 at Theatre Row (Through Saturday October 12, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: Gingold Theatrical Group's New Production of “Bernard Shaw’s Caesar & Cleopatra” in Theatre 1 at Theatre Row (Through Saturday October 12, 2019)
Directed by David Staller
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Bernard Shaw’s Caesar & Cleopatra,” currently playing in Theatre 1 at Theatre Row, injects a palpable dose of modernity into the history of the relationship between Caesar’s Rome and Cleopatra’s Egypt. The 1898 play parses the political landscape in Shaw’s fictionalized account of the relationship between the royal pair and Cleopatra’s desire to assume complete control of the throne from her “puppet king” and husband Ptolemy. Narrated by Cleopatra’s (an energetic and thoughtful Teresa Alva Lim) chief nurse Ftatateeta (a powerful and devious Brenda Braxton), the account the first meeting between Caesar (an enigmatic and stolid Robert Cuccioli) and Cleopatra, the Roman invasion of Egypt, Caesar’s mission to embolden Cleopatra in her reign (“creating herself”), the installation of Rufio (a devoted and tenacious Jeff Applegate) as Governor in Egypt, Caesar’s departure from Egypt, and his promise to Cleopatra to send “a beautiful present from Rome” (Mark Antony).

David Staller’s direction is both evenhanded and refreshing, successfully bring this adaptation to an authentic and innovative staging of this Shaw classic that has not been produced in New York in over forty years. Under Mr. Staller’s direction, the members of the ensemble cast bring believable performances that honor Shaw’s groundbreaking defense of the rights of women and the need for gender equality. Mr. Cuccioli portrays a kinder, gentler Caesar who understands the dynamics of power and yearns to share his insight with Cleopatra. Ms. Lim counterpoints her antagonist’s performance with a Cleopatra who knows what she wants and is delighted to welcome Caesar’s attention and tutelage.

Caesar’s tutelage is not the instruction of a misogynist: Caesar wants his sixteen-year-old prodigy to divorce herself from her childishness and naivete and learn the art and science of statecraft needed to be the true Queen of Egypt. Shaw’s “spin” on this relationship is contemporary and vindicating. Evidence of Cleopatra’s transformation into that understanding of statecraft comes at the play’s end when she secures Caesar’s promise that Rufio will govern Caesar’s way – “Without punishment. Without revenge. Without judgment.”

Ftatateeta here is not savage enough nor does she bully Cleopatra sufficiently to warrant her royal ward’s desire to separate and individuate from her oppressive “parenting.” It is difficult for this character to be both a narrator and a true player in the historical action; however, Ms. Braxton delivers a convincing performance of this reimagined chief nurse and captive in time. The remainder of the cast – Jonathan Hadley, Rajesh Bose, and Dan Domingues – also deliver admirable and believable performances of their characters.

Brian Prather’s scenic design, Tracy Christensen’s costume design, Jamie Roderick’s lighting design, and Frederick Kennedy’s sound design all contribute to the strength of this production and its remarkable contribution to the Shaw canon.

CAESAR & CLEOPATRA

The cast of “Bernard Shaw’s Caesar & Cleopatra” features Jeff Applegate, Rajesh Bose, Brenda Braxton, Robert Cuccioli, Dan Domingues, Jonathan Hadley, and Teresa Avia Lim.

The creative team includes Brian Prather (scenic design), Tracy Christensen (costume design), Jamie Roderick (lighting design), and Frederick Kennedy (sound design). April Ann Kline serves as production stage manager.

“Caesar & Cleopatra” runs in Theatre 1 at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street between 9th and Dyer Avenues) through Saturday October 12, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m., and matinees Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “Caesar & Cleopatra” are $69.00 and can be purchased online at www.Telecharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200, or in person at the Theatre Row Box Office. Running time is 2 hours 30 minutes, including intermission.

Photo: Teresa Avia Lim and Robert Cuccioli in “Caesar & Cleopatra.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 3, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Dublin Carol” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday November 10, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Dublin Carol” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday November 10, 2019)
Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Undertaker John Plunkett (Jeffrey Bean) and his intern Mark (Cillian Hegarty) enter the office of a funeral home on the Northside of Dublin where John works. They have just finished a service and John compliments Mark on his work at the graveside. With that non-descript arrival, Conor McPherson’s “Dublin Carol,” currently playing at Irish Repertory Company, begins its narrative. Over a twenty-four-hour period on Christmas Eve, and in three parts, McPherson’s play, published in 2000, rehearses the life of Plunkett – his alcoholism, his infidelity to his wife Helen, and his abandonment of her and their children Paul and Mary (Sarah Street) for his enabling mistress Carol.

Although it is honorable for John to want to pay forward the kindness he received from his employer Noel by hiring his nephew Mark, it is less than honorable for John to have “paid forward” the detritus accumulated from his years of addition, indifference, and neglect of his wife and children. The playwright details John’s addiction with the extensive and judicious use of literary tropes, including figurative language, imagery, and a heavy dose of ethos and pathos. The discovery includes just how terrible a spouse and parent John has been, how John almost ended up a “tramp,” and how often John has attempted to redeem himself without success.

In short, undertaker John Plunkett is among the “walking dead” living in the midst of deep denial unaware of who he was, who he is or “who he would be.” In the second part of the play, John’s daughter Mary arrives to tell John his wife Helen is dying of cancer and implores him to visit her in the hospital with her at 5:00 p.m. that day. Her visit sparks further rounds of regret and confession, and details even more the despicable things John has done “under the influence.” John offers only excuses for his past behavior and his hypocrisy and inability to reform become even more evident. The gruesome details about his worst funeral – “baby born down the toilet” – seem to match the gruesome details of his life. John’s story lacks conviction and contrition.

John’s extended sessions of confession to his daughter Mary and to Mark seem to stop shy of an actual plea for forgiveness. He is so full of self-pity, he fails to understand the dynamics of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation – John just wants to say, “I’m sorry,” and move on expecting his listeners (Mark and Mary) to be his confessors as well. It is no mistake the three main characters bear biblical names. Indeed, John seems comfortable with the idea of his death. He is content with being able “to slip away under the darkness of night.”

Conor McPherson’s “millennial” script is quite relevant. Alcoholism and addition to opioids and other drugs continue to increase, and the death from drug overdoses is beyond epidemic. It is not the script that is at fault here; unfortunately, it is the production itself. Jeffrey Bean does not seem to know what do with his multi-dimensional character John. Mr. Bean’s delivery is one-dimensional with only the occasional shouting to indicate depth. The actor barely uses Sven Henry Nelson’s props which are rich tropes that need development: the whisky bottle, the kettle, the cups are handled with nonchalance and indifference.

Despite the help of his fellow actors, Jeffrey Bean does not quite show the audience the shadowy underbelly of John’s story. Perhaps he needs more direction or perhaps he needs even more help from Mr. Hegarty and Ms. Street. Whatever the reason, the beginning, middle, and end of “Dublin Carol” fall flat. John’s “preparations” for Mary’s pending visit and his apparent willingness to recant and recover are not believable and lack the cathartic impact to convince the audience otherwise.

DUBLIN CAROL

The cast of “Dublin Carol” features Jeffrey Bean, Cillian Hegarty, and Sarah Street.

“Dublin Carol” features set design by Charlie Corcoran, costume design by Leon Dobkowski, lighting design by Michael Gottlieb, sound design by M. Florian Staab and Ryan Rumery, and properties by Sven Henry Nelson. Jeff Davolt serves as production stage manager.

“Dublin Carol” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) through Sunday November 10, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets to “Dublin Carol” range from $45-$70 and are available through Irish Rep’s box office at 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jeffrey Bean and Cillian Hegarty in Irish Rep's “Dublin Carol.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Broadway Review: “The Height of the Storm” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Through Sunday November 24, 2019)

Broadway Review: “The Height of the Storm” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Through Sunday November 24, 2019)
Written by Florian Zeller and Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Jonathan Kent
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When couples have conversations about aging and approaching the end of their lives, generic yet fundamental questions arise. “What happens if I die before you? “Do you think you will die before I do? What am I going to do without you? “How will I live without you? “Is there anything you want to tell me before one of us dies? Will our children care for the one who survives? What will they do with the one who lives on? These questions are normal, natural, even essential and they become part of discussions for years as aging and dying demand recognition. Florian Zeller has only eighty minutes to accomplish what years often fail to achieve, and he succeeds with the kind of time-warping and mind-bending that have become his trademark.

In the first scene of “The Height of the Storm,” currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, André’s (a haunting and dismantling Jonathan Pryce) daughter Anne (a stoic and meddlesome Amanda Drew) has come to visit her father after her mother’s apparent death to help André organize his papers and encourage the famous writer to “make some concrete progress” about selling the family house and finding more appropriate housing. A sympathy bouquet of flowers arrives, and while Anne brings them to the kitchen table, the gift card drops to the floor. The audience notices this; however, Anne seems not to have noticed. Anne arranges the flowers, the conversation about the house continues, “a key can be heard in the front door,” and Anne’s sister Élise (an occupied and somewhat distant Lisa O’Hare) enters with their mother Madeline (a guarded and wily Eileen Atkins) and the audience goes down the rabbit hole chanting “The Time Warp” lyrics with Riff Raff and Magenta.

In life, in death, and in life beyond death, the human experience is not tidy. With limited success, humans develop a variety of crutches to get through “the height of the storm(s)” that simultaneously enthrall and terrify during the three-score-and-ten years allotted. Likewise, Florian Zeller proposes a universe where ‘tidiness’ is absent. Living and dying coexist with living after death in alternate universes that one can enter and exit either at will or, perhaps, and the request of another who inhabits a different plane of existence at the time. Science fiction writers have proposed such “universes” for decades: Florian Zeller successfully borrows the best from each and adds his own “spin” to allow what’s inside the minds of protagonists André and Madeline spill out in wonderful splotches of light and dark onto the stage.

This might create for some a disquieting state of confusion or might introduce even a heightened level of psychic angst. Synapses snap and sizzle as audience members attempt to make sense of it all. “Who’s dead and who’s not?” “Is anyone dead?” “Is anyone alive?” “Who is Mrs. Schwar (an elusive and spirited Lucy Cohu) – whose name is just one letter shy of darkness itself – and how does she know André?” “What’s with Élise’s boyfriend (a disquieting James Hillier) or is he a realtor?” “Do the two of them have a secret?” “What is the ‘blue house’ and who lived there?” “Who is Georges Dulon?” “Mrs. Schwar alludes to a child. Is the father George or André?” “And who sent the flowers – whose name is on the card André rescues from the floor of the apartment?”

Is it possible that all that is seen and heard in “The Height of the Storm” just a dream? Or, given André’s dementia and his advanced Parkinson’s, is all that is seen and heard hallucinations? Have André and Madeline entered into a suicide pact (there are those mushrooms)? Are both André and Madeline dead or are neither of them dead? Is the action of the play an exercise in magical realism that rehearses the members of the family dealing with the vicissitudes of life and death? Under Jonathan Kent’s keen direction, the entire cast deftly manages to dig deeply into Florian Zeller’s remarkable script giving the audience members the tools to explore the heights of their own storms, delve into their secrets, and face their ghosts with compassion. Anthony Ward’s scenic and costume design, Hugh Vanstone’s shadow-filled lighting design, Paul Groothuis’s sound design, and Gary Yershon’s musical compositions all allow the secrets and ghosts to splendidly coexist.

Florian Zeller’s complex “The Height of the Storm” is a must see this Broadway season. Enjoy the opportunity to witness Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins – two of the greatest actors of their generation – rip open the soul of Florian Zeller’s script. Allow that text to overwhelm you and befuddle you. Be confused. See live and death from a new perspective.

THE HEIGHT OF THE STORM

“The Height of the Storm” features Jonathan Pryce, Eileen Atkins, Lucy Cohu, Amanda Drew, James Hillier, and Lisa O’Hare.

The creative team for “The Height of the Storm” includes Anthony Ward (scenic and costume design), Hugh Vanstone (lighting design), Paul Groothuis (sound design), and Gary Yershon (composer).

“The Height of the Storm” runs at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street) through Sunday November 24, 2019. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/. The running time is 80 minutes with no intermission.

Photo (l-r): Lucy Cohu, Eileen Atkins, Amanda Drew, Jonathan Pryce, and Lisa O’Hare in “The Height of the Storm.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, September 29, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “runboyrun” and “In Old Age” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday October 13, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “runboyrun” and “In Old Age” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday October 13, 2019
Written by Mfoniso Udofia
Directed by Loretta Greco and Awoye Timpo
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

As a result of playwright Mfoniso Udofia’s profound interest in the African Diaspora, perhaps no fictional couple in the recent history of Off-Broadway theatre have had their histories more parsed than Nsikan Disciple Ufot and his wife Abasiama Ekpeyong Ufot. “runboyrun” and “In Old Age,” currently running at New York Theatre Workshop, are the third and eighth plays in Mfoniso Udofia’s nine-play cycle chronicling four generations of the Nigerian-American Ufot family. “runboyrun” deals with both the three-year Biafran Civil War and the civil war being waged in the Worcester, Massachusetts Ufot household. “In Old Age” deals with the transformative issues of purge and passing that Abasiama confronts in her “solitude” years later in the same Worcester home.

Past and present share the stage in “runboyrun” which takes place on October 20 in two different times and places: in 1968 in Biafra and in 2012 in Worcester. The actions of the past coexist and collide as they parallel and counterpoint the actions in the present: during the Nigerian Civil War, the Biafrans attempt to secede from Nigeria; amidst the civil strife within the Ufot household, Abasiama (a reflective and powerful Patrice Johnson Chevannes) attempts to navigate a cessation of the repetitive cycles of Disciple’s (a fractured yet hopeful Chiké Johnson) paranoia, fear, and abusive behavior as well as his debilitating dissociative disorder.

Much of Disciple’s current behavior relates to the trauma he experienced fleeing with his family from the Igbo genocide in Biafra and the weight of responsibility he assumed for the death of his Sister (a caring and supportive Adrianna K. Mitchell). This trauma has left Disciple a broken man controlled by constant thudding and knocking from the wounds of his past wounds reopened by the magical realism of his torment visible to the audience and colliding with him in mysterious ways. His “splitting” leads Abasiama to wanting a divorce and this decision results in an increase in her power and a diminution of her husband’s subjugation to his past. Dialogue begins and the possibility of reconciliation occurs when Disciple is finally able to share his story with Abasiama.

“In Old Age” highlights an older, reclusive, shell of an Abasiama now living alone in what appears to be the relic of the home she shared with Disciple and haunted by constant knocking beneath the floorboards which is none other that Disciple’s “appearing” with questions, taunts, complaints, admonitions, and cruelties “from beyond.” Abasiama’s isolation has exposed her to the prey of “demons” from the past. She had no community, her children do not visit, and she is exposed to the same dissociation that plagued her husband. Into this wasteland comes curmudgeonly handyman Azell Abernathy (a persistent and perplexed Ron Canada) who has been sent by Abasiama’s daughter to renovate the home.

In an extended cat-and mouse game, the two lonely individuals begin a dialogue that demands they be honest with one another, expose their “ghosts” to one another, and ultimately become open to a future that includes the other. There is a spellbinding scene during which Abasiama drags Disciples belongings from the lower floor and “washes” him from her life and erasing her fears of the past, her ghosts, and her regrets. Patrice Johnson Chevannes and Ron Canada deliver emotionally charged performances that require vulnerability and risk and deeply felt humanity.

Both plays raise similar – and interconnected – enduring questions. These questions make deep connections to the self, to others, and to the world. What are the “ghosts” of our individual and collective pasts? How do these specters impinge themselves upon the present? How does the individual – indeed the nation – recover from physical, emotional, and psychological trauma and transition into holistic health? How are new homes established in safe zones? How do the echoes of “because of me” and the stultification of guilt transform into the catharsis of forgiveness and redemption? How does “fleeing” transition into “purge and passing?” Finally, when is it appropriate and safe to surrender to the possibilities of a new future by uttering the powerful mantra, “OK. It’s. OK.” Mfoniso Udofia successfully addresses these themes in “runboyrun” and “In Old Age” with the power and strength of believability and authenticity.

The casts under directors Loretta Greco and Awoye Timpo deliver remarkable and unforgettable performances. Time and space inhabit Andrew Boyce’ surreal set illuminated with pools of forgiving and redemptive lighting designed by Oona Curley and given eerie yet seductive voice by David Van Tieghem’s sound design.

Abasiama’s, Disciple’s, and Azell Abernathy’s stories of transitioning from “fighting” to survival” are humankind’s stories. Their struggles to achieve vulnerability and transparency and healing are humanity’s struggles to achieve the same paths to selfhood. Their escape from cognitive dissonance is our journey as well. And their stories lead to levels of reconciliation and release unparalleled prior to hearing them and listening to them. Missing Mfoniso Udofia’s plays is missing enormous opportunities for grappling with what it means to be human.

RUNBOYRUN AND IN OLD AGE

The cast for “runboyrun” features Karl Green as Boy, Chiké Johnson as Disciple Ufot, Patrice Johnson Chevannes as Abasiama Ufot, Adrianna K. Mitchell as Sister, Adesola Osakalumi as Ben Gun, and Zenzi Williams as Mother. The cast for “In Old Age” includes Ron Canada as Azell Abernathy and Patrice Johnson as Abasiama.

“runboyrun” and “In Old Age” features scenic design by Andrew Boyce, costume design by Karen Perry, lighting design by Oona Curley, sound design by David Van Tieghem, and hair and wig design by J. Jared Janas. Jerome Butler serves as dialect coach, Katherine Kovner serves as dramaturg, with Caroline Englander serving as Stage Manager.

Photo: Chiké Johnson and Patrice Johnson Chevannes in Mfoniso Udofia’s “runboyrun” at New York Theatre Workshop. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, September 28, 2019

Broadway Review: “Derren Brown – Secret” at the Cort Theatre (Through Saturday January 4, 2020)

Broadway Review: “Derren Brown – Secret” at the Cort Theatre (Through Saturday January 4, 2020)
Written by Andy Nyman, Derren Brown, and Andrew O’Connor
Directed by Andrew O’Connor and Andy Nyman
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The one and probably only thing you may be sure of when you leave the Cort Theatre after viewing the recent production of “Derren Brown: Secret” is that Mr. Brown is a very likable and convincing fellow, along with being a wonderful entertainer. He assures you that he cannot read your mind, that there is nothing contrived and there are no “plants” in the audience to deceive you. A true skeptic will wonder if he consequently manipulated you into believing that to reinforce what is to follow during the next couple of hours. As he takes the stage he appears quite normal and comfortable in a casual three piece suit. He introduces himself and takes a seat stage left to begin telling us about his personal life, secrets that he might only tell his close friends. He confides in you and gains your confidence so you feel as comfortable as he is and that is where the trust begins, or ends. Next he asks the audience to stand and participate in somewhat of a test. It is not to measure your intelligence but to merely evaluate your susceptibility in order to reveal how prone you may be to manipulation. It is after this introductory proceeding that the fun begins.

The reason for being so vague is that Mr. Brown has requested of any person that was present to review his performance not to divulge the “Secret” in their publication, so future audiences are given the opportunity to enjoy the festivities without knowing the outcome. It is only righteous to oblige and respect this request.

There is quite a bit of audience participation even before the show begins. You are asked to fill out little cards disclosing a personal secret or chosen to be facially photographed. During the show there are Frisbees tossed throughout the theater to procure random volunteers to grace the stage and participate in one of the many mind boggling scenes. To further insist there is no collusion, audience members are chosen to choose other audience members to participate in certain activities, assuring they have no possible connection to the production. There are Gorillas that may or may not be seen, locked boxes from the past and large portraits painted before your eyes.

What can be said, is that Mr. Brown is an amazing showman and talented performer. Acts of prestidigitation have enthralled audiences throughout the ages but Mr. Brown has brought this form of entertainment to a new level. It is intelligent, skillful, manipulative, intriguing, beguiling and captivating, but most of all it does what theater is meant to do. It allows you to forget your troubles, it prompts you to think, forces you to pay attention and provides delightful entertainment for a couple of hours. Mr. Brown swears that he is not a mind reader but I would disagree. He certainly knew what every member of the audience was there for and that is what he gave them. A magical, mind boggling experience and a phenomenal evening of entertainment.

DERREN BROWN – SECRET

The creative team for “Derren Brown – Secret” includes Takeshi Kata (scenic design), Ben Stanton (lighting design), Jill BC Du Boff (sound design), and Caite Hevner (production design). Cynthia Cahill serves as production stage manager.

“Derren Brown – Secret” runs at the Cort Theatre (138 West 48th Street) through Saturday January 4, 2020. For more information, to purchase tickets, and for the full performance schedule, visit the show’s official website at https://derrenbrownsecret.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Derren Brown in “Derren Brown – Secret.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, September 28, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Fern Hill” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday October 20, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Fern Hill” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday October 20, 2019)
Written by Michael Tucker
Directed by Nadia Tass
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Part group therapy, part intervention, part Doctors Phil and Ruth, “Fern Hill,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters through Sunday October 20, 2019, rehearses the events at Sunny’s (Jill Eikenberry) and Jer’s (Mark Blum) country farmhouse (Fern Hill) that take place with their close couple friends and frequent guests Vincent (John Glover) and Darla (Ellen Parker) and Billy (Mark Linn-Baker) and Michiko (Jodi Long). On this visit, the “gang” has gathered to celebrate Jer’s birthday, to finalize plans for the couples’ Commune Project, and an unexpected act of infidelity on the part of the “birthday boy.”

For over four months, the couples have been discussing moving in together at the farmhouse so they can support on another as they continue to advance in years – they range from 60 years old (Billy) to almost 80 years old (Vincent). Sunny affirms the need for the commune because, “no one left to take care of us but ourselves.” Darla concurs, “And watch out for each other and care for each other until the day we die.” Jer, however, is against the commune and prefers his privacy. He also prefers spending time with a young female student at the university where he teaches. With Jer’s infidelity taking precedence, the “rules” of the commune retreat into the background.

Act One ends with a protracted discussion between Sunny and Jer (the Sunny and Jer Show) about Jer’s infidelity, their relationship leading up to the infidelity, and a host of therapeutic talk-show-type couple therapy diagnoses about what’s missing in their relationship, what needs to be changed, and what the possibility of survival might be. The act ends with Darla deciding to attend her photography show in Austria with Michiko accompanying her, the discussion of Vincent’s upcoming hip surgery, and Sunny and Jer promising to pick him up from the hospital and caring for him until Darla returns home.

The Second Act picks up three weeks later after Vincent returns to Fern Hill and Darla and Michiko’s return to the commune. This act focuses on Sunny’s career and her relationship with Jer. Sunny must decide whether to ask Jer to leave or to attempt reconciliation, and the others struggle to determine how to keep their longtime friends together. Unfortunately, after Vincent’s earlier engaging conversation with Sunny about the difference between intimacy and sex and the importance of intimacy, the intervention collapses into a series of lackluster monologues about sex and fidelity and how these have played out in each of their relationships. Michael Tucker seems to have lost his way here, leaving the actors seemingly ill at ease as they struggle to suddenly have sex the focus of the piece, abandoning the concern for relationship and community extant in Act One. Act Two simply fails to deliver, particularly in the last couple of scenes.

The playwright seems to want to cover an extensive range of topics without focusing on one primary theme. Is the play about intimacy? About sex? About communal living and support? About rock bands and drugs? About infidelity? There are lengthy conversations about recipes, one for the clam sauce Billy acquired from an Italian grandmother “in a little trattoria on the shores of the Adriatic” during his band’s Farewell Tour Number Seven, and the other for Fra Diavlo. This, along with extensive sections of exposition about each character, add a significant amount of dialogue and time which seems unnecessary and not entirely relevant to the advancement of the plot. Act Two of “Fern Hill” is overlong and overwrought.

The playwright effortlessly introduces themes; however, he does not allow many of these themes to develop to the point of exposing the important underbelly of rich and enduring questions. Why do couples fail to or cease to “know” about one another? How does motivation effect levels of disclosure and transparency in intimate relationships? Who do individuals and couples ignore glaring signs of discord in the ability to relate honestly? Why do broken relationships often engender self-abuse? Does infidelity necessarily cause not hearing one’s spouse or considering one’s mate “incidental?” These are the questions one wishes Michael Tucker would parse, not Michiko’s “addiction to her computer, or Billy’s being “high all the time.”

That said, it was exhilarating to see this amazing cast assembled on one stage. Under Nadia Tass’s direction, each of these iconic actors delivered believable performances that authenticated their characters’ unique conflicts in ways that successfully advanced the play’s plot. One wishes for a more coherent story with a more cathartic and realistic ending. A story more fitting for the assembled “rock stars” of the theatre.

FERN HILL

The cast of “Fern Hill” features Mark Linn-Baker, Mark Blum, Jill Eikenberry, John Glover, Jodi Long, and Ellen Parker. Philip Hoffman and Pilar Witherspoon are the understudies.

The design team includes Jessica Parks (scenic design); Kate McGee (lighting design); Patricia Doherty (costume design); Kenneth Goodwin (sound design); and Addison Heeren (prop master). The Production Stage Manager is Stephanie Clark.

“Fern Hill” runs at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street) through Sunday, October 20 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Single tickets are $25 - $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call the 59E59 Box Office at 646-892-7999 or visit www.59e59.org.

Photo (L-R): Mark Linn-Baker, John Glover, Mark Blum, Jill Eikenberry, Jodi Long, and Ellen Parker in Michael Tucker’s “Fern Hill at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 19, 2019

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island” at The Producers Club (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island” at The Producers Club (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)
Written by Richard Roy and Eric C. Webb
Directed by Thomas G. Waites
Theatre Reviews Limited

A grizzly and wisened Richard Roy emerges from the darkness at the beginning of “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island,” currently running at The Producers Club, to introduce his autobiographical “guide” to surviving the prison environment he shared for six months of his young adult life on Rikers Island on a charge of negligent homicide. Roy then steps off the stage, surrendering its stark bareness to the young Richard (Connor Chase Stewart) who brings the audience “up to date” on how the trip to Rikers played out and ended.

The engaging and energetic Mr. Steward rehearses in detail how his character commits the horrible crime that results in the death of a young Latino man, the details of his arrest and experience in the holding cell, how he easily affords bail, and how two years later he is able to cop a deal that reduces his prison time from a minimum of 10 years for manslaughter to a year on Rikers Island. All of these “steps” to the doorstep of Rikers are based on Richard’s white privilege – born to a wealthy white suburban family in Sparta, New Jersey and raised with privilege all his life. The playwright here, as he does throughout the piece, makes no effort to hide how this privilege benefitted him.

All vestiges of his privilege evaporate when Richard finally is assigned to his cell block and he realizes he is in the racial minority. Richard shares that “92% of the population of Rikers Island is Black or Hispanic. Which makes me and you, oh new, melanin deprived, recruits into the System of Corrections a minority. Congratulations!” There is something othering about this affirmation which this review will address later. Our protagonist begins “The Guide” with a short history of Rikers, its population, and describing “a day in the life” at the facility.

With his transgender cellmate Shivon and his block mate Saddam and with the “blessing” of his CO Dillis, Richard establishes a successful juggling business, undercutting the Puerto Rican Express and its leader Hector Lopez. Hector not only does not tolerate being undercut; he discovers that the young man Richard killed is his nephew. Richard is threatened, harassed, and sometimes doubtful he will make it out of Rikers alive.

Roy and Webb never lose site of the significance of the young Richard’s crime. The “Guide” is not about claiming innocence. It is about Richard’s sense of entitlement. His constant refrains, his mantas are: “I don’t belong here.” “I’m not like these guys.” “I’m better than this.” “I just need to get through this.” “What did I do to deserve this?” Remorse and rehabilitation get lost on mere regret and denial. Connor Chase Stewart embodies his character’s struggle with self and other with authenticity and utter believability. Under Thomas G. Waites His performance is riveting and unforgettable.

Back to the issue of othering. Although the writers make it clear that most of the problems addressed in “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island” are the result of white privilege, corporate greed, and systemic racism, there is something missing in the script that is amplified further by Mr. Stewart’s impressive performance. These missing elements are probably best addressed in the form of rich and enduring questions. Questions like: “What about the fears of the black and Latino prisoners.” “Why should a convicted white prisoner feel he or she does not belong in a prison populated by inmates who do not look like them?” “Where does privilege end and responsibility begin?”

This is not only a guide for the white prison population. This is a guide for the White Man who builds, staffs, and operates prisons in America and profits from those institutions of incarceration. “The big irony of this place, though? 85% of the folks there… haven’t even been convicted of anything yet. They’re all the folks who can’t afford to pay their bail, and so are stuck while they await trial… likely to only return to Rikers, or worse.” Hopefully Richard Roy’s and Eric Webb’s commendable effort will result in a heightened awareness of the deplorable brokenness and systemic racism of America’s prison system.

A WHITE MAN’S GUIDE TO RIKERS ISLAND

The cast of “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island” includes Richard Roy and Connor Chase Stewart.

“A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island” runs at The Producer’s Club (358 West 44th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues) through Sunday September 29 on the following performance schedule: Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $25.00, available at 212-315-4743 or www.producersclub.com. For more information, visit www.awhitemansguidetorikersisland.com. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Connor Chase Stewart in “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island.” Credit: Jacob Goldberg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, September 16, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Only Yesterday” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Only Yesterday” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)
Written by Bob Stevens
Directed by Carol Dunne
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Writing a play about two iconic figures like Paul McCartney and John Lennon is risky business. Detailed information about their lives, their work, and their relationships is abundant and readily available. For a script about the famous pair to be engaging and relevant, the writing needs to include either new information or it needs to attempt to bring some new perspectives to the massive body of knowledge that has been previously explored in film, theatre, and documentaries. Bob Stevens’s “Only Yesterday” currently running at 59E59 Theaters falls victim to taking such a risk.

“Only Yesterday” begins with the radio broadcast interview during which Sir John McCartney discusses his poem to John Lennon – “A Song for John.” Unfortunately, it is a full forty-five minutes into the seventy-minute play that the playwright begins to address the emotional conversation between McCartney and Lennon in their Key West hotel room, the conversation so significant McCartney later describes it as “an important emotional landmark.” Even in the final twenty-five minutes, the reenacting of this “talking” (as McCartney characterizes it) by actors Tommy Crawford (McCartney) and Christopher Sears (Lennon) is superficial and lifeless.

What of the first forty-five minutes? Bob Stevens chooses to spend far too much time on unpacking suitcases and guitars, deciding what song McCartney and Lennon might record (they are due to write songs for a new album and seem totally blocked), ordering food, watching television, and dealing with screaming fans including one stuck in the air vent in their hotel room. The actors play eight (8!) songs as possible covers for the new album and the pre-teen girl Shirley Knapp (Olivia Swayze) chatters on for far too long (inside the vent obviously) adding absolutely nothing to the advancement of the plot. A cover song is not chosen, and Olivia is dragged away by a security officer with the promise of receiving a “confirmation letter” via mail from John attesting to her “vent visit” with her favorite Beatles.

“Only Yesterday” is Bob Stevens’s first play. Prior work has focused on producing, writing, and consulting for television sitcoms. His lack of experience is evident here. It is difficult for Mr. Crawford and Mr. Sears to tackle this anemic script with any chance of overcoming its myriad deficiencies. And director Carol Dunne is not able to move her cast around with any convincing authenticity. Sadly, “Only Yesterday” seems like a community theatre production gone terribly wrong. Even the unnamed Road Manager’s (Christopher Flockton) comedic interludes (calling Paul and John “bloody tossers”) cannot rescue the overall effort.

Why the playwright chooses to highlight an important moment in Beatles lore and then fails to deliver is a mystery. Hopefully, the playwright, director, and creative team will re-evaluate “Only Yesterday” carefully before producing it in the future. The concept is good; the execution is disappointing.

ONLY YESTERDAY

The cast features Tommy Crawford as Paul McCartney and Christopher Sears as John Lennon with Christopher Flockton and Olivia Swayze.

The design team includes Michael Ganio (set designer); Allison Crutchfield (costume designer); Dan Kotlowitz (lighting and projections designer); and Jane Shaw (sound designer). The Production Stage Manager is Danielle Zandri.

“Only Yesterday” runs at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) through Sunday September 29, 2019 on the following performance schedule” Tuesday – Friday at 7:15 p.m.; Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:15 p.m. Single tickets are $25.00 - $35.00 ($26.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call the 59E59 Box Office at 646-892-7999 or
visit http://www.59e59.org. Running time is 70 minutes with no intermission.

Photo (L-R): Tommy Crawford and Christopher Sears in “Only Yesterday” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 12, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: Colt Coeur’s “Eureka Day” at Walkerspace (Through Saturday September 21, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: Colt Coeur’s “Eureka Day” at Walkerspace (Through Saturday September 21, 2019)
Written by Jonathan Spector
Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

What could go wrong at a private school whose board of directors (all five of them) make all decisions based on consensus and have only what benefits the community at heart. A board so committed to inclusion that the school’s cultural identity drop-down menu for prospective parents offers eleven choices. And if Eli (Brian Wiles) has his way, because of his “deeper learning” around the issue of inclusivity, the list would include “transracial adoptee.” What could go wrong? The undercurrents in this opening discussion foreshadow fissures in the Eureka Day primary school’s foundations of “social-emotional learning, social justice and developing the whole child” and an open pathway to moral ambiguity.

Jonathan Spector’s “Eureka Day,” currently running at Walkerspace through Saturday September 21, is a complex and thoughtful trope for the upside and downside of such moral ambiguity and challenges the audience to come to terms with issues of “fact-based” decision making, inclusion, feeling seen and not othered, gender neutral pronouns and how these important concepts factor into dealing with a crisis in the community. What happens, indeed, when a mumps outbreak at the school forces the board to examine the facts about vaccinating infants and herd immunity? And what happens when two children of board members contract the mumps, the memory of one child of a board member who dies after inoculation years ago surfaces, and the Alameda County Health Officer suggests quarantine for the affected students and highly recommends vaccination for the student population?

After grappling with the issue as a board – and not being able to reach consensus – Eli suggests it is time for “Community Activated Conversation.” Don (Thomas Ray Ryan) and Suzanne (Tina Benko) concur. New board member Carina (Elizabeth Carter) – a black lesbian who just moved back west with her wife from the east coast – rightly questions what the CAC might be and Meiko (K.K. Moggie) – late to the discussion because her daughter Olivia has a fever and a swollen face – demurs to scheduling the event for the following day. The Conversation transpires on the Facebook Live platform so all parents can “be part of” the conversation.

Any semblance of unanimity about vaccinations and herd immunity that was present in the board discussion, quickly evaporates during the Community Activated Conversation when the “community” begins to flood the discussion with everything but the assigned topic. The comments run the gamut from the typical, “But I heard” intrusions to completely meanspirited and offensive posts. It is a risky business to write an entire scene in which the actors are upstaged by the silence of the hilarious stream of comments from a Facebook Live session projected on the school library’s back wall. However, playwright Jonathan Spector succeeds, and the FB Live scene successfully serves as the crisis of the play.

The heightened action in the final scenes would require multiple spoiler alerts. It is enough to know that the provenance of facts, the veracity of facts, and all of the honorable goals of the Eureka Day community are challenged, some upended – all of this with considerable casualties, racism, othering, and a host of other” unthinkable” atrocities. Under Adrienne Campbell-Holt’s astute direction, the cast brings authenticity and honesty to their complex characters. As they crisscross John McDermott’s realistic set, the characters challenge any and all preconceptions of truth, justice, and the American way.

EUREKA DAY

The cast of “Eureka Day” features Tina Benko, Elizabeth Carter, KK Moggie, Kate Cullen Roberts, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Brian Wiles.

The scenic design for “Eureka Day” is by John McDermott; projection design is by Kate Ducey; costume design is by Lux Haac; lighting design is by Grant Yeager; sound design is by Amy Altadonna. Sean McGrath serves as Production Manager and Technical Director. Avery Trunko is Production Stage Manager and Katie Cecil Cairns is Assistant Stage Manager. Casting is by Anne Davison. Mehr Kaur serves as the Associate Director.

Colt Coeur’s “Eureka Day” runs at Walkerspace (46 Walker Street, between Broadway and Church Street) through Saturday September 21, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays and Mondays at 7:00 p.m. Two 3:00 p.m. matinee performances have been added on Saturday September 14th and Thursday September 19th. Tickets start at $25 and are general admission. For more information and tickets, visit https://www.coltcoeur.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: The cast of “Eureka Day” at Walkerspace. Credit: Robert Altman.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: Red Bull Theater’s “American Moor” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Tuesday October 8, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: Red Bull Theater’s “American Moor” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Tuesday October 8, 2019)
Written and Performed by Keith Hamilton Cobb
Directed by Kim Weild
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Keith Hamilton Cobb has been on an urgent mission, crisscrossing the United States since 2013 performing his “American Moor.” Mr. Cobb’s almost-one-man-show is a trope, here an extended metaphor, for the pressing need for dialogue around the systemic racism and other “false securities that our society rests on” (Rachel Elizabeth Cargle). Keith Hamilton Cobb makes it clear that unless we take his cautionary tale seriously, we risk opportunities for meaningful and transparent dialogue: and this at the peril of creating an even greater divide in our culture, our nation, and the global community.

Mr. Cobb’s engaging monologue about his experiences auditioning for the role of Othello includes the “real time” audition with a younger white director, “asides” that comment on the audition process, and challenging flashbacks that illuminate his experiences as a strong black man struggling against being silenced and ignored. His language is powerful, engaging, and deeply infused with the need for truth telling and transparency. Silencing and truth are inextricably woven into the issues of systemic racism.

“Silencing happens when, for white people, hearing the truth is too much; when the truth hangs so painfully heavy on their shoulders that they’d rather get rid of the weight, than actually face the issue head on” (Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, “Bazaar,” January 2019) In “American Moor,” the entitled white director (Josh Tyson) is unable to handle the truth-telling that the American Moor Cobb reveals in his parsing of the character of Othello, a reading completely unfamiliar to the director and antithetical to his world view.

In her article in “Bazaar,” Ms. Cargle continues, “Because when the truth is held up, it reflects the false securities that our society rests on: the elitism, the capitalism, the racism, the ableism, the sexism, the homo/transphobia, the xenophobia, the anti-blackness.” Keith Hamilton Cobb, under Kim Weild’s sagacious direction, takes on these societal false securities with an enormous passion and a deep desire for healing.

During the curtain call, the audience at this performance quickly rose up on their feel to deliver enthusiastic applause. One wonders if this apparent sign of “having heard the truth” might really be, in the throes of fear, saying to Keith Hamilton Cobb, “Thanks for coming.” If one thing is clear from revisiting the significance of the Moor, it might be to remain mindful of the “fear and trembling unto death” that threatens the hearing of the truth that could ultimately set us free from the ravages of systemic racism in America.

AMERICAN MOOR

Produced by Red Bull Theater and directed by Kim Weild, “American Moor” is written by and stars world-renowned Shakespeare actor Keith Hamilton Cobb. He is joined by Josh Tyson as the Director.

The creative team for the production includes Dede Ayite (costume design), Wilson Chin (set design), Alan C. Edwards (lighting design), and Christian Frederickson (sound design).

Red Bull Theater’s “American Moor” runs at Cherry Lane Theater (38 Commerce Street) through Tuesday October 8, 2019. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.RedBullTheater.com. For more information please visit https://www.redbulltheater.com/american-moor. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Keith Hamilton Cobb in “American Moor.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, September 8, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Dust” at New York Theatre Workshop in the Fourth Street Theatre (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Dust” at New York Theatre Workshop in the Fourth Street Theatre (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)
Written and Performed by Milly Thomas
Directed by Sara Joyce
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s groundbreaking “On Death and Dying” was first published in 1969. The Grief Cycle outlined in this book remains the standard for understanding the “stages” of bereavement for those survivors of death. Milly Thomas’s “Dust” currently running at New York Theatre Workshop in the Fourth Street Theatre provides a new standard of understanding the stages of grief, one for those who have “passed on.” The power of this perspective cannot be underestimated, nor can the sheer emotional catharsis of Ms. Thomas’s performance be underappreciated or forgotten.

Unable to escape the depression that had already led Alice (Milly Thomas) to an earlier attempt at taking her own life, she commits suicide and undergoes twelve stages of grieving her own loss, beginning with the post-death awareness of her body being placed in a body bag in the hospital and then at the mortician’s as her body is being prepared for viewing. This unique perspective allows Alice to convey to the audience how she understands the significance of her death and how her life experiences might have contributed to her death. The protagonist is “allowed” to see afterward what might not have been seen (or denied) when living.

It is significant that Ms. Thomas has expanded Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: this bereavement is for the dead not the living and takes on the importance of any twelve-step program. There is anger at her mother, denial of the turning point she experienced, bargaining as she makes the decision about taking her own life (as her boyfriend Ben confuses prurience with compassion), and the acceptance of her choice to end her life – depression has been ever present for Alice in life, in death, and in life beyond death. There are also eight other stages (or scenes) of bereavement for Alice that would require a bevy of spoiler alerts and better experienced in the confines of the NYTW’s Fourth Street Theatre.

Much of the success of Ms. Thomas’s spellbinding monologue results from her impressive mastery of rhetorical skills. Mining the depths of logos, ethos, and pathos, the playwright uses a treasure trove of literary devices to parse the stages of grief experienced by her parents, her addicted brother Robbie, her best friend Ellie, her (cheating) lover Ben, and others who impacted her life – and continue to counterpoint her postmortem “existence.” The same techniques are used as Alice evaluates the meaning of her death and if suicide accomplished what she thought it might during her decision process. Further contributing to the success of the performance is the exacting and transmutive direction by Sara Joyce, Anna Reid’s surreal design, Jack Weir’s moody yet moodless lighting design, and Max Perryment’s ethereal sound design.

Additionally, there are rich allusions throughout the text, including the biblical references to death and resurrection: the gave cloth (body bag); the three days “in the tomb;” and the resurrection (“A Beginning”) itself. Milly Thomas’s script allows for a variety of interpretive lenses which allows for differing understandings and a variety of responses to the playwright’s enduring questions and the meanings of life and death and beyond.

Milly Thomas is a brilliant performer. It is impossible not to become deeply involved in her process of evaluating both her death and her life and how her suicide has impacted the lives of those she left behind and how those survivors think of her now that she has “passed.” “Dust” is both a memory play with Alice as the narrator and a psychological thriller that places the protagonist at the epicenter of a therapeutic session that spans present, past, and future. Just as Ms. Thomas is “watching” what her survivors are doing “without her,” she is transported through flashbacks to discover how those present behaviors are anchored in her past. This convention is brilliant and evolves over the course of the performance.

“Dust” is a remarkable vehicle for understanding some of the dynamics of suicide and should not be missed during its limited run in New York City. Perhaps the most clarifying – and yet disturbing – insight offered here is Alice’s recognition before her “decision” is rehearsed that, “All I wanted to say. All I really wanted to say is I can’t talk to anyone. I’m so very frightened of everyone. Because they’re healthy. Because they’re happy.” Exactly how profound that “confession” might take forever to comprehend.

DUST

“Dust” features design by Anna Reid, lighting design by Jack Weir, and sound design by Max Perryment and is produced by Ceri Lothian and Ramin Sabi for DEM Productions.

“Dust” runs at New York Theatre Workshop in the Fourth Street Theatre (79 East 4th Street) through Sunday September 29, 2019. Tickets can be purchased online at nytw.org, by phone at 212-460-5475, or in person the New York Theatre Workshop box office. For further information, visit https://www.nytw.org/show/dust/. Running time is 75 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Milly Thomas in “Dust.” Credit: Richard Southgate.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 5, 2019

Broadway Review: “Sea Wall / A Life” at the Hudson Theatre (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)

Broadway Review: “Sea Wall / A Life” at the Hudson Theatre (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)
Written by Simon Stephens and Nick Payne
Directed by Carrie Cracknell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After a successful run at the Public’s Newman Theater earlier this year, “Sea Wall / A Life” by Simon Stephens and Nick Payne opened at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre on August 8th, 2019. Both are haunting and unforgettable plays, each performed by a brilliant actor. In Simon Stephens’ “Sea Wall,” Tom Sturridge portrays Alex, a photographer on a holiday with his wife Helen and their eight-year-old daughter Lucy at Helen’s father Arthur’s house in the eastern suburbs of Toulon in a town called Carquerraine in the south of France. In Nick Payne’s “A Life,” Jake Gyllenhaal depicts Abe, a music producer with a baby on the way and a father’s life hanging in the balance.

Neither monologue is linear which makes it difficult for the actors to convey a sense of continuity in their performances. The stories move quickly from present to past and back again. There are more than one setting in each play and the moods in each monologue shift mercilessly without warning. In this incarnation of “Sea Wall / A Life,” Tom Sturridge masters this feat with consummate skill. One can see his thinking outpacing his speaking as he tries to make sense of what befalls him and his family while his wife shops locally, his daughter plays by the sea, and his father-in-law relaxes and reads by her side.

Two major differences in the scripts determine the style and impact of the performances. Because playwright Stephens gives his characters names and more developed traits, Tom Sturridge can dig deeply into each character’s development and it is also easier for the actor to develop the non-linear exposition and plot development. And because playwright Payne juxtaposes pathos with humor, Jake Gyllenhaal can exercise his comedic flair in his monologue delivery from the first line, “When she tells me she might be pregnant I’m in the middle of roasting a chicken.” Unfortunately, it is easy to lose the sense of pathos when an actor hands over emotional control of delivery to the audience early on in a performance.

Under Carrie Cracknell’s astute direction, both actors mine the depths of the scripts given them with a consummate authenticity and rhetorical strength. Logos, pathos, and ethos collide in their telling of two tragic stories of love, family, strength, disappointment, and the vicissitudes of birth, life, and death. The characters in these two short plays and their universal conflicts resonate powerfully with audience members and the connections of the rich plot these conflicts develop to the self and the other are riveting.

Laura Jellinek’s expansive two-level scenic design and Guy Hoare’s moody and ominous lighting design enhance the actors’ interpretations of the plays. Projections have been added to the Broadway production which do nothing to add to the sense of the universality of the monologues. The work of the two actors is enough to portray the necessary pervasiveness of the themes without visual sleight-of-hand.

The themes of the two short plays are so congruent and the conflicts of the two protagonists so parallel, it often seems to be one co-authored play in two acts. Each actor delivers compelling performances that bring his character to a level of believability and authenticity rarely achieved in solo performances. It is not difficult to believe that these are the stories of the actors themselves performed for the audience as their gifts of catharsis and redemption.

SEA WALL / A LIFE

“Sea Wall / A Life” features Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge.

The creative team for “Sea Wall / A Life” includes Laura Jellinek (scenic design), Kaye Voyce, and Christopher Peterson (costume design), Guy Hoare (lighting design), Daniel Kluger (sound design), Luke Halls (projection design), and Stuart Earl (original music).

“Sea Wall / A Life” runs at the Hudson Theatre ((141 West 44th Street) through Sunday September 29, 2019. Tickets are on sale by visiting www.seawallalife.com, www.hudsonbroadway.com, or by calling 855-801-5876. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Tom Sturridge in “Sea Wall.” Credit: Richard Hubert Smith.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: Chatillion Stage Company’s “Tech Support” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday September 21, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: Chatillion Stage Company’s “Tech Support” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday September 21, 2019)
Written and Directed by Debra Whitfield
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Chatillion Stage Company’s “Tech Support,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, begins with the play’s protagonist Pamela Stark (Margot White) frantically pacing around in her West Village well-appointed apartment as she remains on hold waiting for tech support for her malfunctioning printer. Pamela deals in antique books and when she finally reaches tech support, she tells Chip, “I need to pack these invoices with the antique books I’m shipping today – also there’s this weird sound.” Pamela is not tech savvy – she cannot even operate her one-cup coffee maker. Nor has she been terribly man savvy. Her ex-husband texted her the divorce papers (ironically) and she is glad to have tech-Chip to talk to even though his male voice “is outsourced” (One cannot make this up – nor the apparent fact that Chip’s “East Indian accent” is provided by a white actor.)

Pamela’s conversation with Chip gets cut short when he begins to transfer her call and suddenly a different tech support voice offers her a menu of time travel options: for example, “For 1998 press 1 now, for 1919 press 2 now.” Pamela presses somewhat randomly and begins her trips back in time. The protagonist’s time travel from the New York City of 2020 to the same location in 1919, 1946, and 1978 ostensibly addresses a range of issues: suffrage; enfranchisement; a woman’s right to choose; equality in the workplace, in relationships and in politics; independence; and the Equal Rights Amendment. Each of these important issues is handled not only glibly but in a highly charged didactic style. Pamela manages to help someone during each “stop,” even falling in love with a different Chip (Ryan Avalos) eventually leaving him behind as she hopes to get back to the present where predictably she hopes to find help for herself. Knowing whether she goes forward in time or back to Chip would require a spoiler alert.

Throughout this endeavor, Ms. Whitfield piles one cliché atop another, fails to provide any satisfactory humor, and corrals actors into prolonged dance sequences (to provide for the longer scene and costume changes), all in an apparent effort to dramatically “explore the female experience.” If this vague phrase is meant to include ‘feminism’ or ‘feminist theatre,’ the play addresses neither and, in at best an ephemeral manner, proffers only issues of equality and human rights that have affected women globally for decades. The thought that in 1919 two women could not engage in a romantic relationship is held in disdain by one of the characters. Apparently, Ms. Whitfield is not aware of the active lesbian community at the beginning of the 1900s. Unfortunately, the playwright offers no new solutions or insights into these important issues for women and for their causes of freedom.

Natalie Taylor Hart’s stunning but cramped set design leaves little room for movement or backstage access. The members of the cast make their entrances and exits through the same door that serves as the entrance to Pamela’s apartment in the 21st century and other time-travel portals. Ms. Whitfield chooses to direct her play with less than successful results. Even the qualified cast of five (Mark Lotito, Laurel Friedman, and Leanne Cabrera in addition to Ms. White and Mr. Avalos) cannot be expected to develop authentic characters from the playwright’s flat characters written with predictable or implausible conflicts.

This critic has not had the opportunity to see or review previous Chatillion Stage Company productions; however, “Tech Support” – despite its well qualified and talented cast – barely rises above the rigorous and well-established standards for community theater.

TECH SUPPORT

The cast of “Tech Support” features Ryan Avalos, Leanne Cabrera, Lauriel Friedman, Mark Lotito, and Margot White.

The design team includes Natalie Taylor Hart (scenic design); Deborah Constantine (lighting design); Janice O’Donnell (costume design); Ed Matthew (sound design); Carlene Stober (sound design consultant); Elliott Forrest (projection design); Cyrus Newitt (props master); and Inga Thrasher (hair and makeup design). Casting is by Stephanie Klapper Casting. The production stage manager is Emely Zepeda.

“Tech Support” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday, September 21st on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison). Single tickets are $25.00 ($20.00 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling the 59E59 Box Office on 646-892-7999 or by visiting www.59e59.org. Running time is 85 minutes with no intermission.

Photo:
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, September 1, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: Ma-Yi Theater Company’s “Felix Starro” at Theatre Row (Through Sunday September 15, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: Ma-Yi Theater Company’s “Felix Starro” at Theatre Row (Through Sunday September 15, 2019)
Book and Lyrics by Jessica Hagedorn
Music by Fabian Obispo
Directed by Ralph B. Peña
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Currently running at Theatre Row, Ma-Yi Theater Company’s “Felix Starro” launches the Company’s 30th Anniversary Season. The musical is based on Filipino-American writer Lysley Tenorio’s short story of the same name that appeared in his 2012 collection “Monstress” in which “a famous Filipino faith healer and his grandson Junior conduct an illicit business in San Francisco, though each has his own plans for their earnings.” Jessica Hagedorn and Fabian Obispo have transformed Mr. Tenorio’s “powerful and haunting” story into a musical and marks the first time ever a musical created by Filipino Americans is presented off-Broadway.

Despite the significance of Ma-Yi Theater Company’s effort, “Felix Starro” the musical loses the nostalgic undertones of Tenorio’s short story. Here the elder Felix (a diabolical and unpleasant Alan Ariano) has come to San Francisco to continue his unlawful Blessed Extraction of Negativities through psychic surgery which requires “strong, pure, fervent and absolute” faith on the part of the participant. His visit to the Filipino community in the United States is not altruistic: Felix comes to the west coast to escape prosecution in the Philippines for the same illicit “healing” procedures. Any nostalgia for his home is overshadowed in the musical by overbearing greed and abuse of his reputation and standing in his community.

Since Junior (a charming and innocent Nacho Tambunting) – Felix “the third” – was a child observing his grandfather perform psychic surgery in the Philippines, he knew his father’s father was a fraud. At ten years old, he observed his grandfather “extract” chicken parts from his subject’s abdomen while the “incision” oozed fake blood. Junior, at nineteen, was to continue in this family tradition of faith healing. However, he accompanies his grandfather to the United States with plans to remain in San Francisco, using money collected from the “healings” (at $200 a session) to secure a new identity from Filipino ex-patriot “fixer” Flora Ramirez (a cunning and convincing Ching Valdes-Aran) using the identification code “ready to buy roses” he secured in the Philippines from his girlfriend Charma (a mysterious and morally ambivalent Diane Phelan).

This morally ambiguous act (both illicit and redemptive) does not redeem the overall structure and content of the musical. The cast is uneven, perhaps resulting from their efforts to navigate the overwrought and overlong script. There are confusing scenes like the one with sex workers in the background writhing around while Charma connects to Junior telepathically. The direction by Ma-Yi’s Producing Artistic Director Ralph B. Peña is equally uneven often leaving actors in vacant spaces seeming not to know where to turn on Marsha Ginsberg’s multi-purpose set. Brandon Bieber’s choreography is robotic and bears no resemblance to his work on FX’s “Fosse/Verdon.”

One wishes the new musical successfully highlighted the parallels between the efforts of Felix and his grandson to escape their pasts and “start over.” Unfortunately, the writers seem to have taken on too much. Unwilling to let Junior’s desire for a new life in America to be heroic, his decision becomes an overworked connection to the current immigration difficulties for not only “illegal” immigrants but for all immigrants in general despite their status. For surely, Junior’s “illicit” choice does not compare to his grandfather’s deplorable misuse of authority as he convinces Mrs. Delgado (a stunning and powerful Francisca Muñoz) she is really free from all negativities, tricks the hotel maid Crystal (a broken and determined Caitlin Cisco) into thinking he “fixed” her unwanted pregnancy, and refuses to treat Bobby Santos (a fractured and resilient Ryan James Ortega) the young man suffering from symptoms of HIV/AIDS on lofty but hypocritical moral grounds.

FELIX STARRO

The cast for “Felix Starro” includes Alan Ariano, Caitlin Cisco, Francisca Muñoz, Ryan James Ortega, Diane Phelan, Nacho Tambunting, and Ching Valdes-Aran.

The creative team includes Marsha Ginsberg (scenic design), Becky Bodurtha (costume design), Oliver Wason (lighting design), Julian Evans (sound design), Paulo K Tiról (orchestrations), Ian Miller (musical director), Cristina Sison (production stage manager), and Jorge Z. Ortoll (executive producer)

Performances of “Felix Starro” will take place through Sunday September 15 at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street). Tickets, priced at $52.00–$102.00, can be purchased by visiting www.ma-yitheatre.org or by calling Telecharge at 212-239-6200. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Ching Valdes-Aran and Nacho Tambunting in “Felix Starro.” Credit: Richard Termine.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, September 1, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Make Believe” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday September 22, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Make Believe” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday September 22, 2019)
Written by Bess Wohl
Directed by Michael Greif
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The nature-nurture psychological debate and the predestined-free will theological debate collide in Bess Wohl’s “Make Believe” currently running at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, resulting in the brave and somewhat disturbing exploration of the blurred boundaries between what is perceived to be real life and what is perceived to be make-believe. The playwright raises several enduring questions, including whether there is a difference between make-believe and real life or if they are perhaps the same phenomenon, and whether one can ever escape the specter of dysfunction and childhood trauma.

“Make Believe” begins in the 1980s in the attic (a stunning and expansive design by David Zinn) of the Conlee family home, the playroom of the four Conlee children aged 5 to 12 years old. The children’s playlist alternates between typical children’s games and the more serious role-playing of the Conlee family that reveals the intricacies of the family’s dysfunction. “Make Believe” is not just another play about a dysfunctional family. Bess Wohl scrapes away at the underbelly of the dysfunction, carefully revealing the provenance of the Conlee family’s fractured and pernicious family system. This revelation begins when the children realize they have been abandoned in the attic of their family home and when one of them, Chris, decides to act.

In these family make-believe role-plays, older brother Chris (an intense and mysterious Ryan Foust) and older sister Kate (a determined and astute Maren Heary) play husband and wife and Dad and Mom to their younger siblings Addie (an introspective and imaginative Casey Hilton) and Carl (a lonely and somewhat ignored Harrison Fox) who is most often assigned the role of family dog. As the family pet, it is worth noting that Carl doesn’t speak much – something that will become relevant later on in the second half of the play (thirty-five years later) when four adults appear in the same attic with the same names, apparently to escape the repast downstairs following a funeral service at church.

In the first forty minutes of “Make Believe,” under Michael Greif’s careful direction, the young cast of four successfully provides the needed exposition for the success of the final 40 minutes populated by the adults. The children’s make-believe parallels the reality of their lives and their make-believe morphs into a twisted and sardonic reality. These are children older beyond their years. Their “family meals” with plastic food and dinnerware become shockingly real when Chris comes home with not only candy but bags of food.

Where he got the money to buy the food is revealed in the second half with the grim discovery disclosed by his adult namesake (a solid and deeply reflective Kim Fischer) who is attending the same funeral. Where Chris Conlee might be during this gathering needs to be discovered by the audience but he’s not in the attic during this unfortunate reunion where the audience discovers that the trauma the children experienced has had a deleterious effect on their adult lives.

At the funeral, the adult Kate (Samantha Mathis - a successful gastroenterologist living in Seattle - drinks a lot of wine and needs sedatives to make it through the day just as the child Kate imitated her mother’s often inebriated presence. The young Kate reveals overhearing her mother say, “she wishes their father were dead” and the older Kate has filed for divorce. Similar parallels are disclosed for Addie (a broken but hopeful Susannah Flood) and for Carl (a distracted and depressed Brad Heberlee). Being alone in the attic as children because one’s mother left you while your father was on a “business trip” can have deep psychosocial consequences. But do these consequences totally define the dysfunction of adulthood? Chris, the surprise guest at the funeral, serves as a foil to the belief that one cannot escape the trauma of one’s past. How is this Chris related to Chris Conlee and will his surprise revelation give the Conlees a second chance at redemption and release? Will there be catharsis for the audience?

MAKE BELIEVE

“Make Believe” features Kim Fischer, Susannah Flood, Ryan Foust, Harrison Fox, Maren Heary, Brad Heberlee, Casey Hilton, and Samantha Mathis.

The creative team for “Make Believe” includes David Zinn (scenic design), Emilio Sosa (costume design), Ben Stanton (lighting design), and Bray Poor (original music and sound). Justin Scribner serves as production stage manager.

“Make Believe” runs at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (305 West 43rd Street at 8th Avenue) through Sunday September 22, 2019. Tickets are available by calling the Second Stage Box Office at 212-246-4422, visiting the company’s website, www.2ST.com or at the Tony Kiser Theater Box Office. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Casey Hilton, Ryan Foust, Maren Heary, and Harrison Fox in “Make Believe.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 30, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: Final Thoughts on the Engaging “Rinse, Repeat” at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Saturday August 24, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: Final Thoughts on the Engaging “Rinse, Repeat” at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Saturday August 24, 2019)
Written by Domenica Feraud
Directed by Kate Hopkins
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Performances of a new off-Broadway play begin with previews, advance through opening night and reviews, and settle into a run of some indeterminate length depending on original projections of success and extensions, finally closing leaving the play’s actors and creative team in the beginnings of yet another post-closing bereavement process. But what of the play itself? Did the run of the play mean anything? Did the playwright proffer any rich and enduring questions that resonate beyond the play’s run? What might the play’s legacy be?

In her somewhat autobiographical play “Rinse, Repeat” which will end its extended successful run at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center on Saturday August 24, 2019. Domenica Feraud plays Rachel the anorexic high school student who has been in extensive treatment at Renley a facility specializing in the treatment of eating disorders. After fighting for her life there with the therapeutic guidance of staff member Brenda (a commanding and intuitive Portia), Rachael believes she is ready for a trial weekend back home with her mother Joan (a self-absorbed and toxic Florencia Lozano), her father Peter (an ineffective and weak Michael Hayden), and her brother Brody (an honest and authentic Jake Ryan Lozano).

Ms. Feraud uses foreshadowing early in her play to handily short circuit the process of exposition. No one picks Rachel up to bring her home: Rachel must find her own way home for the weekend trial visit. This could not be a more emphatic example of what is to come in the remainder of the play. Rachel is reentering the toxic environment that contributed to her illness. Her family system is broken and has only become worse in her absence. Her mother Joan is highly competitive and controlling and her father Peter does nothing but collude with the dysfunction. Only Rachel’s brother Brody seems to be the only family member able to escape the maelstrom of denial and co-dependence.

After a series of compelling flashbacks and the playwright’s skillful use of magical realism, it becomes clear that Rachel cannot stay with her parents and allow them to determine her future, her academic and career choices, and her well-being. She decides to return to Renly with Brenda. This is her only choice if she wants to choose life over death and wellness over the binging and purging cycles of anorexia. Joan and Peter are not even willing to fulfill the requirement of one parent being present when Rachel eats and assuring her meals are substantial including the required amounts of carbohydrates and proteins. Both are too self-absorbed and narcissistic to have the required ethos and pathos to have the needed concern for “the other.”

The rich and enduring questions raised in “Rinse, Repeat” transcend the content of this important play and are relevant to all decisions that affect the sustainability of life and the integrity of the ego strength required to experience healthy psychological growth. “What happens when the people you love most, the ones you believe want the best for you, are the ones causing the most damage without even knowing it?” “Where do you go when the place you feel you most belong might be the place that almost killed you in the first place?” No questions could be more profound or more existentially necessary. These are the questions that ultimately allowed Rachel to maintain a holistic and healthy control of her life and abandon the pernicious type of control that was slowly eroding her chance to live.

RINSE, REPEAT

“Rinse, Repeat” features Domenica Feraud, Florencia Lozano, Jake Ryan Lozano (Mary Stuart) as Brody, Portia (Queen for a Day) as Brenda, and Michael Hayden as Peter.

“Rinse, Repeat” features set design by Brittany Vasta, costume design by Nicole Slaven, lighting design by Oona Curley, and sound design and original compositions by Ien DeNio. Casting is by Andrew Femenella, CSA.

For more information on “Rinse, Repeat,” please visit http://www.rinserepeatplay.com/#home.

Photo: Domenica Feraud and Florencia Lozano in “Rinse, Repeat.” Credit: Jenny Anderson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Broadway Review: “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (Open Run)

Broadway Review: “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (Open Run)
Book by John Logan
Music Supervision, Orchestrations and Arrangements by Justin Levine
Directed by Danny Burstein
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Although the new Broadway musical “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” takes place in Paris in 1899, it is without a doubt a “Cabaret” for the 21st Century. It captures the sounds of Lady Gaga, Katie Perry, Patti Labelle, Beyonce, Elton John and an endless host of others as they are woven into the plot with unequivocal brilliance. Those all familiar high-octane vocals perfectly match the glitz and purely decadent glamour that surrounds them and echoes their sentiment. As you await the show to begin, revel in the pre-show antics of the family of actors, singers and dancers that occupy this louche house of entertainment. That will only happen if you stop your eyes from gorging themselves on the visual feast that scenic designer Derek McLane has placed before you, complete with signature windmill and elephant that peer over your shoulder from the now defunct boxes high above. Immerse yourself in the kaleidoscope of color that blankets the stage and adorns the sexy costumes by Catherine Zuber that are bathed with washes of warm and inviting lighting designed by Justin Townsend. Snap pictures with your phone like an enthusiastic tourist, mill around the theatre amongst the crowded aisles of the orchestra and feel the energy of the devoted congregation. They are not there to pray. It seems worth whatever the cost as you are transported to a place that is foreign but familiar, sleazy but safe and tempting but tragic, because, you want to be there. This is “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”

The story is simple and a somewhat dark, Brechtian romance. An ageless scenario depicting a lover’s triangle that does not end well. Christian (a convincing and magnetic Aaron Tveit) who has fled his restrained life in America, to join the bohemian artists of Paris and become a song writer finds his way to the Moulin Rouge and meets Satine (the incomparable and intoxicating Karen Olivo) the outlandish diva of the cabaret. Enter the Duke (an evil and beguiling Tam Mutu) who is there to save the club from bankruptcy in exchange for an introduction to the beautiful and alluring Satine. Harold Zidler (the outstanding Danny Burstein) is the owner of the cabaret who officiates over the devilish proceedings. That is where the story begins. Where it ends is the heartbreaking tragedy.

Mr. Tveit uses all his charm to create a genuine character that is under written and supports his effort with his mesmerizing baritone vocals. Ms. Olivo is no less than a wonder entering the show in a glittering gown on a trapeze teasing the audience with a tempting rendition of “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend”. This is just the spark that ignites her performance as she shatters the house with her impeccable vocal ability. The superb Mr. Burstein portrays the father of this family of misfits with honesty and practicality while managing to serve up his dual personality as ringmaster of the decadent circus with a sonorous style and forlorn energy.

Director Alex Timbers with a keen eye for detail, galvanizes his cast, inspiring them to participate in the debauchery of the musical extravaganza but never lose sight of the tragic story. The choreography of Sonya Tayeh is the heartbeat of the production, pumping life into musical numbers and challenging dancers to turn emotions into movement. Orchestrations, arrangements and music supervision by Justin Levine is the cohesive element that supports, invigorates and fortifies every creative aspect of the performances. Categorized as a jukebox musical this production gives new meaning to the adverse classification by weaving the musical catalogue of mega hits into the straightforward book by Jonathon Logan. Call this opulent, over the top, musical extravaganza anything you like but be aware it will never diminish the incredible work of a first-rate creative team or depreciate the entertainment value that it delivers. Get used to it, because “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” will be a glittering fixture on Broadway for quite a while.

MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL

The cast includes Karen Olivo as Satine, Aaron Tveit as Christian, Danny Burstein as Harold Zidler, Sahr Ngaujah as Toulouse-Lautrec, Tam Mutu as The Duke of Monroth, Ricky Rojas as Santiago, and Robyn Hurder as Nini.

The ensemble and swings include Amber Ardolino, Jacqueline B. Arnold, Olutayo Bosede, Kyle Brown, Sam J. Cahn, Max Clayton, Karli Dinardo, Aaron C. Finley, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Bahiyah Hibah, Ericka Hunter, Holly James, Evan Kinnane, Reed Luplau, Jeigh Madjus, Morgan Marcell, Caleb Marshall, Brandt Martinez, Jodi McFadden, Kaitlin Mesh, Kevyn Morrow, Fred Odgaard, Dylan Paul, Khori Michelle Petinaud and Benjamin Rivera. Ashley Loren is the Standby for Satine.

The design team for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” includes Derek McLane (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes), Justin Townsend (lighting), Peter Hylenski (sound), David Brian Brown (wig and hair design) and Sarah Cimino (Make-up design). Casting is by Jim Carnahan and Stephen Kopel.

Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com and in person at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th Street. “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” offers a $29 (plus $5 service charge) “Lucky Seat” lottery. For more information go to https://moulinrougemusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: The Company of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 19, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Little Gem” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday September 1, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Little Gem” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday September 1, 2019)
Written by Elaine Murphy
Directed by
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Over the period of a year, three generations of Irish women share their stories ad seriatim while in a medical office waiting room. Amber (a spitfire Lauren O’Leary) rehearses her life from taking her beau Paul to a wedding, to his abandoning her after discovering she is pregnant with his child. Amber’s “ma” Lorraine (a pensive and seemingly broken Brenda Meaney) shares the story of her anxiety, her need for psychotropic meds, and her developing relationship with “hairy” Niall. And Amber’s mom Kay’s (Marsha Mason) narrative spans detailing her angry itch “down there” to a hilarious sexual wakening, to the loss of her beloved husband Gem. Kay says she has spent most of her life in waiting rooms and playwright Elaine Murphy uses the waiting room as an apt metaphor for the often-unwelcome vicissitudes of life.

Over the course of six “scenes,” the women’s seemingly disparate monologues begin to first counterpoint then morph into a transformative trio that reaches its crescendo mid play and its resolution in the sixth “scene.” Themes of loneliness, anxiety, desperation, and despair are layered with themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, acceptance, and hope. The members of the cast deliver authentic performances and manage to transform their characters’ conflicts into a believable series of sub plots. Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing new in these stories and their too comfortable content makes the one-hundred minutes seem much longer.

Director Marc Atkinson Borrull skillfully brings the play’s characters into the same virtual space and time as they first deliver their monologues without recognition of the other actors sharing the waiting room, to delicate points of awareness through subtle glances, to actually existing in the same place at the same time after the old Gem’s death and the new Jaime’s birth.

Meredith Ries’s stark waiting room set allows the actors to develop their characters without distraction and Christopher Metzger’s costumes are appropriate and non-invasive. Michael O’Connor’s lighting needs to be tweaked so the actors are not left standing in darkness where and when there should be pools of light.

Despite the challenges of the script, the three fine actors transcend the material to offer glimpses into the often-undisclosed problems facing three generations of women caught in restrictive matrices of expectation and oppression. It was wonderful to see Marsha Mason’s craft coalesce the threads of the three women-in-waiting to a settling down to sleep and all that metaphor encompasses.

LITTLE GEM

The cast of “Little Gem” will include Marsha Mason Kay, Brenda Meaney as Lorraine, and Lauren O’Leary as Amber.

“Little Gem” will feature set design by Meredith Ries, costume design by Christopher Metzger, lighting design by Michael O’Connor, and sound design by Ryan Rumery. Arthur Atkinson serves as Production Stage Manager.

“Little Gem” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage through September 1, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets to “Little Gem” range from $45.00 - $70.00 and are available through Irish Rep’s box office at 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 100 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Marsha Mason in “Little Gem.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 25, 2019

Opera Review: “Stonewall” at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center (Through Friday June 28, 2019)

Opera Review: “Stonewall” at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center (Through Friday June 28, 2019)
Music by Iain Bell
Libretto by Mark Campbell
Directed by Leonard Foglia
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

To celebrate its third year of presenting an LGBTQ+ opera in the month of June – and the 50th Anniversary of the Riots at Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn - the New York City Opera commissioned the opera “Stonewall” currently running at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center for five performances through Friday June 28, 2019. The one act opera in three parts celebrates the lives of ten disparate and, in a variety of ways, desperate characters who, having each reached their tipping points, decide to visit the mob-owned Stonewall Inn which is about to reach its own tipping point during the pre-ordained and politically motivated raid on the only “safe haven” for the members of the LGBTQ+ communities.

Although Mark Campbell’s characters are “fictional,” each is authentic and embodies believable and recognizable conflicts that drive “Stonewall’s” compelling dramatic arc to its cathartic resolution. in Part I, “clothed” in Iain Bell’s prescient orchestrations, the ten City residents introduce themselves and share their reasons for heading “downtown” on this soon to become iconic night at the bar. While heading to the Village on the subway, a “micro-dick” straight man calls butch lesbian Maggie (heroic mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez) a “cock-sucking dyke” and spits in her face. Although Maggie manages to deck him, the police have no interest in apprehending him. Undeterred by the abuse of the stranger and the shame her father feels for her, Maggie heads downtown to hit “the dance floor, chug a couple of brews, let it all hang out, and [be herself].” Ms. Chavez tackles the text with the same bravado and strength her character summons to subdue her attacker.

Under Leonard Foglia’s powerfully spiritual direction, the remaining nine “Stonewall” characters describe in chilling detail their stories of “profligacy” and persecution. Their distinctive voices display strong interpretive skills, exquisite tonal quality, and controlled vocal modulation. Carlos’s (a passionate baritone Brian James Myer) “lifestyle” results in his termination from a Catholic all-boys school. Andy (seductive tenor Andrew Bidlack) is a teenager who is punched in the face and kicked out of his Buffalo home by his parents and now embraces the life of a hustler on the streets of New York City. Troy (husky bass-baritone Joseph Charles Beutel) is straight go-go boy at the Stonewall, a hustler and a drug addict who, with the help of Sal (gruff baritone Michael Corvino) a manager at the club with ties to the Mafia, shakes down Edward (rich baritone Justin Ryan) the closeted financial advisor from Greenwich, Connecticut with a wife and kids who spent a night with Troy.

Renata (androgynous tenor Jordan Weatherston Pitts), Leah (haunting soprano Jessica Fishenfel), and Sarah (charming mezzo Liz Bouk) complete the roster of ten societal “misfits” headed to the Stonewall. Late-teen Maynard is more comfortable as Renata. Renata allows him to “banish” the “queerness” and “blackness” that single him out at his job at City Hall and “feel good in a dress.” Leah, a Jewish lesbian who was forced to undergo aversion therapy by her parents, heads downtown, “To groove on some music, /Try to talk with people,/Hang out.” Choosing to celebrate her status, Leah hopes to meet “a woman friend.” Sarah, a transgender hippie woman who is celebrating the one-year anniversary of her transition, lights a candle on “the squiggle of a Hostess cupcake” to eulogize the release from “the body that wasn’t mine./Just not mine.”

In Part II of the opera, the ten protagonists have gathered at the Stonewall Inn with other Village denizens to celebrate their identity. They are “happy, drunk, flirting, making out, having a great time.” The popular song on the jukebox sums up the mood: Feel the joy and how it’s spreading,/Happy tears we’ll soon be shedding,/Sugar dumpling, /today’s the day /I start my life with you.” The mood changes quickly when the police officers Larry (tenor Marc Heller), Hennessy (tenor Michael Boley), Giordano (baritone John Allen Nelson), and Cahn (baritone Peter Kendall Clark) arrive demanding IDs from all the patrons and barking racial and homophobic slurs. The iconic riot follows with the climactic “Resist, refuse./You got nothing to lose./Resist, refuse./You got nothing to lose.”

“Stonewall” ends on Christopher Street, right before dawn. Leah, Andy, Carlos, Sarah and Renata are in separate spaces, but come together on one building’s stoop to ask, “What now?/Where do we go from here?” Realizing they have been harassed and harmed, as the “light begins filling the sky,” they determine going forward to say, “No! Just No!” to any further attempts to “beat them down.” However, not knowing “what will happen now,” they are joined by the entire principal and ensemble cast in a grand chorus that tempers hope with realism. With unbridled vocal and emotional cathartic power, the chorus crowds Ricardo Hernandez’s set and asks, “What now?/What will happen?/What should we be doing?/Does it even matter?/There’s no way of knowing,/No sure way of knowing./What happens now?”

“Stonewall” is a stirring tribute to the movement that began on a night in June 1969 when many of New York City’s disenfranchised and despised just said ‘No!” Hopefully this hypnotic and passionate opera will return to the stage soon for a much longer run.

NEW YORK CITY OPERA’S STONEWALL

New York City Opera's “Stonewall” plays at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center (Time Warner Center at 10 Columbus Circle) for only five performances. For more information about New York City Opera's “Stonewall,” including the cast, creative team, and ticketing information, please visit https://nycopera.com/stonewall/. Running time is 75minutes without intermission.

Photo (From L to R): Brian James Myer, Jessica Fishenfeld and Liz Bouk. Credit: Sarah Shatz.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, June 24, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson” at A.R.T./ New York Theatre’s Mezzanine Theater (Through Saturday July 6, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson” at A.R.T./ New York Theatre’s Mezzanine Theater (Through Saturday July 6, 2019)
By Rob Ackerman
Directed by Theresa Rebeck
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson” a new play by Rob Ackerman is based on the actual making of an ill-fated television commercial by AT&T that discredits the cell phone coverage of rival Verizon’s network. In that commercial, actor Luke Wilson (a convincing Jonathan Sale) stands in front of a Verizon network map covered with red dots to represent their coverage areas. The red dots start disappearing from the map as red gumballs begin to very slowly fall on Wilson’s shoulders until, at the end, he opens an umbrella to protect himself from getting plummeted by the final deluge of gumballs. Famed documentary director Errol Morris (a sedate but tyrannical David Wohl) had a different brainstorm when he sees Wilson wince in pain during one of the takes, after he accidently gets hit on the head by a hard gumball misguided by Rob (a competent but confused George Hampe) the young prop man. Mr. Morris proceeds to instruct the first assistant director Alice (a confident and thorough Ann Harada) to have the gumballs fall on Wilson’s head purposely without the umbrella, to which she objects but must do to keep her job. She then informs the young prop man who is morally opposed to hurting the famous actor and putting his union job in jeopardy when his senior prop man Ken (a committed Dean Nolen) walks off the job in fear of the penalties. All this as intern Jenny (an innocent but mindful Reyna de Courcy) looks on in disbelief as she witnesses the unscrupulous debacle.

One of the many problems that plagues this production is that there are almost as many platitudes strewn across the stage as gumballs, some more prevalent than others. The play does not have enough substance to address the endless workplace problems that erupt and challenge the employees morally and intellectually. The many takes become repetitive and boring even though each has a different twist and elevates the perplexity of the dilemma. This contributes to the feeling that the play goes on much longer than its seventy-five-minute length. Issues are established but never resolved leaving a void that is created by ignorance.

Director Theresa Rebeck keeps the action moving on the sleek, modern television studio set, created by scenic designers Christopher Swader and Justin Swader, but is undertaking turning a one trick pony into a three-ring circus. The fact of the matter is the characters are too shallow and once the gumballs drop, the play is over, left with nothing to say.

DROPPING GUMBALLS ON LUKE WILSON

The cast includes Renya De Courcy, George Hampe, Ann Harada, Dean Nolen, Jonathan Sale, and David Wohl.

The “Gumballs” design team includes Christopher and Justin Swader (Scenic Designers), Mary Ellen Stebbins (Lighting Design), Tricia Barsamian (Costume Design), Bart Fasbender (Sound Design), Yana Biryukova (Video Design), Geoff Josselson, CSA (Casting Director) and Avery Trunko (Production Stage Manager).

“Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson plays at A.R.T./ New York Theatre’s Mezzanine Theater (502 West 53rd Street) through Saturday July 6, 2019 on the following schedule: Mondays through Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; and Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available at TheWorkingTheater.org, or by calling the Box Office (Ovationtix) at 866-811-4111. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.

Photo: (l to r) Dean Nolen, Reyna de Courcy, George Hampe and Ann Harada in “Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 21, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “The Plough and the Stars” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Saturday June 22, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “The Plough and the Stars” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Saturday June 22, 2019)
By Sean O’Casey
Directed by Charlotte Moore
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Irish Rep’s “The Plough and the Stars” (1926) closes after the Sunday June 22nd performance. Part of the Sean O’Casey Cycle (the Dublin Trilogy) at Irish Repertory Theatre, the groundbreaking play ran in repertory with O’Casey’s “The Shadow of a Gunman” (1923) and “Juno and the Paycock” (1924) and was the company’s debut production in 1988. Artistic Director Charlotte Moore directed that performance, the 1997 revival, and this Irish Rep 30th Anniversary Season production.

In “The Plough and the Stars” newlywed Nora Clitheroe (an engaging and fragile Clare O’Malley) is the talk of her tenement as she tirelessly works to lift her family out of their impoverished circumstances. She tries to keep her husband Jack (a stoic and somewhat abusive Adam Petherbridge) from the revolutionary fervor sweeping through Dublin. But Jack becomes a Commandant in the Irish Citizen Army, and when the Easter Rising of 1916 begins, he leaves a pregnant Nora to help lead the fight. The disparate, quarrelsome tenement residents are forced to shelter together as urban warfare makes their home nearly as treacherous as the streets. Passions and ideals rise and converge, but in the end, loss and devastation triumph over the promise of a new Ireland.

O’Casey’s themes of nationalism, divisiveness, religious freedoms and “rights,” the merits of socialism, and fantasy versus reality (fake news, alternate facts) counterpoint powerfully with the current political climate in the United States and throughout Europe.

Charlotte Moore directs the cast with a passionate commitment to excellence. Her staging brings out the best in each actor and assures that each actor’s character is fully developed and differentiated. Irish Rep regulars Charlie Corcoran (scenic design), Linda Fisher and David Toser (costume design), and Michael Gottlieb (lighting design) enhance the staging with the kind of stark realism that would please playwright Sean O’Casey.

In addition to Ms. O’Malley and Mr. Petherbridge, “The Plough and the Stars” features Úna Clancy as Mrs. Gogan, Terry Donnelly as Woman from Rathmines, Rory Duffy as Ensemble, Meg Hennessy as Mollser, John Keating as Capt. Brennan, Robert Langdon Lloyd as Peter Flynn, Ed Malone as Lieut. Langon, Michael Mellamphy as Fluther Good, Maryann Plunkett as Bessie Burgess, James Russell as The Young Covey, Harry Smith as Bartender/Sgt. Tinley, and Sarah Street as Rosie Redmond.

THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS

The creative team includes Charlie Corcoran (scenic design), Linda Fisher and David Toser (costume design), Michael Gottlieb (lighting design), Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab (sound design), Ryan Rumery (original music), Robert-Charles Vallance (hair and wigs). April Ann Kline serves as production stage manager.

“The Plough and the Stars” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) through Saturday June 22, 2019. For more information, including the performance schedule and ticketing information, visit https://irishrep.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.

Photo: Maryann Plunkett and Clare O'Malley in “The Plough and the Stars.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 20, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “A Strange Loop” at Playwrights Horizons (Through Sunday July 7, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “A Strange Loop” at Playwrights Horizons (Through Sunday July 7, 2019)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Michael R. Jackson
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Last season, two off-Broadway plays – “Daddy” and “Slave Play” (both by Jeremy O. Harris) – highlighted significant issues about the self-identity of young black gay and queer men and raised rich and enduring questions about the role of family, friends, culture, and “indifferent yet fetishizing white gays” in that process of discovery. This season, Michael R. Jackson’s original musical “A Strange Loop,” currently playing at Playwrights Horizons, similarly “sorts through layers of self-perception and the perceptions of the world around him” as his protagonist Usher (an impressive and transparent Larry Owens) explores “what it can feel like to be a ‘self’ in general and a black queer self in particular.” Usher’s quest is further complicated by his thoughts that interrupt his writing of a musical about his self-perception.

Usher’s inner cogitations are shared with the audience through the words and songs of six on stage “Thoughts” (Antwayn Hopper, James Jackson, Jr., L Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, and Jason Veasey). This gifted ensemble cast batters Usher with his obsessive reflections about self and world as both individual and cacophonous choral thoughts and creates a fascinating and original “conversation” with the one having the apprehensions. The actors not only sing through Usher’s thoughts but portray all the characters inhabiting those thoughts. Montana Levi Blanco’s costumes bring appropriate energy to each character.

Usher “thinks” about changing his life forever, his relationship with his loving religious mother who worries for Usher’s soul, his homophobic and verbally abusive alcoholic father, his “inner white girl,” his doctor who thinks he should have more sex, online sex sites, sex role stereotypes, fetishes, HIV/AIDS in the black community, Tyler Perry constructs of black “America,” the white Inwood Daddy who likes boys of color, and the possibility that his “sense of self is just a bunch of meaningless symbols moving from one level of abstraction to another but ending up back where they started” (cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter’s “strange loop”).

Usher’s self-identity “crisis” is parsed by layers of rich and enduring questions that reverberate with deep authenticity and believability. Under Stephen Brackett’s direction, Larry Owens and the cast of “Thoughts” determine whether Usher is capable of change, needs to change, or is simply “stuck” with who he is. They raise the rich question of whether Usher’s struggles are unique to the black queer community or have connections and relevance beyond that specific community. Arnulfo Maldonado’s “multiple doors” set, and Jen Schriever’s lighting give the “Thoughts” the perfect to “express” themselves.

Despite the importance of the discussion Michael R. Jackson initiates with “A Strange Loop,” the play’s repetitive style and content and its dependence on what might seem unnecessary vulgarity often detract from the inner strength of the script. The final scenes in Usher’s home and in the church are overwrought and depend too heavily on lavish and expensive sets. There is enough genuine grit in Michael R. Jackson’s script to carry his important conversation with the minimalism suggested by the multiple subtle explosions across Usher’s cranial synapses that bring his inner world to outer examination.

A STRANGE LOOP

The cast of “A Strange Loop” features Antwayn Hopper, James Jackson, Jr., L Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, Larry Owens, and Jason Veasey.

The creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (Scenic Designer), Montana Levi Blanco (Costume Designer), Jen Schriever (Lighting Designer), Alex Hawthorn (Sound Designer), Cookie Jordan (Hair, Wig and Makeup Designer), Charlie A. Rosen (Orchestrator), Rona Siddiqui (Music Director), Michael R. Jackson (Vocal Arrangements), Tomoko Akaboshi (Music Coordinator), and Erin Gioia Albrecht (Production Stage Manager).

“A Strange Loop” runs at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street) through Sunday July 7, 2019. For more information, including the performance schedule and ticketing information, visit https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jason Veasey and Larry Owens in “A Strange Loop.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, June 17, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Enter Laughing: The Musical” at York Theatre Company (Through Sunday June 22, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Enter Laughing: The Musical” at York Theatre Company (Through Sunday June 22, 2019)
Book by Joseph Stein
Music and Lyrics by Stan Daniels
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

As it finally filtered down to find its resting place on the stage of the York Theatre, the result has the sense and feel of a good old-fashioned musical comedy drenched with broad humor of a certain distinctive genre. The plot is predictable, the characters are stereotypical and some of the humor is questionable in the present socio-political climate, but when all is said and done, it is just harmless fun created in a different era with no underlying message but created for pure entertainment.

The plot follows David Kolowitz (a waggish Chris Dwan) and his dream to leave the Bronx to become a famous actor and movie star. He joins an acting school and is cast in a production by the owner and director Marlowe (an exasperated David Schramm) because his daughter and leading lady Angela (a frolicsome Farah Alvin) thinks he is cute. When his parents (the delightful Alison Fraser and solid Robert Picardo) discover why he is coming home so late they forbid him to do the play and force him to go to Pharmacy school. To complicate the situation David is a bit girl crazy having a steady girlfriend Wanda (a supportive Allie Trimm) and a huge crush on the clerk at the hat store Miss B (a seductive Dana Costello). Quite a few scenes just happen in David’s head as he imagines what it will be like when he becomes a Hollywood star. Of course, everything works out in the end as it always does in musical comedy.

The reason this production works much better than the original is because it is scaled down and certainly plays better as a small intimate musical. The downside is that it is difficult to keep the energy up without those big production numbers and the weak book becomes more front and center. The cast must be perfect, committed to the broad and physical humor of the genre. This current revival certainly comes close, but the vivacity and spirit are too erratic and rely too much on the musical numbers to keep on pace. Mr. Dwan is a joy to watch and is reminiscent of a young Jerry Lewis with a rubber face and fluid movement taking advantage of every possible opportunity to use his comic skills and agile physicality. The cast rounded out by Raji Ahsan, Ray DeMattis and Joe Veale are more than competent but need to ramp it up a notch to match and support the indefatigable and agile David Kolowitz.

ENTER LAUGHING

The cast of “Enter Laughing: The Musical” features Raji Ahsan, Farah Alvin, Dana Costello, Ray DeMattis, Chris Dwan, Alison Fraser, Robert Picardo, David Schramm, Allie Trimm, and Joe Veale.

The creative team includes James Morgan (sets), Tyler M. Holland (costumes), Ken Billington & Jason Kantrowitz (lights), Julian Evans (sound), and Brooke van Hensbergen (props). The Production Manager and Production Stage Manager is Chris Steckel with Assistant Stage Manager Kayla Santos. The Casting Director is Michael Cassara, CSA.

“Enter Laughing: The Musical” runs at York Theatre Company (East 54th Street and Lexington Avenue) through Sunday June 22, 2019. For more information, including the performance schedule and ticketing information, visit https://yorktheatre.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Chris Dwan and Alison Fraser in “Enter Laughing: The Musical.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, June 16, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Nomad Motel” at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 (Through Sunday June 23, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Nomad Motel” at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 (Through Sunday June 23, 2019)
By Carla Ching
Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

With a nod (intentional/unintentional) to the genre of disillusioned youth represented by Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 “This Is Our Youth,” Carla Ching’s “Nomad Motel” currently running at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 dives headlong into the lives of a triangle of vagabond California youth yearning to belatedly separate and individuate from adults who have been less than successful in providing safe and secure environments and unconditional-nonjudgmental love.

Alix (a languid and defeated Molly Griggs) and her mother Fiona (an equivocating and frenzied Samantha Mathis) are kicked out from pay-by-the-day motels for not meeting payment. Mason (a charming and sensitive Christopher Larkin) is an undocumented Asian teenager living in fear of being deported and equally fearful of his domineering father James (a strident and cagey Andrew Pang) who lives and works in China or Japan or wherever his special brand of “making collections” might take him. And Alix’s ex-boyfriend Oscar (a spirited and flawed Ian Duff) is homeless, having recently lived in a group home, and most recently kicked out of his new girlfriend Lila’s place. Three lost children and two ineffective adults at odds with visions of the future.

The two teenagers meet obstacle after obstacle in their efforts to move forward with their lives, and many of those obstacles are of their own making. Alix’s skipping weeks of school results in grades that do not allow her to matriculate at Pratt in New York City. Instead, she plans to follow Oscar there – plans that “go astray.” Mason (and Oscar) face the ravages of racism, and Mason battles unsuccessfully with his overbearing (and abusive) father James and sees no future in accepting financial support and housing as the expense of his physical and emotional health (Mason suffers from severe anxiety attacks).

Throughout the play, Mason nurtures a baby bird he finds and brings into the house his father provides for him “to save it.” Mason cradles the bird and changes the dressing on her wing – he’s convinced the bird is female. The bird is an obvious trope for the brokenness shared by Mason and Alix and their need to be set free from their current impairments and entrapments. After discovering their love for one another, and after cradling one another and mending each other’s brokenness, it is time to run. Although this provides a modicum of catharsis, playwright Carla Ching takes too long to reach that resolution.

Under Ed Sylvanus Iskandar’s lackluster direction, the cast – with obvious commitment to the script – cannot overcome competing with one cliché after another and Carla Ching’s less than fully developed characters. Additionally, both playwright and director make some odd choices. For example, in an early conversation between Mason and his father, James undresses and, instead of putting on a bathrobe as the script suggests, sits in his underwear throughout the call. Also, instead of allowing Fiona’s and James’s faults to reveal themselves over time, both characters are treated heavy-handedly.

There is nothing new in “Nomad Motel” and the important themes the play shrouds are ineffectively and weakly developed. The young actors give the play their very best and cannot be held accountable for “Nomad Motel’s” wandering off course.

NOMAD MOTEL

The cast of “Nomad Motel” features Ian Duff, Molly Griggs, Christopher Larkin, Samantha Mathis, and Andrew Pang.

“Nomad Motel’s” creative team features scenic design by Yu-Hsuan Chen, costume design by Loren Shaw, lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, sound design and original compositions by Emily Gardner Xu Hall, fight direction by Ryan-James Hatanaka, dialect coaching by Joy Lanceta Coronel, and casting by TBD Casting: Stephanie Yankwitt, CSA; Margaret Dunn.

“Nomad Motel” runs at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street) through Sunday June 23, 2019. For more information about the production including the performance schedule and how to purchase tickets, visit https://atlantictheater.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes including one 10-minute intermission.

Photo: Molly Griggs and Christopher Larkin in “Nomad Motel.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 13, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Dying City” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday June 30, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Dying City” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday June 30, 2019)
Written and Directed by Christopher Shinn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

With renewed concerns about an escalation of conflict in Iraq and the possibility of a new war initiative there, one would tend to believe that the revival of Christopher Shinn’s “Dying City,” currently playing at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, would provide new insights into the earlier Iraq War and its effects on the soldiers who served here and on their families at home. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Under the playwright’s direction, the cumbersome play raises more questions than it answers and leaves the inquiring audience member desperately flipping through The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to sort out the dysfunction displayed on stage.

In the early scenes of Christopher Shinn’s “Dying City,” one is led to believe that the physical and emotional detritus scattered across Kelly’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) Manhattan apartment results from the scars left by the death of her husband Craig (Colin Woodell) in Iraq, the Iraq war itself, and the lingering shadows of the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. However, at the plays end, one becomes aware that Kelly’s plan to flee her apartment has more to do with uncovered secrets about her husband – living and dead – and about his gay twin brother Peter (also played by Colin Woodell) who appears on the anniversary of Craig’s death at her apartment door unannounced and unprepared to handle Kelly’s less than warm welcome.

During the initial stages of Peter’s visit, it is uncertain why Kelly might have been so averse to responding to the letter Peter sent after Craig’s funeral. After all, apparently, they were close while Craig was alive. However, as the play progresses, Peter’s motivation for wanting to reconnect with Kelly becomes clearer, more sinister, and deeply disturbing. Peter makes a deliberate choice to move to Manhattan and seek work as an actor there. That choice involves being closer to Kelly and, as he reveals in his unanswered letter, to ask her “to have a baby.” Is there any doubt Kelly would start packing?

Throughout the play, there are flashbacks that reveal more about Kelly’s relationship with her husband Craig before his death in Iraq. These flashbacks also reveal more about Craig and his lack of self-worth, his misogyny, and the real reason for his untimely death. To say more about any of these issues would require spoiler alerts. It is enough to know that both Craig and Peter exhibit the symptoms of a narcissistic personality disorder and are dangerous young men. Witness Peter’s insistence on sharing his brother’s email to Kelly, emails that reveal Craig’s infidelity and toxic self-absorption.

Although Christopher Shinn’s characters are well developed and their conflicts believable enough, the plot developed by those “problems” is not as believable and suffers from a lack of pathos, ethos, and logos. It is difficult to care for characters who fail to care for themselves or for one another, behave in ways that connect to reality only tangentially, and make choices that defy logic. Mr. Shinn’s turn as director lacks the ability to elicit strong performances from the two relatively inexperienced actors. Colin Woodell fares better than Mary Elizabeth Winstead who is making her theatre debut with this performance.

It is difficult to understand fully why Second Stage chose to reprise this flawed drama that fails on every count to provide a satisfying dramatic arc that results in a much-needed catharsis.

DYING CITY

The Cast of “Dying City” features Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Colin Woodell.

The creative team of “Dying City” includes Diane Laffrey (scenic design), Kaye Voyce (costume design), Tyler Micoleau (lighting design), and Bray Poor (sound design). Laura Smith serves as production stage manager.

“Dying City” runs at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (305 West 43rd Street at 8th Avenue) through Sunday June 30, 2019. For further information, including performance schedule and ticket purchase, visit https://2st.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Colin Woodell in “Dying City.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, June 10, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Octet” in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Though Sunday June 30, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Octet” in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Though Sunday June 30, 2019)
Music, Lyrics, Book, and Vocal Arrangements by Dave Malloy
Directed by Annie Tippe
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts in Dave Malloy’s a cappela musical “Octet” currently playing in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center. A group of eight “addicts” meets regularly (summoned by the mysterious Saul) to share the dynamics of their various addictions, hoping to achieve the recovery attainable through the support and encouragement typically found in similar twelve-step programs. They hold their meetings in a drab church basement, setting up a circle of chairs to replace the church’s Bingo paraphernalia. “Against the wall” of Amy Rubin and Brittany Vasta’s impressive set “is a stack of chairs, an old piano, a cabinet, and a table with a coffee maker, electric kettle, and Styrofoam cups. A pile of old broken electronics gathers dust in the corner. A small wooden box sits near the door.” Like the eccentricities of the group members’ addictions, the paraphernalia in the basement seem immutable.

While some of the addictions rehearsed are readily recognizable and make strong connections to the audience members (ego surfing, dating apps, dieting apps), others like Velma’s (Kuhoo Verma) arcane references to Tarot and other addictive and destructive online spirituality communities become elitist and pretentious. Equally obscure is Toby’s (Justin Gregory Lopez) protracted thread on intelligence and the evolution of humanity (and himself). There are times when some of the threads seem without any meaningful content and become, unfortunately, lost on the audience.

Dave Malloy’s music is exquisite in every way reflecting various styles composed and arranged with tight harmonies that support Malloy’s lyrics. As previously mentioned, the individual threads highlighting a variety of digital/binary addictions are not as strong as the communal “Hymns,” the “Fugue State” closing Part One, and the “Tower Tea Ceremony” in Part Two.

Under Annie Tippe’s direction, the eight-member cast moves – sometimes almost miraculously – around the set with Jungian synchronicity and the grace displayed in synchronized swimming. There are so many detailed and repetitive moves and notes and sounds that it is remarkable the members of the cast are never in the wrong place at the wrong time or ticking off binary beats in the wrong dimension. Whether battling OCD or obsession with self or conspiratorial constructs, these actors’ characters are believable and reflect authentic struggles with “mass media opiate haze” and “content overstimulation” and “dopamine desensitization.”

Aided by what group facilitator Paula (Starr Busby) describes as “a powerful group psychedelic that induces a 5-minute coma, in which your consciousness is transported back to its original, pure, pre-technological limbic state,” the group emerges from “The Tower Tea Ceremony” having found “something they needed for their journey.” Or did they? And why doesn’t Velma imbibe? And how does she discover she is “beautiful” without falling into unconsciousness? Find out, perhaps, by listening to her song “Beautiful” and the final “Hymn: The Field.”

Kudos to Adam Bashian as Jim, Kim Blanck as Karly, Starr Busby as Paula, Alex Gibson as Peter, Justin Gregory Lopez as Toby, J.D. Mollison as Marvin, Margo Siebert as Jessica, and Kuhoo Verma as Velma for grappling with this new way of “working a script.”

OCTET

The cast of “Octet” includes Adam Bashian as Jim, Kim Blanck as Karly, Starr Busby as Paula, Alex Gibson as Peter, Justin Gregory Lopez as Toby, J.D. Mollison as Marvin, Margo Siebert as Jessica, and Kuhoo Verma as Velma. The cast also includes Jonathan Christopher and Nicole Weiss.

The creative team includes Or Matias (Music Director), Marisa Michaelson (Vocal Coach), Amy Rubin & Brittany Vasta (Scenic Design), Brenda Abbandandolo (Costume Design), Christopher Bowser (Lighting Design), and Hidenori Nakajo (Sound Design). The Production Stage Manager is Jhanaë Bonnick and Casting is by NAME.

“Octet” runs through June 30, 2019 in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues). For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.signaturetheatre.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: The Cast of “Octet” by Dave Malloy and directed by Annie Tippe. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 6, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: Primary Stages “Little Women” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday June 29, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: Primary Stages “Little Women” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday June 29, 2019)
Written by Kate Hamill, Based on the Novel by Louisa May Alcott
Directed by Sarna Lapine
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I can’t abide seeing a body stuffed into the wrong role.” – Jo to Meg in “Little Women”

Kate Hamill’s retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” plays at Primary Stages at an auspicious time. Amid unprecedented national and political division, issues of gender identity, gender equality, and gender protection continue to be critically important. Individual rights and freedoms are eroding at a dangerous pace. Religious rights are becoming more significant than the rights of individuals to make choices about their bodies, their relationships, and about their futures.

Jo (a spirited and persuasive Kristolyn Lloyd) and Beth (a fragile and shy Paola Sanchez Abreu) are two of the four March sisters who live with their mother Marmie (a dedicated and nurturing Maria Elena Ramirez) and the family’s longtime housekeeper Hannah (a strident yet compassionate Ellen Harvey) in the suburbs. Their father Robert March (a hapless and lethargic John Lenartz) has been wounded in the Civil War. Jo feels that she is “a body stuffed into the wrong role” and Beth lovingly support’s her sister’s quest to “be what she wants to be.” Jo’s quest is at the core of “Little Women” and her journey includes her struggles with her less than supportive sisters Meg (a dedicated and romantic Kate Hamill) and Amy (an opinionated and spoiled Carmen Zilles) and her friendship with Laurie (a thoughtful and caring Nate Mann) the boy next door who is also struggling with his “mis-stuffed” body.

Kate Hamill gives her characters unique and authentic conflicts which the actors successfully employ to develop their characters with believability and develop the plot. Themes and conflicts counterpoint one another and the comparison and contrast of these provide enough dramatic progression. However, these are Alcott’s themes really and Kate Hamill has not seduced them into the present with enough relevance and energy to make this “Little Women” anything new or compelling. Even Laurie’s compelling arguments about gender identity – imagining a world where there is neither “boy” or “girl” nor “gentleman” or “lady” – fade into nagging normalcy.

There are only so many times an audience can be challenged to accept that individuals – particularly girls and women – need the space to be and do what they want to be and do, and struggle with obstacles of “reality” that suppress “fantasy.” No one wants to “pander to the wealthy” or have emotional strength confused with “hysteria.” But Kate Hamill’s “Little Women” does not seem to know how to develop these conflicts into anything transformative. Unfortunately, there are times this production seems like the effort of a substantial community theater and disappoints more than it succeeds.

I know that Kate Hamill considered these issues carefully; however, for this critic the period costumes play against making this retelling of “Little Women” relevant. Additionally, once the conventions of set locations are evident to the audience, there is no need for all the “fussing” with curtains and doors. These constant distractions diminish the impact of the work of the actors. These concerns, along with Sarna Lapine’s lugubrious direction, make for a slow-moving production so unlike Ms. Hamill’s previous retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” at Primary Stages.

No one should abide being a body stuffed into the wrong role. One wishes that Kate Hamill’s “Little Women” provided the kind of catharsis to bring that important tension to some meaningful resolution.

LITTLE WOMEN

The cast of “Little Women” includes Paola Sanchez Abreu, Michael Crane, Kate Hamill, Ellen Harvey, John Lenartz, Kristolyn Lloyd, Nate Mann, Maria Elena Ramirez, and Carmen Zilles.

“Little Women” features scenic design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, costume design by Valérie Thérèse Bart, lighting design by Paul Whitaker, and sound design by Leon Rothenberg. Deborah Abramson serves as the composer.

Primary Stage’s “Little Women” runs at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Saturday June 29, 2019. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://primarystages.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Kristolyn Lloyd and Paola Sanchez Abreu in “Little Women.” Credit: James Leynse.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, June 4, 2019

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