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“Utility” Presented by The Amoralists at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre (Through Saturday February 20, 2016)

Vanessa Vache as Amber and James Kautz as Chris - Photo by Russ Rowland
“Utility” Presented by The Amoralists at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre (Through Saturday February 20, 2016)
By Emily Schwend
Directed by Jay Stull
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Yeah, and every time, you say, “no no no,” and then three months later we’re back
together again or you want to be back together again and I’m like “no way” and so why
don’t we just cut the crap and do it right one time.” Chris to Amber in “Utility”

In the midst of the caucuses in Iowa and the elections in New Hampshire with teeming crowds of smiling fist-pumping messiah-seekers hoping to hold on to their middle-class value system, there are far too many Americans who will probably never reach the status of middle class – that fading glory-day post- war fabrication of optimism. These are the disenfranchised, the poor, the desperate Americans caught in cycles of despair, disappointment, and dereliction. Among these are Chris (James Kautz) and Amber (Vanessa Vache) the mismatched but star-crossed mates whose marriage is on and off the rocks as often as is Chris’s promises to reform: “I’m a different person now. Hey, look at me. I’m a different person. I kicked the pills. For real this time. Last Christmas. Ain’t had a single slip up.”

This promise to Amber on her mother Laura’s (Melissa Hurst) porch begins the process of repairing and renovating their water-damaged house and attempting to repair and renovate their relationship which Amber has gnawing doubts about. “And there’s a whole mess of reasons why we shouldn’t get back together,” she reminds Chris during his sales pitch. Emily Schwend’s new play “Utility,” currently running at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, picks up the restoration three months later when Amber and Chris have moved back in their house. That matrix of messy things, besides Chris’ addiction, includes Chris’ bartending shifts at JJ’s where his old flame Michelle has worked, Chris’ penchant for forgetting important commitments, Amber’s deep depression, and her inability to trust the power of forgiveness.

Under Jay Stull’s precise and assiduous direction, “Utility” focuses on a couple of days in the life of this couple as they navigate the bumpy road to reconciliation and prepare for Amber’s daughter Janie’s eighth birthday. As Amber prepares for the party, the vicissitudes of her relationships with Chris, her mother (also a fractured and fragile creature), and Chris’ brother Jim (Alex Grubbs) ricochet off the walls of her kitchen with an audacious melancholy. Amber is completely overwhelmed with trying to support her family and striving to understand her husband’s inability to be present for her and the children. The word ‘like’ appears numerous times in the script: nothing is exact for Amber. Things only approach normalcy for Amber and this disquiet perpetually keeps her off balance and on the defense. The tipping point for Amber comes when the power is cut off in the house because Chris fails to pay the monthly bill.

The ensemble cast deliver authentic and honest performances. Alex Grubbs solidly portrays Chris’ brother Jim whose low monotone vocal cadence affirms both his moral strength and his seething unrequited love for Amber. Mr. Grubb’s scene with Amber near the play’s end is spellbinding. Melissa Hurst’s portrayal of Laura, Amber’s mother, is a somewhat disturbing reminder of the traps that one generation inadvertently sets for another. Laura wants to help but she simply does not know how. James Kautz delivers a scintillating performance as Chris giving the character a deep brooding countenance and a wistful hopefulness that can never be assuaged. And Vanessa Vache delivers an equally stunning performance as Amber giving the character a melancholy and a weariness that is disturbingly palpable.

Kate Noll’s set design is appropriately claustrophobic and dour and Nicholas Houfek’s lighting design seems to be able to gauge the mood of the characters and illuminate proportionately. Sometimes the pace seems slow; however, this assessment surely is the result of the discomfit experienced at the raw truth delivered by Ms. Schwend’s disarmingly accurate script. The Amoralists have provided a shocking glimpse at the underbelly of the epicenter of the free world.

Amber ultimately settles for a life of utility, nothing attractive but a completely functional existence. As she broods in the shadows at the end of the play - for what seems like an eternity - one wonders what she is thinking. Rehearsing the good times she might have had with Chris? Remembering what she was indeed thinking when she first met his brother Jim? Or just waiting for a sign to resign to the functionality of the dissolution of the American Dream. Amber will probably be able to depend on her fractured family system. Someone after all pays the balance of the electricity bill and the lights go back on as Amber broods and flounders in the crevices of the past. Whether this will suffice remains as elusive as the birthday party balloon bits scattered across the backyard and the branches of the trees.

UTILITY

The cast includes Alex Grubbs, Melissa Hurst, James Kautz, and Vanessa Vache.

The design team includes Kate Noll (Set Design), Jeanne Travis (Sound Design), Nick Houfek (Lighting Design), Angela Harner (Costume Design) and Zach Serafin (Prop Design). The production team includes Nikki Castle (Production Stage Manager), Anderson Heinz (Associate Producer) and Jeremy Pape (Production Manager). Production photos are by Russ Rowland.

Performances are Thursdays – Saturdays 8:00 p.m. at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place) in New York. There are additional performances on Sunday, February 14 at 3:00 p.m., and Wednesday, February 17 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 and can be purchased online at http://www.TheAmoralists.com or by calling 1-866-811-4111. The running time is 95 minutes. For further information, visit http://www.TheAmoralists.com.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 05, 2016

“Washer/Dryer” at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Saturday February 20, 2016)

“Washer/Dryer” at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Saturday February 20, 2016)
By Nandita Shenoy
Directed by Benjamin Kamine
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Once upon a time there was a couple who, while vacationing in Vegas, decide to get married in the Little White Wedding Chapel. When they return home to Manhattan, Michael (played with a powerful vulnerability by Johnny Wu) assumes he will be able to move in to his new wife Sonya’s (played with the charming mix of feisty aggressiveness with gentle susceptiveness by playwright Nandita Shenoy) Upper East Side studio condo. But when the doorman won’t let Michael up to the apartment without buzzing Sonya, this fairy tale begins to unravel. It turns out that Sonya never mentioned Michael would have to stay in the apartment illegally nor did she share her slight discomfort about being married. That discomfort reveals itself in the nervous tic Sonya displays when saying the word ‘marriage.’ Add Michael’s overprotective mother to the mix and the fairy tale morphs into a delicious farce – prat falls and all.

Nandita Shenoy’s “Washer/Dryer,” currently running at the Beckett Theater on Theater Row, is the engaging tale of how Michael and Sonya navigate their dual-ethnicity marriage given the pressures of culture and tradition and how they ultimately deal with the lack of transparency that has plagued their relationship from the start. Ma-Yi’s smart cast easily navigates Ms. Shenoy’s clever script to a happily-ever-after ending that makes the hearing of this tale sweet and satisfying.

Sonya’s prized combination washer and electric dryer is the play’s trope (extended metaphor here) for both that which challenges her relationship with Michael and that which ultimately reconciles them. It has taken Sonya a long time to achieve independence and “washer/dryer” status and after rushing into the marriage with Michael, she is not certain she should relinquish that freedom. It takes the village of her friend Sam (Jamyl Dobson), the Co-op Board Chair Wendee (played with an appropriate yet annoying officiousness by Annie McNamara), and even Michael’s mother Dr. Lee (Jade Wu)) to understand they really are meant for one another and that marriage was the right arrangement for their future.

Ms. Shenoy’s well-crafted script is directed with a steady hand by Benjamin Kamine and each member of the ensemble cast delivers believable and authentic performances. Jade Wu delivers a particularly memorable performance as Michael’s uber-protective mother who ultimately negotiates a victory for her son and his new wife – a victory in relationship and in real estate. Jamyl Dobson is perfect as Sonya’s gay neighbor whose gender-bending tryst with Michael is as hilarious as it is engaging and thought-provoking.

The performance viewed for this review seemed a little under rehearsed with the timing a bit off. Given the credentials of the cast and creative team, this issue will have been resolved by now. “Washer/Dryer” is worth a look.

WASHER/DRYER

Featured in the cast are: Annie McNamara, Nandita Shenoy, Jade Wu, Johnny Wu, and Jamyl Dobson. The creative team includes scenic design by Anshuman Bhatia, costume design by Dede Ayite, lighting design by Jonathan Cottle and sound design by Miles Polaski. Production photos are by Isaiah Tanenbaum.

Scheduled through February 20 at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street in Manhattan. “Washer/Dryer” will perform Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. An additional performance has been added for Saturday February 20 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets range in price from $25-$30-$35 and can be purchased via Telecharge at 212 239 6200 or online at www.telecharge.com or www.ma-yitheatre.org. The running time is 80 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, February 02, 2016

“Wide Awake Hearts” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 7, 2016)

From left, Tony Naumovski, Ben Cole and Clea Alsip in “Wide Awake Hearts” at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Wide Awake Hearts” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 7, 2016)
By Brendan Gall
Directed by Stefan Dzeparoski
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“All the world's a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.” (Sean O’Casey)

Brendan Gall’s “Wide Awake Hearts” currently running at 59E59 Theaters is “about” many things. There are themes in this lustrously written play despite its Character A’s (Ben Cole) protestation that “I don’t write from theme. It’s just a story I thought of.” And there is conflict - again despite Character A’s belief that he is going to write the first television drama “with absolutely no conflict.” Ultimately Brendan Gall’s superbly crafted and brilliantly written play is about the splendor of good writing and the power of that which we call drama whether it be on stage or on film. The specific power to awaken hearts even hearts of stone.

Infidelity, ennui, and duplicity have shuttered four hearts leaving them to slowly solidify over years of rehearsals – on an off sets and stages. Two relationships morphed into at least four struggling to survive their scripted requiem mass. Screenwriter – the aforementioned Character A – is married to Character B (Clea Alsip) who he casts in his current film. He calls in old friend Character C (Tony Naumovski) to play a love story opposite his wife and Character C’s longtime squeeze Character D (Maren Bush) to edit the film.

Character A’s dilemma? How to make the best film about the story he not only “thought of” but has been living through for years. The screenwriter’s actor wife has been having an affair with his not-so-great actor friend without the knowledge of the actor’s significant other and film cutter. Character A decides that the best way to make the film is to have those living out the “story” act out the story and let reality and fiction implode and explode on the set and in his home.

Ben Cole’s screenwriter – made a cuckold by Character C – is appropriately vengeful and suspicious. Mr. Cole delivers Mr. Gall’s scintillating opening monologue with a haunting vacuous power that awakens the heart. Clea Alsip’s Character B – A’s wife – delivers an authentic performance laced with disappointment, sadness, and concomitant rage. This woman scorned does not take lightly her accusers’ taunts. Character C – the actor apparently past his prime – is portrayed by Tony Naumovski with a sorrowful countenance and a splendid emptiness. And Maren Bush – Character D – rages on against her boyfriend’s infidelity with honesty and delivers her monologue on “editing” with palpable grit.

Under the steady hand of director Stefan Dzeparoski, truth and fiction, reality and fantasy, move into and out of the shadows neatly provided by Mike Riggs’ exquisite lighting design and play out in a variety of settings easily handled by Konstantin Roth’s versatile set design. The four characters – nameless because they are in essence each an “Everyman” – interact in a clever matrix of situations in which their real stories blend with their fictional stories in remarkable synchronicity. This is truly one of the best scripts extant with its layered and complex series of subplots. It is often difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy, truth and fiction.

The faded projections – other than counterpointing the text – served only to complicate the performance and added little to the overall effect of the staging. Though as they dissemble, so does the filming of Character A’s attempts to capture and/or recreate his reality. Using a matrix of brain science, film history, and relationship theory, playwright Brendan Gall creates a dark rehearsal of love found and lost and a quartet of “poor players strutting and fretting upon the stage” (Macbeth). The play ends with Characters C and B attempting to “get it right” – both their scene and their affair – by repeating Meisner style their brief love scene:

C: I love you.
B: I love you, too. (They kiss) Goodbye.

But there is no getting it right for these characters and perhaps for others on the way to “dusty death.” Shakespeare (once again) captured it with grace: “And then it is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing” (from “Macbeth,” spoken by Macbeth).

See “Wide Awake Hearts” before it fades from the stage on Sunday February 7, 2016.

WIDE AWAKE HEARTS

“Wide Awake Hearts” is presented by Birdland Theatre (Artistic Producer: Zorna Kydd). The design team includes Mike Riggs (lighting design); Elliott Davoren (sound design); and Rocco DiSanti (projection design). The production stage manager is Sofia Montgomery. The artistic producer is Zorana Kydd. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Wide Awake Hearts” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 7. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Clea Alsip, Maren Bush, Ben Cole, and Tony Naumovski.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, January 31, 2016

“I and You” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 28, 2016)

L-R: Kayla Ferguson and Reggie D. White in I AND YOU, written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Sean Daniels, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
“I and You” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 28, 2016)
By Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Sean Daniels
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“We two, how long we were fool’d,/Now transmuted, we swiftly escape as Nature escapes,/We are Nature, long have we been absent, but now we return./We have voided all but freedom and all but our joy.” Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass”

After receiving clearance from Caroline’s (Kayla Ferguson) mother, high school classmate Anthony (Reggie D. White) shows up in Caroline’s bedroom accompanied by his book bag and a line from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” – “I and this mystery, here we stand.” Obviously surprised by Anthony’s unannounced arrival, Caroline initially rejects Anthony’s attempts to convince her they need to work on their American Literature project but eventually trusts him and opens up to the project and to Anthony’s endearing personality.

Anthony succeeds in convincing Caroline she a good match for Whitman’s poetry and its apparent nihilism and further opens her to Whitman’s more transcendental and metaphysical qualities that penetrate the depths of her current condition. Caroline has been homebound awaiting a liver transplant without which she faces imminent death. Playwright Lauren Gunderson skillfully creates a parallel universe between Whitman’s life and poetry and the relationship between Caroline and Anthony. Ms. Gunderson explores all the possibilities of the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘I.’

At first, this seems to be a well-crafted play about friendship and understanding in the face of death and dying. Caroline is dying and Anthony witnessed the death of a teammate on the basketball court just before visiting Caroline. Both are bereft and vulnerable. But it becomes evident there is more happening here on a variety of levels and the audience member needs to pay particular attention to important details provided by the playwright. Why, for example does Caroline not know Anthony from school and why does he want to meet her and what does he hope will work between them? Why does Caroline’s mother allow a stranger into her daughter’s bedroom? Why doesn’t Caroline’s mother ever deliver the soft drink Caroline texts her mother to bring for Anthony? And what’s that beeping noise in the bedroom: a smoke detector or perhaps something else?

These details lead to a surprise ending, one that is as cataclysmic as it is electrifying. Under Sean Daniels’ careful direction, Ms. Ferguson and Mr. White deliver exquisite performances that manage to dodge the obvious and keep the suspense in high gear throughout the play. It is only after the unanticipated ending that the audience member reviews all that has transpired and experiences dozens of “aha” moments that only register as relevant after the play’s dénouement. Michael Carnahan’s set design is appropriate and serves the surprise ending well. Brian J. Lilienthal’s lighting is unnecessarily obtuse and adds little to the play until the very end.

This well constructed play will remain with you for quite some time after the end of the performance and perhaps lure you back for a second look. In the end neither Caroline nor Anthony are fooled by the restrictions of mortality and society. They “have circled and circled and arrived home again” and “have voided all but freedom and all but [their] own joy.” Home, it turns out, will be different for each of them but their freedom and joy – and that aforementioned secret – will “grow in the openings side by side” forever and they will be “deathless.”

I AND YOU

Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre in association with Richard Winkler. The design team includes scenic design by Michael Carnahan; lighting design by Brian J. Lilienthal; costume design by Jennifer Caprio; and sound design by David Remedios. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“I and You” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 28 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street in Manhattan. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; Sunday at 3 PM. There is an added performance on Sunday, January 17 at 7 PM. Single tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. The running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Kayla Ferguson and Reggie D. White.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, January 28, 2016

"Maurice Hines "Tappin' Thru Life" at New World Stages (On sale through March 16, 2016)

“Maurice Hines” Tappin’ Thru Life” at New World Stages (On sale through March 16, 2016)
A Song and Dance Musical
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Maurice Hines has been tapping through his prestigious career since he and his brother Gregory – at three and five years old - were discovered at Harlem’s iconic Apollo Theater while attending a performance of the Count Basie Band with singer Joe Williams. Mr. Hines begins his highly entertaining “Maurice Hines Tappin’ Thru Life,” now playing at New World Stages, by paying tribute to Mr. Williams by singing “Everyday I Have the Blues (Aaron and M. Sparks).

Two words summarize succinctly Maurice Hines’ expansive career: gratitude and tribute. Mr. Hines is profoundly grateful for the many opportunities afforded him and his brother by their intuitive and creative parents and by the networking (intentional and serendipitous) that catapulted the brothers into success and stardom.

Through a series of delightful monologues, Mr. Hines – through tap numbers and songs – highlights the places and the individuals that provided inspiration and opportunity, including Kids and Company, the Jackie Gleason Show, Moulin Rouge the first integrated hotel in Las Vegas, the Ed Sullivan Show, the Johnny Carson Show, Broadway, and Hollywood. He also highlights his encounters with Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland by singing “I've Got You Under My Skin,” “Luck Be A Lady,” “I Can't Give You Anything But Love,” and “Ballin’ the Jack.” Accompanying Mr. Hines is the Diva Jazz Orchestra with musical direction by Sherrie Maricle.

Maurice Hines’ gratitude for his parents and for his brother permeates the ninety minutes of “Tappin’ Thru Life.” He tenderly remembers the first time he heard his parents argue and how they reconciled. This memory is accompanied by his singing “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face.” This gratitude allows him to give young performers the same opportunity he had to be on stage in front of a live audience. Featured in the January 9th show were John and Leo Manzari, two brilliant tappers from Washington D.C., and the young tapper Luke Spring.

Throughout his life, Maurice Hines tackled every challenge he faced with a formidable positive energy. During his first visit to Las Vegas when a child performer, he met Talulah Bankhead at the Moulin Rouge who invited him and his family to the “all-white” hotel on the Strip. When he was told by the life guard that he could not swim in the hotel pool, Ms. Bankhead threatened not to perform. But when young Maurice entered the pool all the guests left and when he left the pool it was drained. This memory of institutionalized racism is touchingly counterpointed with the song “Smile Though Your Heart Is Breaking” (Chaplain/Turner/Parsons).

Mr. Hines is a skilled and gifted interpreter of song lyrics and provides his own thoughtful phrasing and vocal modulation – skills that have garnered him success in his solo career, on Broadway, and in film.

“Tappin’ Thru Life” is a well-crafted and well designed show directed by Jeff Calhoun that celebrates the life and career of Maurice Hines, a life that is “Too Marvelous for Words.”

MAURICE HINES TAPPIN THRU LIFE

“Maurice Hines: Tappin’ Thru Life” plays at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street) on the following schedule: Wednesday at 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00 p.m., and Monday at 8:00 p.m. Tickets, priced at $95, are available at Telecharge.com, 1-212-239-6280. Visit www.TappinThruLife.com for additional information. The running time is 90 minutes without intermission. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, January 14, 2016

“School of Rock – The Musical” at the Winter Garden Theatre (Tickets Currently On Sale through October 2, 2016)

“School of Rock – The Musical” at the Winter Garden Theatre (Tickets Currently On Sale through October 2, 2016)
Book by Julian Fellowes
Lyrics by Glenn Slater and Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Laurence Connor
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“What I set out to do was make an experimental musical theater. Broadway is a museum that’s not moving forward, and musical theater should reflect what and how we are now — our pop culture, our political situation.” (Elizabeth Swados 1951 – 2016)

Broadway is no longer a museum with the recent arrival of “School of Rock – The Musical” on the Great White Way. Based on Richard Linklater’s 2003 film comedy of the same name, this new powerhouse musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a book by Julian Fellowes is precisely what the late Ms. Swados envisioned as successful musical theatre. “School of Rock – The Musical” reflects significantly “what and how we are now” and moves forward in creative ways to address significant cultural and – perhaps surprisingly – political issues.

Dewey Finn (played with addicting energy and sophomoric charm by Alex Brightman) is kicked out of the band he started just before the Battle of the Bands, is behind in his rent and is about to be kicked out of his friend Ned Schneebly’s (played with a brooding likeability by Spencer Moses) apartment at the urging of Ned’s nagging wife Patty (played with an appropriate cloying callousness by Mamie Parris). Much of Dewey’s difficulty stems from his abiding faith in procrastination and sheer disinterest in blindly following rules. Music is Dewey’s life and his sole motivation. When the principal of Horace Green, the prestigious private elementary school, calls Ned to offer him a prolonged substitute position for the fifth grade class, Dewey answers the phone and seizes the day: he claims to be Ned and snags the well-paying position.

Dewey is not a certified teacher and plans to give his students an extended recess during his tenure as their teacher. This plan gives way to Dewey’s plan to teach the fifth graders all about rock music and enlist their help in winning the Battle of the Bands (“You’re in the Band”). The ensuing antics in the classroom are over-the-top joy to watch and hear as Dewey and his conscripts manage to dodge the watchful eye of Principal Rosalie Mullins (played with a guarded charm by Sierra Boggess). Keyboard wizard Lawrence (Jared Parker), lead guitar aficionado Zack (Brandon Niederauer, bassist Katie (Evie Dolan), and drummer Freddy (Dante Melucci) learn to play their instruments with ease and watching this quartet accompany the “choir” (the rest of the students) is sheer magic in the making. This quartet will make the audience fall back into their seats in awe at the craft of these young musicians.

It is easy to understand why some would attribute the success of “School of Rock – The Musical” to its addictive score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and engaging lyrics by Glenn Slater. The electrifying twenty-eight (some reprised) songs literally rock the walls of the iconic Winter Garden Theatre. However, in addition to making music together, the fifth graders successfully learn how to grapple with their insecurities, their fears, their doubts about self, and their identity – all metaphors here for “the man.” One of the show’s iconic numbers is “Stick It to the Man” a testimony to the students’ struggles with their parents for unconditional and non-judgmental love. Watching these characters as they confront and grapple with their fears reveals a transcendent level of success uncommon to the Broadway stage.

The musical numbers collide into one another throughout the two acts and support the story of “School of Rock.” “You’re in the Band,” “In the End of Time,” “Stick it to the Man,” “School of Rock,” “If Only You Would Listen,” and Tomika’s (Bobbi Mackenzie) solo rendition of “Amazing Grace” all grace the audience with splendid musicality and scintillating charisma. Under Laurence Connor’s galvanizing direction, the cast is uniformly excellent, each member giving thoroughly honest and authentic performances. It is so easy to connect to each of these well-defined characters and the particular conflicts that drive the musical’s energetic plot. Julian Fellowes’ book is refreshing and gives the students the needed back stories that make their conflicts believable and interesting. The members of the adult ensemble play their multiple roles with such impressive acumen it is difficult to believe the cast is not actually double the size.

Dewey and his prodigious students are the perfect learning team that exposes the dysfunction of the stuffy test-prep instruction of the prestigious Horace Green Elementary School by demonstrating how learning really needs to occur – authentically. Dewey challenges his students with a real world problem – how to win the Battle of the Bands competition – and they learn more about the fifth grade curriculum than any textbook could provide.

It is Dewey – and rock music only incidentally – that saves the students and rescues Dewey from his ennui and loneliness. “School of Rock – The Musical” succeeds because audience members can so easily identify with its characters and connect to their conflicts. Adults want to be Dewey Finn and children (of all ages) want a Dewey in their lives who loves them unconditionally and non-judgmentally. Kudos to the cast and creative team for profoundly moving Broadway forward into an exciting territory where craft knows no barriers, not even the flimsy barriers of age.

SCHOOL OF ROCK – THE MUSICAL

The new musical features choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter, scenic and costume design by Anna Louizos, lighting design by Natasha Katz, sound design by Mick Potter, music supervision by Ethan Popp, and hair design by Josh Marquette. Production photos are by Matthew Murphy.

For more information on the show including the cast, creative team, performance schedule and ticketing, please visit http://schoolofrockthemusical.com/. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, including intermission.

WITH: Alex Brightman, Sierra Boggess, Spencer Moses, Mamie Parris, Brandon Niederauer, Evie Dolan, Dante Melucci, Jared Parker.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, January 08, 2016

“Motherstruck” at the Culture Project at the Lynn Redgrave Theater (Through Friday January 29, 2016)

Staceyann Chin in "Motherstruck" - Photo by Timmy Blupe
“Motherstruck” at the Culture Project at the Lynn Redgrave Theater (Through Friday January 29, 2016)
Written and Performed by Staceyann Chin
Directed by Cynthia Nixon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Isn’t that what we would have wanted from our parents?/the encouragement to be true to our own compass/the freedom to fall and get up/despite the fear of falling again?” - Staceyann Chin

Like the “Star Wars” franchise, “Motherstruck” is best understood and appreciated as a complex set of extended metaphors, rich tropes for the important themes of nurturing, self-realization, unconditional love, and non-judgmental love. Staceyann Chin’s high-energy rehearsal of her experiences with mothering and her own desire to be the kind on mother she never had.

And like the “Star Wars” android BB-8, Ms. Chin, under director Cynthia Nixon’s steady and nurturing hand, maneuvers around Kristin Robinson’s multipurpose set with incredible dexterity - rolling, jumping, lying on the floor, running, sliding, and sitting as she relates her engaging story. There are twenty-four scenes about her growing up in Jamaica, moving to New York City, attempting to return to Jamaica, performing cross country, and finally finding her true home in the quietude of her own sense of authenticity and selfhood.

Much of that journey involves wanting a child. “Sometimes it feels like I’ve spent my entire life terrified of getting pregnant. Terrified of becoming a statistic like my mother. Pregnant. With no father for my child.” The stories of her time spent in fertility clinics are engaging though somewhat overlong with graphic details. Ms. Chin never stops working during her complicated pregnancy and her inexorable strength in the face of sexist and homophobic opposition is an engaging testament to the human spirit.

Her story also encourages audiences to persevere and to be true to their “compass.” “People begin with one intention, one goal. And then life intervenes. You get distracted. You get seduced away. You get derailed.” Ms. Chin demonstrates the importance of not allowing oneself to be derailed or seduced away by opposition and negativity.

In “Motherstruck,” Staceyann Chin makes all that we long for from our past possible through a determined effort or create our own futures. Plan to see her remarkable one-woman show before January 29, 2016.

MOTHERSTRUCK

Presented by Robert Dragotta, Rosie O’Donnell, and the Culture Project, Staceyanne Chin’s “Motherstruck” runs at the Lynn Redgrave Theater (45 Bleecker Street) through Friday January 29, 2016 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30PM, Friday at 8:00PM, Saturday at 4:00 PM and 8:00 PM, and Sunday at 5:00PM.

The creative team for “Motherstruck” includes Kristen Robinson (design), Bradley King and Dante Olivia Smith (lighting design), Akua Murray-Adoboe (costume design), and Elisheba Ittoop (sound design). Production photos are by Timmy Blupe.

Ticket prices range between $22.50 and $82.50. Tickets are available online at cultureproject.org or via phone by calling OvationTix at (866) 811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, January 06, 2016

“American Dance Machine for the 21st Century” at The Joyce Theater (Through Sunday January 3, 2016)

Photo by Christopher Duggan
“American Dance Machine for the 21st Century” at The Joyce Theater (Through Sunday January 3, 2016)
Musical Direction by Eugene Gwozdz
Directed by Wayne Cilento
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Continuing the legacy of the late Lee Theodore who established the American Dance Machine on 1976, Nikki Feirt Atkins founded the American Dance Machine for the 21st Century in 2012 “to create a living and vibrant archive of classic and current notable music theatre choreography.” This remarkable archive is celebrated in AMD21’s current offering at The Joyce Theater through Sunday January 3, 2016.

“American Dance Machine for the 21st Century” is directed by Tony Award winner Wayne Cilento (“Wicked,” “Sweet Charity” revival, “Aida,” “The Who's Tommy”). The twenty-one musical numbers are staged by a who's who of Broadway's master dancers and choreographers including Donna McKecknie, Robert La Fosse, Pamela Sousa, Gemze de Lappe, Mia Michaels, Niki Harris and many others. All performances feature a live band with musical direction by Eugene Gwozdz.

Audience members experience the legacy of Broadway in this most explosive dance spectacular in years. Twenty-two dancers and eight musicians perform twenty-one favorite Broadway dance numbers reimagined with a modern flare. American Dance Machine delivers awe-inspiring and visually stunning performances that, if permitted, would leave audiences dancing in the aisles or on the stage at the Joyce.

“American Dance Machine for the 21st Century” begins with a captivating medley of Jack Cole choreography featuring his signature geometric planning and high energy routines with movements that are always just right. Mr. Cole’s sense of theatrical effect and pacing are evident in “Beale Street Blues” from “The Sid Caesar Show,” ‘Rahadlakum” from “Kismet,” and Carnival in Flanders” from “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

The program includes works from “A Chorus Line” (“The Music and the Mirror” featuring Lori Ann Ferreri, “Opening Audition,” and “One”), “Bubbling Brown Sugar” (“Sweet Georgia Brown”), “Crazy For You” (“Slap That Bass” featuring Marty Lawson and the Company), “Golden Boy” (“Fight from Golden Boy”), “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (“Coffee Break”), “Oklahoma!” (“Dream Ballet”), “Pippin” (“Manson Trio” featuring Shonica Gooden, Skye Mattox, and Tommy Scrivens), “Promises, Promises” (Turkey Lurkey Time”), “Singin' in the Rain” (“Gotta Dance” featuring Paloma Garcia-Lee and Rick Faugno), “So You Think You Can Dance” (Mia Michaels’ chilling abstract narrative “Calling You” featuring Susie Gorman and Nicholas Palmquist), “West Side Story” (“Cool” featuring Amy Ruggiero, Mikey Winslow, and the Company), and “The Who's Tommy” (“Pinball Wizard”).

Other works performed by the featured dancers and the company are from “Grand Hotel,” “After Midnight,” “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” (“Mr. Monotony”), and “The Will Rogers Follies.” Tyler Hanes, Mikey Winslow, and the Company display impeccable coordination and synchronization in the iconic “We’ll Take A Glass Together” as do David Paul Kidder and the Company in the electrifying “Our Favorite Son.” The addition to the December 26th program was “The White Cat Solo” from “Cats” performed by Georgina Pazcoguin/Skye Mattox.

Although all performances hold the audience’s interest with remarkable and intelligent dancing, not all are executed with the same precision. Bob Fosse’s signature jazz style with sultry hip rolls, smooth finger snaps, turned-in pigeon toes and specific, detailed movements was not as evident as it should have been in the “Mansion Trio” from “Pippin” and the fragileness of Fosse’s movements fell apart. The required isolations were missing as was the careful execution of the choreographer’s signature slow burn and broken doll walk. Despite this, the overall effect is satisfying and Shonica Gooden, Skye Mattox, and Tommy Scrivens are to be commended for their work on this challenging dance.

“The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century” has a short run through January 3rd and should not be missed by theatre and dance aficionados and all those who appreciate the importance of the dance. Ms. Atkins and the dancers in the ADM21 are to be celebrated for their enormous commitment to ensuring that the “artistry of each dance not vanish with the artists who created them.”

AMERICAN DANCE MACHINE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

The creative team for “The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century” includes Edward Pierce (scenic design), David C. Wollard (costume design), David Grill (lighting design), Matt Kraus (sound design), and Batwin + Robin Productions (projection/video design). Production photos by Christopher Duggan.

“American Dance Machine for the 21st Century” plays Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 3:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling Joyce Charge at 212-242-0800 or by visiting www.joyce.org. The Joyce is located at 175 8th Avenue in New York City. For more about American Dance Machine for the 21st Century, please visit: www.ADM21.org Running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes including one intermission.

WITH: Claire Camp, Chloe Campbell, Rick Faugno, Lori Ann Ferreri, Shonica Gooden, Susie Gorman, Rachel Guest, Tyler Hanes, Nick Kepley, David Paul Kidder, Marty Lawson, Paloma Garcia Lee, Jess LeProtto, Cathy Lyn, Skye Mattox, Nicholas Palmquist, Georgina Pazcoguin, Tera-Lee Pollin, Justin Prescott, Amy Ruggiero, Tommy Scrivens, and Mikey Winslow.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, December 29, 2015

“Plaid Tidings” at York Theatre Company at St. Peter’s (Through Sunday December 27, 2015)

A scene from "Plaid Tidings" with, from left, Jose Luaces, John-Michael Zuerlein, Ciaran McCarthy and Bradley Beahen. Credit Carol Rosegg
“Plaid Tidings” at York Theatre Company at St. Peter’s (Through Sunday December 27, 2015)
By Stuart Ross
Vocal and Musical Arrangements by James Raitt, Brad Ellis, Raymond Berg and David Snyder
Direction and Musical Staging by Stuart Ross
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Stuart Ross’s “Forever Plaid” has been presenting its four-part guy group for decades and has maintained a successful presence in part because of its connection to the pleasing feelings of nostalgia summoned by the performances of hits from the past. And also in part because of the consistently superior quality of the voices and the vocal and musical arrangements of those hits. The holiday sequel of “Plaid Tidings” currently running at the York Theatre Company is equally pleasing though not without problems.

“Plaid Tidings” is Mr. Ross’ holiday-specific show sporting over thirty songs that loosely relate to the themes of giving cheer and are meant to put the audience “in the mood to appreciate the good that is always around us.” The book concerns the post-accident, post-mortem return of the Plaids to Earth to fulfill a mission that eludes the foursome initially. But transmissions from Rosemary Clooney motivate the boys to perform the holiday show their earthly demise denied them and they find their way through their holiday songbook preventing heavenly wrath.

First, the good news. The quartet is splendid and the men have superb vocal skills in each of their ranges and blend their voices to perfection. Unfortunately, when one of the quartet is featured in a solo, the program does not give that singer credit and the audience has to depend on memory to identify the match between singer and song. This is a serious deficit in the design of the program and needs to be addressed. Apologies to the singers if the match given here is not spot on. Jinx’s (Ciaran McCarthy) “Besame Mucho” for example, though not particularly festive, is brilliant.

Smudge (John-Michael Zuerlein), Frankie (Bradley Beahen), and Sparky (Jose Luaces) also perform solo turns with equal brilliance and, of course, it is in the group’s four-part harmony that they excel. “Kingston Market” is outstanding as is “A Mixmaster Christmas” and “It’s the Most Wonderful time of the Year.” Unfortunately, very few of the thirty-plus songs are sung all the way through and are often featured with just a few lines from the song. It would seem more singing and less physical comedy would be preferable and the choice to try to string the songs together on a flimsy story line is less than successful. Next earthly visit more singing please, and less silliness.

Overall, however, the event is pleasurable and the opportunity to listen to fours voices blend in scintillating harmony does indeed give one hope for a brighter future. Look for the boys to back up Perry Como right on the St. Peter’s stage.

PLAID TIDINGS

The creative team for “Plaid Tidings” includes James Morgan (set), Michael Magliola (lights), AJ Mattioli (Production Manager), Mark Martino (Consultant), with Meg Friedman (Production Stage Manager) and David Beller (Assistant Stage Manager). Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

“Plaid Tidings” will play the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays – Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Please note, there are two special added performances: Thursday, December 24 (Christmas Eve) at 4:00 p.m. that will include a pre-show reception, holiday cocktails and merriment; and Sunday evening, December 27 at 7:00 p.m. There is no performance on Friday, December 25 (Christmas Day).

Ticket prices for Plaid Tidings are from $39.50 -$72.50 and may be purchased by calling (212) 935-5820, online at http://www.yorktheatre.org, or in person at the box office at the York Theatre at Saint Peter’s (Citicorp Building, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue), Monday through Friday (12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.). York Theatre Members receive a special “Save 45%” for preview performances and a 40% for regular performances. Running time is two hours with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, December 23, 2015

“Once Upon A Mattress” at the Transport Group Theatre Company at the Abrons Arts Center (Through January 3, 2016)

Jackie Hoffman and the Cast of "Once Upon A Mattress" - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Once Upon A Mattress” at the Transport Group Theatre Company at the Abrons Arts Center (Through January 3, 2016)
Music by Mary Rogers and Lyrics by Marshall Barer
Book by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer
Directed by Jack Cummings III
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Imagine a Kingdom – not just any Kingdom – where the Leader is under a spell that renders him mute and cannot be broken until the “mouse devours the hawk.” The Leader has no voice therefore no power. Imagine. Wait, there is such a Kingdom, in fact several of them where the leaders seem to be under spells that prevent them from speaking and acting and in most cases that spell will not be broken until the leaders (the mice) can overcome the hawk (the uncooperative legislative bodies, international terrorism, poor poll ratings, etc.). The imaginary kingdom is the stuff of the fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson likely based upon folk texts from Denmark, Italy, and India titled “The Princess and the Pea.”

And “Princess and the Pea” is the inspiration for the splendid “Once Upon a Mattress” which is enjoying its first Off Broadway revival at the Abrons Arts Center in Manhattan’s East Village. This reimagining of the classic fairy tale provides delightful back stories for all the characters and a wonderful score by Mary Rogers. And the Transport Group Theatre Company presents this revival with delicious gender-bending bits and pieces that often bring the house down with raucous and spirit-filling laughter. Watch for more than one pun delivered at the expense of Queen Aggravain played to perfection by John “Lypsinka” Epperson whose height and wit command the stage.

The Queen demands that the hopeful Princess Winnifred (played with scintillating comedic timing by Jackie Hoffman) display the sensitivity needed to win the hand of her son Prince Dauntless (Jason Sweet Tooth Williams) by sensing the presence of a pea buried beneath twenty mattresses – a pea that would awaken the Princess were she truly a Princess. The shenanigans leading up to the ordeal are fraught with complications, concoctions, contortions, and celebrations of love.

This “Once Upon A Mattress” has a truly ensemble cast that brings to life Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer’s clever book and Mary Rogers’ catchy score and engages the audience on several levels from the simple to the profound. King Sextimus (David Greenspan) regains his voice after his son Dauntless stands up to the overbearing Aggravain. The King’s recovery of voice serves as a touching trope for all victories over oppression and silencing. Lady Larken’s (Jessica Fontana) ability to walk away from Sir Harry’s (Zak Resnick) wrathful tirade despite her pregnancy is an equally engaging trope for self-reliance and self-determination.

Under Jack Cummings III’s sensitive and careful direction, the entire cast is superb with some having moments in which they are able to excel. Ms. Hoffman is no less than brilliant as she climbs every comedic step in “Shy” and when she reaches the top, she manages to give more, demonstrating her musical theater expertise. She defines, embodies, and gives an endearingly honest portrayal of her character. There are no words to describe John “Lypsinka” Epperson as she glides royally across the stage making her fancy garb float as she turns to raise an eyebrow or elevate an upper lip in disgust and disapproval. She reigns with a magical presence. Mr. Greenspan commands every scene he enters without uttering a word. He is truly a gifted actor and remarkable comedian in the likes of Sid Caesar. Cory Lingner tears up the stage in his rendition of “Very Soft Shoes” hovering in the air, leaping loftily and effortlessly and manages to precisely hit every mark and musical cue. Zack Resnick has a beautiful baritone that lends itself to his character, Sir Henry, at times powerful but also sensitive with pure tonal quality. Jessica Fontana mesmerizes with her clear piercing Soprano that interprets her moods perfectly. Hunter Ryan Herdlicka (The Minstrel) and Jay Rogers (The Wizard) round out the impressive ensemble cast.

Just when the engaging characters start to become “too real,” Sandra Goldmark’s cartoonish set with scenic illustrations and live drawings by Ken Fallin (how much more interactive can a musical get?) transports the audience back into the land of fairy tales and make believe and wishes that sometimes come true. “Once Upon a Mattress gives the audience renewed hope for the future and the possibility for a positive outcome to the struggles of the present – a happily ever after for the global community.

ONCE UPON A MATTRESS

“Once Upon a Mattress” has music by Mary Rodgers and lyrics by Marshall Barer and a book by
Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller, and Marshall Barer.

The scenic design for “Once Upon a Mattress” is by Sandra Goldmark; costume design is by
Kathryn Rohe; lighting design is by R. Lee Kennedy; sound design is by Walter Trarbach. Musical staging and choreography is by Scott Rink; musical direction is by Matt Castle; arrangements and new orchestrations are by Frank Galgano and Matt Castle. Casting is by Nora Brennan Casting. “Once Upon a Mattress” features live drawings by Ken Fallin. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Once Upon a Mattress” plays Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with weekend matinees
Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. at Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street. There will be special added matinees on Wednesday, December 23 and Wednesday, December 30, both at 2:00 p.m. Tickets, which start at $45.00, may be purchased by visiting www.transportgroup.org or by phoning 866-811-4111. For complete schedule and more information, visit www.transportgroup.org.

WITH: Jackie Hoffman as Princess Winnifred and John “Lypsinka” Epperson as Queen Aggravain. The production features Jessica Fontana as Lady Larken, David Greenspan as The King, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as The Minstrel, Cory Lingner as The Jester, Zak Resnick as Sir Harry, Jay Rogers as The Wizard, and Jason SweetTooth Williams as Prince Dauntless, with Vivienne Cleary, Richard Costa, Michael De Souza, Tim Dolan, Jack Donahue, Amy Griffin, Sarah Killough, Kristen Michelle, Ali Reed, and Doug Shapiro.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, December 15, 2015

“2 Across” at St. Luke’s Theatre (Open-Ended Off-Broadway Run)

Kip Gilman and Andrea McArdle - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“2 Across” at St. Luke’s Theatre (Open-Ended Off-Broadway Run)
By Jerry Mayer
Directed by Evelyn Rudie
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Think “The Gin Game” sans playing cards and nursing home and without the requirement of aging characters and ‘Bingo’ one discovers the delightful and charming “2 Across” currently enjoying an open-ended Off-Broadway run at Manhattan’s St. Luke’s Theatre. In Jerry Mayer’s new play Janet (Andrea McArdle) and Josh (Kip Gilman) meet on an early morning BART train from the San Francisco International Airport to Bay Point the final stop on the line.

Josh has been unemployed for eighteen months, having left the family button business after twenty-five years. He is on his way home from one of his temp jobs working at the Airport helping run the International Air Terminal on Christian Holidays. Josh is Jewish and it is Holy Saturday. Janet, a psychotherapist, has just dropped off her son Brian at the Airport. Despite her protestations, Brian has decided to drop out of school and enlisted in the Marines.

Each “rider” has deep secrets and overwhelming needs. During the BART ride, these secrets are slowly disclosed, some unearthed layer by layer despite denial and self-recrimination. Ms. McArdle’s Janet is acerbic, witty, confident and - beneath that shell – sadly vulnerable and lonely. Mr. Gilman’s Josh is outwardly needy and equally vulnerable; however, beneath Josh’s naïve crust is a man of confidence waiting for the opportunity to connect on a deep and significant level. Both actors develop their complex and well-rounded characters with a refined sense of authenticity and honesty.

It is a joy to watch these actors provide clues for one another’s solving – the extended puzzle metaphor is well developed and deliciously subtle in its execution. Both characters claim to be married and sport wedding rings. Both behave like teenagers on their first date. Why? Mr. Mayer delineates his characters with exquisite care and their conflicts drive a remarkably engaging plot structure that the audience easily connects to on a variety of important levels.

Like Mr. Mayer’s work for television, “2 Across” requires impeccable timing, an innate sense of comedy, and the ability to be completely generous on stage (on set). Under Evelyn Rudie’s sensitive direction, Kip Gilman and Andrea McArdle meet these requirements and deliver Mr. Mayer’s script with layered and empathetic performances.

Scott Heineman’s scenic design provides a serviceable space for the actors to work their magic and John Iacovelli’s lighting is perfect in its straightforward design. “2 Across” is a dramatic puzzle worth solving. The solution provides a heart-warming ninety minutes that challenges making judgements on preconceptions and shabby prejudices.

Do not plan to leave the theatre immediately after the curtain call. Kip Gilman and Andrea McArdle have a wonderful surprise to share with their audience before everyone leaves renewed and restored.

2 ACROSS

“2 Across” is written by Jerry Mayer and directed by Evelyn Rudie and stars Kip Gilman and Andrea McArdle. The creative team includes scenic direction by Scott Heineman and lighting design by Josh Iacovelli. Production photos by Carol Rosegg. For performance schedule at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 West 46th Street) and to purchase tickets, please visit http://stlukestheatre.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, December 09, 2015

“The Great Divorce” at the Fellowship for Performing Arts at the Pearl Theatre Company (Through Sunday January 3, 2016

Christa Scott-Reed, Michael Frederic, Joel Rainwater - Photo by Joan Marcus
“The Great Divorce” at the Fellowship for Performing Arts at the Pearl Theatre Company (Through Sunday January 3, 2016)
Based on the Novel by C. S. Lewis and Adapted for the Stage by Max McLean and Brian Watkins
Directed by Bill Castellino
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Adapting a novel for the stage comes with considerable risk. The adaptor needs to be as true as possible to the original dense text – especially in the case of C. S. Lewis. The adaptor also has to delineate the characters with honesty and believability and present their conflicts and the plot they drive with the authenticity inherent in the original text. Max McLean and Brian Watkins succeed in all of these aspects in their adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s novel “The Great Divorce” for the stage.

The difficulty arises in the specific interpretation of C. S. Lewis’s novel the adaptors have given to their production now running at the Pearl Theatre Company. Readers of rich text know the author has established a setting which includes mood and the readers connect to text on many levels and are free to interpret what they read in a variety of ways. For example, “The Great Divorce” as a novel is not necessarily pedantic or proselytizing in nature. This adaptation by the Fellowship for Performing arts is both pedantic and proselytizing. That does not mean it is less than successful. It simply means that the production feels preachy and those choosing to attend a performance need to be prepared for that. The producers transform Lewis’s theological fantasy into an unapologetic sermon.

The three actors tackle the play with zeal and bring authenticity and believability to the twenty-something characters in “The Great Divorce.” Christa Scott-Reed is remarkable in all of her roles, shining as the Artist Ghost, the Ghost of Robert’s Wife, and the Spirit for the Ghost with the Red Lizard. This Broadway veteran knows how to embrace her characters with careful scrutiny and tease them into vibrant entities. Joel Rainwater is effective as the narrator and – sans eyeglasses – the Ghost with the Red Lizard. And Michael Frederic handily portrays the Bowler Hat Man, the Boss Ghost, and George MacDonald.

Bill Castellino directs the adaptation with a keen eye for detail and keeps the action moving and the delineation between scenes precise. Kelly James Tighe’s set is workable and powerful in its sparseness. Michael Gilliam’s lighting design is inventive and quite interesting at times. And Nicole Wee’s costumes are serviceable and some quite stunning.

The Fellowship for Performing Arts is to be commended for bringing C. S. Lewis to the stage. Their work is thought provoking and therefore worth the look. Next up at the Pearl is the company’s adaptation of Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters” from January 6 through 24.

THE GREAT DIVORCE

C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce” is presented by the Fellowship for Performing Arts and features direction by Bill Castellino, scenic design by Kelly James Tighe, lighting design by Michael Gilliam, costume design by Nicole Wee, original music and sound design by John Gromada, and projection design by Jeffrey Cady. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

The cast features Michael Frederic, Joel Rainwater, and Christa Scott-Reed.

For performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://fpatheatre.com/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, December 03, 2015

“H2O” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday December 13, 2015)

L-R: Diane Mair and Alex Podulke in H2O by Jane Martin, directed by West Hyle - Photo by David Arsenault
“H2O” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday December 13, 2015)
By Jane Martin
Directed by West Hyler
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Depending on the point of view of the audience member, Jane Martin’s striking and deeply moving “H2O” can be viewed as either a play within a play or a remarkable retelling of the “Tragedy of Hamlet.” After its successful world premiere at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the play is currently running at 59E59 Theaters in Manhattan. For this reviewer, “H2O” is best understood as a retelling of the iconic Shakespeare tragedy. A retelling is not an adaptation. A rich retelling strips the story to the bone – indeed to the marrow – and discovers the core, the nucleus, the DNA of the original work and creates a new story with the same genetic makeup but in a new frame that displays the “painting” in a whole new and often unexpected way.

After achieving monumental success in the film industry, Jake (Alex Podulke) is cast in a Broadway revival of “Hamlet.” This role is given to him based on the acclaim he garnered in Hollywood and not necessarily on his ability to perform Shakespeare on the Great White Way. His reputation gives him the opportunity to cast for the role of Ophelia. Deborah (Diane Mair) – a novice actor in New York City – decides to audition for the role at Jake’s apartment. Deborah is an evangelical Christian who takes her faith and her acting very seriously. In fact, she is an actor not of her own choice. “Jesus spoke to me and told me acting was my service and my way. I was in the New York Public Library looking at a first folio of Shakespeare's and God spoke to me. No, it wasn't a voice exactly but it was clear and decisive, ‘I am the Son of David and this work you must continue.’”

This monologue is delivered in spotlight, a device used effectively throughout the play separating the inner life of the actors from their action on stage (kudos to Travis McHale for his brilliant lighting design). After the monologue, Deborah enters Jake’s apartment and discovers he has attempted suicide – as did the character he has been hired to play. When Deborah visits Jake in the hospital, it becomes clear he resents her attempt to rescue him and equally clear that Deborah intends to rescue him and offer him the opportunity to achieve salvation - much like the relationship between Ophelia and Hamlet. Under West Hyler’s intricate and inspired direction, Ms. Mair and Mr. Podulke transcend traditional understandings of developing characters and are at the same moment Deborah and Jake and also Ophelia and Hamlet – a remarkable achievement achieved with brilliant authenticity and believability. The audience cares for Deborah and Mark and for Ophelia and Hamlet in profoundly new ways.

Deborah and Jake engage in a splendid and exhausting relationship, pushing and pulling at each other and each other’s Weltanschauung and struggling to comprehend the depth of Jake’s deeply depressive state and his issues with self-esteem and Deborah’s “do right” attitude (not unlike her biblical counterpart Deborah in the book of Judges) and her shallow understanding of “redemption and release.” Through the use of dramatic irony, the audience becomes aware of Deborah and Jake morphing in and out of their doppelgangers Ophelia and Hamlet. What the audience cannot anticipate is that ultimately Jake/Hamlet morphs into Deborah/Ophelia – a transformation accomplished with the quintessence of skill and tenderness. One iconic character becomes the other (Hamlet 2 Ophelia). Over time. With subtlety. It is not possible to say more without requiring a spoiler alert. It is difficult to understand how Mr. Podulke and Ms. Mair manage to strive to be the characters they already “are.”

“H2O” addresses the important themes of confession, redemption, and salvation within the context of relationships and the community. The important play raises enduring and rich questions about the meaning of forgiveness and unconditional love. Deborah strives to “save” Jake without understanding her own need to forgive and Jake strives to “love” Deborah without comprehending the depth of his own despair. It is rare to see two actors creates characters with such precision and understanding. “H2O” has a short run – through December 13 only – and is a must see. Audiences will leave the theatre not quite knowing who they are or who they might become. And – for just a moment – that is a good thing.

H2O

Produced by Ground UP Productions, “H2O” is at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) for a limited engagement through Sunday, December 13. The design team includes David Arsenault (set design), Travis McHale (lighting design), Amanda Jenks (costume design), and Toby Algya (sound design). The production stage manager is Devan Hibbard. Production photos are by David Arsenault.

The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes without an intermission.

WITH: Diane Mair and Alex Podulke.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, December 01, 2015

“New York Animals” at the New Ohio Theater (Through Sunday December 20, 2015)

Jo Lampert and Debra Barsha in "New York Animals" - Photo by T Charles Erickson
“New York Animals” at the New Ohio Theater (Through Sunday December 20, 2015)
By Steven Sater with Songs by Burt Bacharach and Steven Sater
Directed by Eric Tucker
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I'm too old -- they say -- for more memories./No walking along the park in some darker breeze./You're no city for dreamers, only lovers you leave behind./Oh, New York, do not waste my time.” (Burt Bacharach/Steven Slater)

"Life is a Cabaret, old chum." (“Cabaret”)

It is New York City 1995. It is another time with different rules, a disparate energy, and a diverse population possibly involved in a common quest called connection. As one song states “It’s a New York, I love you, it’s just you and, man, that’s beautiful too. Still you’re screwed.”

A father on his way to meet his son at the Guggenheim in a taxi driven by a delusional hypochondriac conspiracy theory driver. A new mother with her jaundiced four day old baby dismissing her maid and pleading with her husband not to leave town. A despondent woman mourning the loss of her second child and her husband unable to take another miscarriage. A clothing manufacturer behind in his payments. A Park Avenue hostess navigating cancellations to her important dinner party, dodging accusations of classism and racism by Jerry’s delivery boy. A father trying to have dinner with his daughter. A lonely straight woman convincing her gay male friend to father a child and stay with her. A delusional peeping-tom asking the man he has been spying on to meet him for closure. Two friends meeting on a movie line. A homeless person raging against injustice and inhumanity. A waitress at a Jewish restaurant incapable of understanding or respecting the boundaries of her clients. The emergency room at St. Vincent’s hospital where all of these stories collide in the style of the 2004 movie “Crash.”

These are among the New York stories shared by twenty-one characters played by five actors (one had been added the night of this performance) that make up Steven Sater’s “New York Animals” currently running at the New Ohio Theatre. With songs by Burt Bacharach and Mr. Sater, this world premiere play focuses on a group of New Yorkers navigating “love, sex, money, and impossible relationships.” Under Eric Tucker’s precise and careful direction the actors convince themselves and one another that it is imperative for survival in the City to “just keep on believing.” Blanca Camacho, Ramsey Faragallah, Edmund Lewis, Susannah Millonzi, and Eric Tucker create their disparate characters with ease and infuse them with a remarkable authenticity and believability given the time they have for character development.

Although an intriguing attempt, this production at this viewing (changes are still being made), was not able to achieve the level of cohesiveness needed to make converging stories transform into one mosaic of colorful inhabitants. Perhaps part of the problem is the lack of character development and situations assuming control of forwarding the plot. There simply is not enough time to dive into the depth of twenty one characters in two hours, some of which is devoted to the inspiring musical numbers. Also we have seen these characters too many times, leading to a sense of stereotype, with no new or interesting delineation.

One of the amazing aspects of the production is the setting resembling an intimate West Village club or piano bar from days gone by. The performers integrate using every possible space afforded them, adjusting chairs and tables to comfortably sit, stand and sing conceivably fabricating a connection with the audience including them in the action. It is a remarkable theatrical perception, at times even transforming the top of the piano into a performing space that is another time and place. Also the musical numbers are intertwined within the story, sometimes commenting on the action or setting a specific mood with lyrics that embellish the angst and desperation. Among the most memorable lyrics include: “I touch your hand and feel it slippin’ away from me” (from “How the Heart Knows”); “Wondering when, oh when, the dark part would be over” (from “When I Was You”); and “There’s a lot of you left in my day. When does it end? How do I get myself again” (from “A Lot of You Left in My Day.”)

Debra Barsha is a vehement musical director as she competently infuses a soul into the body of work, coaxing piano keys to produce pure Bacharach melodies and providing a variety of inventive vocal backup. Jo Lampert as lead vocalist is without doubt the heart of this production, appearing lavish in an array of eclectic bohemian costumes, as she weaves riffs, belts out blues or simply informs in Broadway style. In whatever fashion she chooses, Ms. Lampert, takes control, acts assertively, defines the message and makes the song her own.

So for the present, it might be enough to observe these artists creating, belonging, understanding, developing, and performing a new work and, ironically, achieving a complex theatrical connection. “So we wander on our way, and it’s life as usual with our pockets full of something beautiful” (from “Something That Was Beautiful.”) It is important to take the time to see “New York Animals” and share in something truly beautiful.

NEW YORK ANIMALS

“New York Animals” is presented by Bedlam and features Debra Barsha, Blanca Camacho, Ramsey Faragallah, Lena Gabrielle, Jo Lampert, Edmund Lewis, Susannah Millonzi, Eric Tucker, David Wearn and Spiff Wiegand. “New York Animals” has a set design by John McDermott, costume design by Nikki Delhomme, lighting design by Les Dickert, vocal design by AnnMarie Milazzo, and musical direction by Debra Barsha. Production photos by T Charles Erickson.

Tickets range from $30.00 to $49.00 and are available at www.newohiotheatre.org or www.theatrebedlam.org. “New York Animals” plays Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. at New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher Street in Manhattan’s West Village. Please note there will be no performance Thursday, December 17. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, December 01, 2015

“Rose” at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Sunday December 13, 2015)

“Rose” at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Sunday December 13, 2015)
By Laurence Leamer
Directed by Caroline Reddick Lawson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I’m thinking unnecessary thoughts. I always keep busy, but what can I do? I can’t go to early morning mass. The reporters sit in nearby pews whispering their queries. I can’t take my daily walk on the golf course either. The photographers and the gawkers follow me even there.” - Rose

Just a few days after her only surviving son Teddy drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts in July of 1969 and his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne drowned, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy – matriarch of the Kennedy clan – shares Kennedy family history and memories with a group of visitors (the audience) to her Hyannis Port home while husband Joe remains upstairs. Rose (Kathleen Chalfant) includes an impressive swath of history from her birth in 1890 to the Apollo 11 manned spacecraft moon landing – the fulfillment of son Jack’s ambition for NASA’s space program.

Equally impressive is Kathleen Chalfant's layered and nuanced performance. Her portrayal of Rose Kennedy is as subtle as it is strident and captures every mood of the matriarch from the soothing strains of one colluding with her dysfunctional family members to the plaintive tones of one coming to terms with what might have been. Rose’s perfunctory rehearsal of Kennedy family successes unravels as her “thinking unnecessary thoughts” begins to expose both the dark underbelly of the family history and the daunting doubts of her own ability to properly support her children and manage an unwieldly family structure.

Rose's monologue is interrupted several times by phone calls from Teddy’s sister Pat, inebriated and expressing concern about her brother; from Teddy’s wife Joan stressing over her husband’s infidelity and her “outsider” status; from Jacqueline (“She will always be a Kennedy!”) wondering about Teddy’s wellbeing; from Eunice (“Sometimes I think you’re a man.”) postulating her brother had run off with another woman; and from Teddy confirming he wants to resign from the Senate and run off with another woman.

There is nothing new in Mr. Leamer's script and the lackluster set (where was the piano?) does little to enhance the text. The power of "Rose" is in the performance. Kathleen Chalfant lassoes the script and shows a Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy who ultimately reflects on her own life and is able with remarkable strength to express regret that all her life she had “obeyed men” – her father, her husband Joe, and “the men of the Church” – and that if only she had stood up to all of them life might have been different and perhaps better. See “Rose” to bask in the craft of an actor who knows how to bring authenticity and believability to an iconic woman and her remarkable story.

ROSE

Kathleen Chalfant plays Rose Kennedy under the direction of Caroline Reddick Lawson. The costume design is by Jane Greenwood with scene design/projections by Anya Klepikov, lighting by Caitlin Smith Rapoport and sound design by Jane Shaw. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

The performance schedule for ‘Rose” is Tuesday at 7:00 PM, Wednesday at 2:00 & 8:00 PM, Thursday, Friday & Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, with matinees on Saturday at 2:00 PM and Sunday at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $65.00 and available through TeleCharge.com or (212) 239-6200. Student/Senior tickets are available at the box office with valid ID. There will be talk-backs following some performances. See norasplayhouse.org for details. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Kathleen Chalfant
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, November 30, 2015

“The Gin Game” at the Golden Theatre (Through Sunday January 10, 2016)

Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones in "The Gin Game" - Photo by Joan Marcus
“The Gin Game” at the Golden Theatre (Through Sunday January 10, 2016)
Written by D. L. Coburn
Directed by Leonard Foglia
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The Gin Game,” experiencing its third run on Broadway, was Donald L. Colburn’s first play premiering in 1976. The well-received play managed to garner him The Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1978 after the successful run on The Great White Way starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. What became evident from that original production was that in order for this two character play to succeed the cast and creative team needed to be brilliant sharing an unwavering approach and enjoying direction with a clear intent. This might be even more essential now, as social awareness of spousal abuse has become a mainstream issue with enormous media attention. This piece of theater is not a dark comedy but a dark drama sprinkled with a bit of sugary antics to make it easier to digest, while still causing an uncomfortable aftertaste. Unfortunately this current production starring the legendary Cecily Tyson and James Earl Jones might be misguided by falling prey to audience expectations.

In true Broadway fashion when each of these iconic actors enters the stage there is generous welcoming applause, well deserved for their past collective work. Although these accolades demonstrate public respect they also indicate that the audience might control the mood and temperament of their performances. At this particular viewing, the laughter from the audience (sometimes inappropriate) made light of some serious situations and possibly provoked the actors to reluctantly rely on that devise in order to gratify their spectators. Or possibly the direction by Leonard Foglia was too dependent on comic relief, revealing less of the dark undertones of Mr. Coburn’s dense text. By no means did this produce an unworthy production but merely captured a more light hearted journey.

It is pure joy to watch these two theater legends exercise their craft, developing complicated characters that reveal ugly truths, as their exterior layers are slowly peeled away to expose so many human imperfections. Mr. Jones is a magnificent presence, still boasting that iconic vocal bass that commands your attention, but it is when he is relaxed, letting his voice drift up an octave that the sensitivity and vulnerability cuts through the curmudgeon, Weller Martin. He shuffles slowly, shows his age, but never weak and as he tosses unused paraphernalia around to find a card table or comfortable chair, you are reminded that an emotional volcano may erupt at any time.

Ms. Tyson appears frail with a petite frame, curly locks of hair framing her worn features and piercing eyes, ready, willing and able to step into the ring with her newly found sparring partner. Her Fonsia Dorsey is smart, cunning, and vindictive and uses these traits to disguise the pain from past battle wounds. She is alone and lonely but strong and intuitive, knowing how to play and win. One of their best scenes involves almost no dialogue. Fonsia convinces Weller to dance. They tentatively approach, search for a comfortable stance, then slowly escape into each other’s arms finding comfort, fulfilling needs, and satisfying their shared thirst for companionship. Just for an instant you know they are calm and safe, possibly happy, and wishing this moment would last a little longer.

The script is appropriately slow, tedious and repetitious with much of the action being driven by the characters and thankfully that has been left in good hands in this production. The impressive set by Riccardo Hernandez is massive and looms ominously over the two nursing home residents as a constant reminder of their insignificance and destiny, complete with torrential thunder storms and a leaky roof. Although not a perfect, it is well worth the time to see two theater legends breathe life into a somewhat flawed production.

THE GIN GAME

“The Gin Game” is written by D. L. Coburn and directed by Leonard Foglia.

The production will feature set and costume design by Riccardo Hernandez, lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer and sound design by David Van Tieghem. Production photos are by Joan Marcus.

The production opened Wednesday, October 14 at the Golden Theatre (252 West 45th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue). The production will play a limited engagement through Sunday, January 10, 2016. The performance schedule is Tuesday at 7:00 PM, Wednesday at 2:00 PM, Thursday at 7:00 PM, Friday at 8:00 PM, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 PM, Sunday at 3:00 PM. Tickets are available by calling Telecharge.com at 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or online at Telecharge.com. Running time is 2 hours including a 15 minute intermission.

WITH: James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, November 28, 2015

“The Eternal Space” at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Sunday December 6, 2015)

Matthew Pilieci as Paul and Clyde Baldo as Joseph. Photo by Mike Scully.
“The Eternal Space” at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Sunday December 6, 2015)
Written by Justin Rivers
Directed by Mindy Cooper
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Two men - one older, one younger – cross paths in the former Pennsylvania Train Station from 1963 until 1966. The older Joseph Lanzarone (Clyde Baldo) teaches American and British Literature at Xavier High School. The younger Paul Abbot (Matthew Pilieci) works on the crew contracted to demolish the iconic train station and is an amateur photographer. Each holds a secret that connects him to the station beyond Joseph’s passion to save the structure and Mathew’s penchant to dismantle it and – oddly enough – photograph the process he participates in and Joseph protests. Their relationship begins near the Grand Staircase as Matthew rips down the protest posters pinned up by Joseph. Joseph sees in Mathew one to be taught and Matthew sees in Joseph a curmudgeon hell-bent on humiliating him and his educational prowess. The two spar – sometimes via the Socratic Method, sometimes via splintering raw emotion.

Through their “battle,” they slowly reveal the importance the Station has had in their lives and it is the revelation of these secrets that is at the heart and soul of Justin Rivers’ script which he first drafted in 2002 and now produces for the first time. Without having to proffer a spoiler alert, it can be disclosed that Joseph’s secret has to do with the departure of his brother from Pennsylvania Station at the beginning of World War II, the brother who never came home from that war, and Joseph’s grandfather. And Matthew’s secret – which explains both his willingness to participate in the destruction of the station and his need to photograph it – centers on the ticket booth and his mother.

Matthew and Joseph are involved in a complicated love triangle with the Station whose history with them and those they have loved provides the backdrop for their star-crossed friendship. Jason Sherwood’s stark set design along with the lighting design by Zach Blane, the projection design by Brad Peterson, and the remarkable photographs by Norman McGrath (and others) lend authenticity and interest to the plot that slowly is moved forward by the conflicts of the two protagonists. “The Eternal Space,” though often overly sentimental, successfully delivers an interesting story line that celebrates the mysterious and serendipitous nature of relationships – how they form, develop, and even dissolve.

Mindy Cooper provides attentive direction that gives the actors the room they need to develop their characters and tell their stories. The two actors here are somewhat mismatched, Mr. Pilieci (Paul) stronger than Mr. Baldo and delivering a more layered performance that exposes Paul’s complex background. Mr. Baldo does justice to Joseph but portrays his character in a somewhat surface way that often results in the “battle” between the two characters more lackluster than it should be. Nonetheless, “The Eternal Space” deserves a visit before it closes on December 6.

THE ETERNAL SPACE

Scenic design is by Jason Sherwood; projection design is by Brad Peterson; lighting design is by Zack Blane; costume design is by Tristan Raines; sound design is by Benjamin Blank. Sara Zick is the associate producer. Public relations services by John Capo Public Relations. Photos of Penn Station by Norman McGrath. Production photos by Mike Scully.

“The Eternal Space” will be presented at Theatre Row’s Lion Theatre, located at 410 West 42nd Street in New York City through December 6, 2015. All seats are $56.25. To view the performance schedule and purchase tickets, visit www.TheEternalSpacePlay.com. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.

WITH: Clyde Baldo and Matthew Pilieci.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, November 24, 2015

“Allegiance” at the Longacre Theatre (Tickets on sale through Sunday September 25, 2016)

Lea Salonga, George Takei, Telly Leung, Michael K Lee and Cast - Photo by Matthew Murphy
“Allegiance” at the Longacre Theatre (Tickets on sale through Sunday September 25, 2016)
Book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione
Music and Lyrics by Jay Kuo
Directed by Stafford Arima
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, 127,000 Japanese-Americans were forced to abandon their homes and businesses and - throughout World War II - relocate to ten concentration camps scattered across the interior of the United States. This remains one of the most flagrant violations of civil liberties in American history – all initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and sanctioned by the United States Government. Although the order was repealed following the end of World War II, most of internees were not able to return to their homes and simply scattered across the United States. “Allegiance” is the new musical that chronicles the experience of one extended Japanese American family based on the experience of George Takei who stars in this important and touching Broadway musical.

The musical begins and ends in San Francisco in 2001 with the older Sam Kimura (George Takei) learning of his sister Kei’s (Lea Salonga) death through a visit by the executor of her will and deciding – after reflecting on their history – to attend her funeral and burial. The redemptive reflection – in flashback – is the setting for “Allegiance” following Sam’s story from Salinas, California to the internment at The Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, Washington including Sam’s eventual deployment in the European theatre of World War II.

Under Stafford Arima's taut but inconsistent direction, the ensemble cast works diligently and professionally to bring Sam’s story to the musical stage. Mr. Arima consistently stages significant solos on either far stage left or right leaving most of the audience (at one time or another) at a considerable distance from the actor. There are times when the subplots driven by the characters’ conflicts detract somewhat from the main conflict. Takei delivers a poignant and memorable performance as both Sam Kimura and Ojii-chan. Lea Salonga and Telly Leung are superb as Sam’s children Kei and Sammy each dealing with the relocation in believably different ways. Ms. Salonga is underutilized in this musical and deserves stronger solo numbers. Michael K. Lee excels in his important role as Frankie Suzuki and serves as the perfect foil to Sammy. Mr. Lee understands his character with remarkable authenticity and is to be commended for his outstanding performance.

Donyale Werle’s set design successfully supports the action of the musical in every scene and location. Its sliding walls – with rice paper and slatted wooden design – give authenticity to the setting including the time, location, and mood. Alejo Vieti’s costumes and Howell Binkley’s lighting design provide additional layers of authenticity to the production and contribute to the overall attention to detail exhibited by the entire creative team.

The importance of “Allegiance” and the remarkable strength of its principals and ensemble cast outweigh the new musical’s weaknesses. The book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione is not as strong as it needs to be to support the richness of the historical event and Mr. Takei’s story and the enduring questions it raises. The music and lyrics, too, fall short at times and – with the book - leave the audience wondering what the musical is about. There are stunning musical numbers, among them “Gaman,” “Ishi Kara Ishi,” “Higher,” “Resist,” and “How Can You Go.”

Despite these minor concerns, “Allegiance” remains a strong and successful musical dealing with an important part of American history. Its thematic content raises enduring questions about the current conversation regarding immigration, loyalty, and citizenship and adds considerable weight to that important discussion.

ALLEGIANCE

“Allegiance” features a book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, and Lorenzo Thione with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo. Stafford Arima directs. Andrew Palermo serves as choreographer.

The cast is as follows: George Takei as Sam Kimura/Ojii San; Lea Salonga as Kei Kimura; Telly Leung as Sammy Kimura; Katie Rose Clarke as Hannah Campbell, Michael K. Lee as Frankie Suzuki, Christopheren Nomura as Tatsuo Kimura; and Greg Watanabe as Mike Masaoka. The ensemble will feature Aaron J. Albano, Belinda Allyn, Marcus Choi, Janelle Dote, Dan Horn, Owen Johnston, Darren Lee, Manna Nichols, Rumi Oyama, Catherine Ricafort, Momoko Sugai, Kevin Munhall, Elena Wang, Scott Watanabe and Scott Wise.

Lynn Shankel is musical supervisor and also provided arrangements and orchestrations. Laura Bergquist serves as musical director. Scenic design is by Donyale Werle, costume design by Alejo Vietti, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound design by Kai Harada and hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe. Projection design is by Darrel Maloney. Casting by Telsey + Company/Craig Burns, C.S.A. Production photos are by Matthew Murphy.

Performances opened at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street) on Sunday, November 8, 2015. For more information including performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit www.AllegianceMusical.com. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 15 minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, November 23, 2015

“Trip of Love” at Stage 42 (Open-Ended Run)

"Trip of Love": David Elder and Dionne Figgins, center, in this play, created, directed and choreographed by James Walski, at the Stage 42 theater. Credit Matthew Murphy
“Trip of Love” at Stage 42 (Open-Ended Run)
Created, Directed, and Choreographed by James Walski
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The new musical “Trip of Love,” now playing at the 42nd St Theater, pays homage to some of the unforgettable hits of the sixties. It would be better described as a musical revue that is extremely well choreographed with lavish costumes and extravagant sets that together create an opulent psychedelic collage. It is neither thought provoking, nor particularly well structured, nor does it attempt to examine in detail a decade filled with dramatic social, cultural and political turmoil. There is no book nor does it credit anyone one for writing one and the presumed attempt to provide a storyline to connect the songs mostly fails with characters remaining unidentifiable except for their names listed in the program.

Now after stating the mandatory critical negatives, this critic can move on and hopefully shed some light onto the elite, jaded, aristocratic opinions of some New York theater goers. “Trip of Love” is fun, entertaining, almost perfectly and professionally executed, and has an incredibly talented cast of singers and dancers with irrepressible talent and energy. It is a fast paced psychedelic musical retrospective of some of the greatest hits of almost every genre from a decade that produced a wide range of music to satisfy every age and preference. Sometimes interpretation of certain musical numbers falters and at other times they are on point, but whatever images and memories the words and music of these familiar songs bring to one’s mind is personal and is enjoyed by each audience member differently. Those who lived through this decade of incredible music know that when you put that 45 rpm vinyl on the turntable and listened, you created your own story and scenario that was your alone.

The cast is indefatigable, exhibiting strong vocal prowess and impressive dance capability for difficult choreography in a vast array of styles. Laurie Wells uses her full rich tonality to intervene the upbeat ensemble numbers with stylized ballads in an almost matronly fashion. Tara Palsha is a vocal powerhouse and Dionne Figgens has irrepressible exuberance as she delivers strong vocals and nails some energetic and intricate choreography. Kelly Felthous gives a great rendition of “Where the Boys Are” even if a bit on the nasal side. “Wipe Out” is almost too much fun for the cast and audience. These are just a few mentions in a cast numbering 19 who are all excellent at their craft.

Although the intent of the direction is questionable, the choreography by James Walski is dynamic utilizing every inch of the stage and complimenting most musical numbers. Costumes by Gregg Barnes are skimpy and delectable revealing quite a bit of the well-toned cast who manage to make countless, speedy changes never missing a beat or cue. For those who think this is purely gratuitous, remember Cher and Bob Mackie along with scantily clad go-go boys in cages? It was a sign of the times. Scenic design by Mr. Walski and Robin Wagner is over the top, opulent, colorful and imaginative.

So yes it may be more Vegas then Broadway but it really shouldn’t matter because it promises you no more or less. What it manages to accomplish, is that you can walk in, sit down, forget about the problems, evil, and destruction we are facing in the world today and be thoroughly entertained by a group of very talented singers, dancers and musicians. As my partner quipped at intermission “this is great eye candy” an audience member in the row in front of us turned and replied “you are right, I love it; it has something for everyone!” Do yourself a favor and take heed of the lyrics of a song from a different decade, “forget your troubles, c’mon get happy” as you enjoy the journey of “Trip of Love”.

TRIP OF LOVE

“Trip of Love” is directed and choreographed by James Walski and features scenic design by Robin Wagner, and costume design by Gregg Barnes. “Trip of Love” is produced by Makoto Deguchi and had its world premiere in April of 2008 at the Theatre Brava! in Osaka, Japan.

“Trip of Love” stars Joey Calveri, David Elder, Kelly Felthous, Dionne Figgins, Austin Miller, Tara Palsha, and Laurie Wells with Yesenia Ayala, Colin Bradbury, Bo Broadwell, Kyle Brown, Whitney Cooper, Alexa De Barr, Daniel Lynn Evans, Lisa Finegold, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Steve Geary, Daryl Getman, Jennifer Gruener, Brandon Leffler, Peter Nelson, Kristin Piro, and Nicky Venditti. Production photos are by Matthew Murphy.

All performances of “Trip of Love “are at Stage 42, formerly The Little Shubert Theater (422 West 42nd Street). For performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit http://tripoflove.com and https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Trip-of-Love/Overview. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, November 23, 2015

“Nora” at the Cherry Lane Theatre” (Through Saturday December 12, 2015)

Jean Lichty and Larry Bull in "Nora" - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Nora” at the Cherry Lane Theatre” (Through Saturday December 12, 2015)
By Ingmar Bergman
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“If I ever hope to learn anything about myself and the things around me, I’ve got to stand completely on my own. That’s why I can’t stay here with you any longer.” (Nora to Torvald)

Ingmar Berman’s “Nora,” the retelling (a reduction really) of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” is enjoying its English-language New York debut Off-Broadway at the iconic Cherry Lane Theatre in Manhattan’s West Village. Directed by Austin Pendleton, this “Nora” is the stunning and highly successful distillation of one of the theatre’s timeless classics featuring a capable cast and a creative team that knows how to utilize every inch of the Cherry Lane’s Studio space’s rather diminutive stage.

Jean Lichty is the protagonist Nora who is held hostage physically, emotionally, and spiritually by the expectations of a matrix of male dominance and laws crystallized in the character of her husband Torvald (Todd Gearhart). Nora stays with Torvald as dutiful wife and mother and keeper of the house because she feels she has no choice, having borrowed money illegally from interloper Nils Krogstad (Larry Bull) years before to fund the trip from Norway to Italy that saved her husband’s life.

When Torvald is made manager of the Cooperative Bank, Nora sees her opportunity to receive more “spending money” from her husband to pay off the loan and receive the promissory note she fraudulently signed. Her hopes are destroyed when Krogstad threatens to expose the fraud unless Nora can talk Torvald into giving him a position at the Bank – something Torvald refuses to do. Nora’s precarious position is heightened by a visit from childhood friend Christine Linde (Andrea Cirie) and an unexpected profession of affection from family friend Dr. Rank (George Morfogen).

Under Mr. Pendleton’s taut direction, each member of the ensemble cast portrays his or her character with a sense of honesty and authenticity. Both Ms. Lichty’s Nora and Mr. Gearhart’s Torvald could be stronger. Each has moments that shine; however, the required strength of their characters wavers too often. Some of this might be attributed to the choices made by the director. Although, for example, the script calls for Torvald to lie in bed naked during the final scene, to require an actor to disrobe just three feet away from the on-stage audience is a questionable choice that leaves the competent actor overly self-conscious and hesitant during an important scene. Ms. Cirie delivers a strong and multi-layered Christine who champions her friend Nora to find herself and create a new life. Mr. Bull is an appropriately unpleasant Krogstad who has latent redemptive qualities. And Mr. Morfogen delivers a charming and complex Dr. Rank whose pending death creates opportunities for endearing honesty.

“Nora” is “A Doll’s House” on steroids with fast-paced action provided by the ensemble cast that rarely leaves the stage each (except Nora) retreating into the shadows in Harry Feiner’s brooding light and each reappearing when engaged with the other actors. Harry Feiner’s set design and Theresa Squire’s costume design further complement Bergman’s taut and tantalizing script with authenticity and grace.

"Nora" is a definite must see for those endeared to the classic and for all of those looking for rich theatre that asks enduring questions about gender, self-discovery, and empowerment.

NORA

“Nora” is presented by the Cherry Lane Theatre (Angelina Fiordellisi, Founding Artistic Director) and La Femme Theatre Productions. Harry Feiner is set and lighting designer; Theresa Squire is costume designer; Ryan Rumery is sound designer; wig design is by Paul Huntley. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

The production will perform through December 12: Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. There will be an added performance on November 25 at 2:00 p.m.; there will be no performances on November 26 or December 7.

General admission tickets to “Nora” are $46.00; reserved premium tickets are $66.00. Seats can be purchased online at www.cherrylanetheatre.org, by phone at 866-811-4111 or in person at the Cherry Lane Theatre box office at 38 Commerce Street in Manhattan. Running time is 100 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Larry Bull, Andrea Cirie, Todd Gearhart, Jean Lichty, and George Morfogen.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, November 22, 2015

“Songbird” at 59E59 Theaters (Extended through Sunday December 6, 2015)

Eric William Morris as Beck, Adam Cochran as Dean and Kate Baldwin as Tammy. Photo by Jenny Anderson Photography
“Songbird” at 59E59 Theaters (Extended through Sunday December 6, 2015)
Written by Michael Kimmel
Music and Lyrics by Lauren Pritchard
Directed by JV Mercanti
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

A long list of adaptations including those by Tennessee Williams (“The Notebook of Trigorin”), Emily Mann (“A Seagull in the Hamptons”), and Regina Taylor (“Drowning Crow”) have payed homage to Anton Chekhov’s 1986 “The Seagull” by retelling the story of the dysfunctional Russian family in a variety of creative ways. “Songbird,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, continues the retelling tradition with felicitous results. Stories of unhappy lives fueled by unrequited love are not confined to the Russian tundra nor are the revelations of inner selves fueled only by copious draughts of vodka. A struggling music venue in Tennessee serving beer and shots is witness to the failed hopes and discontented lives of a fading music star who is at the helm of a dysfunctional extended family.

"Songbird” is successful in two ways. Thanks to Michael Kimmel’s rich text, it is a remarkably rich retelling of Chekhov’s classic, following the characters, their conflicts, and their tortured stories in exacting parallel progression. And it is a stand-alone play which highlights the universality of individuals and families confronting and demystifying the challenges of discontented lives and the failed hopes that challenge humankind and its discontents. Chekhov’s seagull becomes a bluebird here with the same rich connections and metaphorical vectors extant in Chekhov’s masterpiece.

Under JV Mercanti’s scrupulous and precise direction, the ensemble cast rips into Michael Kimmel’s text with passion and exposes every nuance of the script with exacting honesty and authenticity. Ephie Aardema gives Mia a profound longing for love and acceptance and the persona of a truly wounded songbird. Erin Dilly’s Pauline is also looking for acceptance as is Pauline’s daughter Missy (Kacie Sheik). Pauline, unhappy with her marriage to Samuel (Andy Taylor), woos Doc (Drew McVety) with a sad woundedness and Missy pines for Rip (Don Guillory) from her core of brokenness. Honky Tonk owner Soren is played by Bob Stillman with a brooding and expectant wonder. And Tammy’s younger love interest is played with panache and puck by Eric William Morris.

Lauren Pritchard’s music and lyrics capture the mood and torment of Tammy Trip’s (played with an aggressive vulnerability by Kate Baldwin) return to the Honky Tonk that launched her career and her jealous intrusion into her son Dean’s (played with a brooding angst by Adam Cochran) attempt to embark on his own performance career. And Michael Kimmel’s text transposes the underbelly of Chekhov’s “Seagull” to a contemporary and believable setting where hopes, dreams, disappointments, and despondency collide and collude to a destructive end.

The members of the ensemble cast play all of the instruments with skill and a playfulness that belies the fact that they are the orchestra for Lauren Pritchard’s solid score.

“Songbird” continues the successful 5A Season offering a remarkable and inviting retelling of a stage classic. See it before its final performance on Sunday December 6, 2015.

SONGBIRD

The cast of “Songbird” features Ephie Aardema, Kate Baldwin, Adam Cochran, Erin Dilly, Don Guillory, Drew McVety, Eric William Morris, Kacie Sheik, Bob Stillman, and Andy Taylor. The design team includes Jason Sherwood (scenic design); Aaron Porter (lighting design); Mark Koss (costume design); and Justin Stasiw (sound design). The production stage manager is Rose Riccardi. Production photos by Jenny Anderson Photography. “Songbird” is presented by Allison Bressi, Diana Buckhantz, and Andre Braugher by special association with Less Than Rent Theatre.

“Songbird” opened on Wednesday October 28 and runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, December 6 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street in New York City. The performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM. Please note: there is no performance on Thursday, November 26 in observance of Thanksgiving. Tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one 15 minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, November 19, 2015

“Steve” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday December 27, 2015)

Malcolm Gets, Jerry Dixon, Mario Cantone, Matt McGrath in "Steve," a new play by Mark Gerrard, directed by Cynthia Nixon.
“Steve” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday December 27, 2015)
Written by Mark Gerrard
Directed by Cynthia Nixon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Into each life some rain must fall/But too much is falling in mine/Into each heart some tears must fall/
But some day the sun will shine.” (Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots) “But into every life a little rain must fall.” (Queen)

That unwelcome “rain” falls unexpectedly into the lives of the characters of Mark Gerrard’s scintillating new play in the person of one of the characters named Steve. “Steve” is also the title of the play currently running at The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City. Steve – though never seen on stage – is the catalyst that fractures the fragile extended family that has gathered to celebrate stay-at-home dad Steven’s (Matt McGrath) birthday. Steven is joined at the celebration by his partner Stephen (Malcolm Gets), their partnered friends Matt (Mario Cantone) and Brian (Jerry Dixon) and their longtime friend Carrie (Ashlie Atkinson).

Steven has arrived at his birthday celebration after seeing his (and Stephen’s) son Zack out the door to school and retrieving Stephen’s cell phone which had been “stolen” by Zack. The purloined cell phone is the key that unlocks the Pandora’s Box that – along with the aforementioned Steve – wreaks havoc on the lives of these star-crossed friends. In a scene that “repeats” itself (one “imagined” one “actual”), Steven sees a series of text messages that reveal Stephen might be having an affair with Brian. Director Cynthia Nixon juxtaposes these scenes in a mind-stretching montage that sets the stage for future scenes that transcend space and time and reveal the inner (and outer) thoughts of the characters.

Under Cynthia Nixon’s astute and meticulous direction, the ensemble cast of “Steve” explores with remarkable distinction and dignity the vicissitudes in the lives of an extended family dealing with dysfunction, death and dying, disappointment, the fragility of relationships and trust, and the possibility of transcending brokenness and betrayal. Mario Cantone (Matt) and Jerry Dixon (Brian) deliver authentic performances as a couple in search of something to re-boot their relationship and decide to invite trainer Steve to move in. Malcolm Gets (Stephen) and Matt McGrath (Steven) deliver profoundly moving performances of two men who have lived in a committed relationship, adopted a child, and have attempted to live the “American Dream” with dignity and panache. This relationship is shattered by Stephen’s apparent “cheating” with Brian and calls into question the wisdom of patterning a gay “marriage” after straight models.

Ashlie Atkinson stands out with her portrayal of Carrie. Carrie has been abandoned by her Crocs-wearing lover Lisa and is dying of cancer – despite Steven’s massive denial - and is the catalyst for the reconciliation between Stephen and Steven. And Francisco Pryor Garat’s Esteban successfully morphs from waiter to Steven’s sexual interest and the entire group’s virtual boy-toy. Both Carrie and Esteban are profound metaphors for stability and honesty and provide comedic relief throughout the action of the play. It is the ability of the cast to move between comedy and tragedy that is one of the factors that contributes to the play’s success. The cast holds the emotional balance of the audience in its collective hand and holds no prisoners in its efforts to provide a paradigm for understanding the importance of unconditional and non-judgmental love.

Director Cynthia Nixon successfully teases every nuance out of playwright Mark Gerrard’s script. Her direction of Malcolm Gets’s (Stephen) scene during which he is juggling a phone conversation with his mother and his mother-in-law and sending and receiving texts from Brian, Carrie, and Steven is impeccable. Allen Moyer’s inventive set design allows the audience to see the exchange of text messages in what proves to be one of the most inventive devices in an Off-Broadway or Broadway play.

Because the five are theatre friends, their delicious banter is replete with obvious and not-so-obvious references to all things theatre and their repartee is an added bonus to the face-paced action of the play. The entire cast comes on stage fifteen minutes prior to curtain and performs a medley of “friendship” songs which not only serve to preview the cohesiveness of the cast but also provides important hints about each character. Unfortunately, the audience this critic experienced had more interest in their own conversations than showing respect to one of the most talented casts currently on stage in New York City.

“Steve” is a must see and is a play one could see and appreciate more than once. Mr. Gerrard’s play raises important questions that are enduring and rich in nature and deserve to be “answered” by everyone interested in significant and rewarding relationships. “Steve” is an important new play that portrays gay characters in a new way. In fact, the audience ultimately forgets the constraints of gender and sexual status and celebrates human characters that are real – warts and all.

STEVE

“Steve” features Matt McGrath, Malcolm Gets, Mario Cantone, Jerry Dixon, Ashlie Atkinson, and Francisco Pryor Garat.

This production features Scenic Design by Allen Moyer, Costume Design by Tom Broecker , Lighting Design by Eric Southern, Sound Design by David Van Tieghem, and Projection Design by Olivia Sebesky. Music Coordinator is Seth Rudetsky. Valerie A. Peterson is the Production Stage Manager. Casting by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

“Steve” plays November 3 – December 27 as follows: Tuesday - Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Additional performances on Wednesday, November 25 at 2:00 p.m.; Wednesday, December 16 at 2:00 p.m.; and Wednesday, December 23 at 2:00 p.m. No performance on Thursday, November 26; Thursday, December 24; Friday, December 25. Tickets to “Steve” may be arranged at www.thenewgroup.org, or through Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12:00 Noon – 8:00 p.m. daily). Tickets $25.00 - $95.00. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

“Cuckooed” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday November 21, 2015)

Mark Thomas stars in his one-man show "Cuckooed," directed by Emma Callander, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Richard Davenport
“Cuckooed” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday November 21, 2015)
Written and Performed by Mark Thomas
Directed by Emma Callander
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is no fourth wall in Mark Thomas's award-winning “Cuckooed” and there is no attempt to suspend disbelief. The standup, actor, journalist’s solo performance raises important questions about corporate deception, government collusion, and personal betrayal but is it theatre? It certainly is a solid university-caliber lecture that engages the audience and challenges the status quo. Perhaps what makes it more theatre than lecture is that there are no real question-answer segments. Mr. Thomas raises the questions to the audience, then provides the answers. Keys are tossed back and forth with an audience member and there are scheduled “pauses” for audience members who ostensibly are not paying attention and “nodding off.” But all of this is scripted and not spontaneous, so for the purpose of this review, let’s call “Cuckooed” theatre, a solo performance.

Longer in duration than its scheduled 60 minutes (by at least fifteen minutes), “Cuckooed” often does go on and on much like the creature of its title and one can understand an audience member drifting off here and there. But perhaps that is the point. The horrific arms dealer data shared by Mark Thomas is admittedly overwhelming and the tactics of those who provide arms to unscrupulous clients worldwide are enough to send anyone running for cover. But everything Mr. Thomas shares is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help the playwright (except a factoid involving the number 28). And as much as the audience might feign somnambulism or indifference, the truth is the truth. Arms companies like BAE and their pursuit of profit are issues addressed by Mr. Thomas and the attempts of these companies to intimidate and spy on activist organizations like the Campaign Against Arms Trade are further issues addressed in “Cuckooed.” Mr. Thomas spares no participants’ feelings (including his dear friend Martin) and takes no enemies.

Throughout “Cuckooed,” Mr. Thomas offers convincing arguments and shares his own involvement in exposing the arms dealers and their questionable tactics. He is energetic, fully committed, and engaging in every way. His solo performance is a powerful tour-de-force whether it is theatre or lecture and it is worth the visit. With meticulous direction by Emma Callander, “Cuckooed” is deliciously brimming with the tactics Mr. Thomas has used to fight for justice and to achieve corporate and political transparency. He shares these tactics with humor and deep devotion to his commitment as an activist.

CUCKOOED

“Cuckooed” is presented by All For One and Lakin McCarthy in association with Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. The design team includes Tim McQuillen-Wright (stage design); Kate Bonney (lighting design); Duncan McLean (audio visual design); and Helen Atkinson (sound design). The Production Stage Manager is Tine Selby. Production photos are by Richard Davenport.

“Cuckooed” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday, November 21. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is scheduled for 60 minutes however the performance reviewed lasted 75 minutes. Plan accordingly.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, November 10, 2015

“Fool for Love” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (On Sale through December 6, 2015)

Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda - Photo by joan Marcus
“Fool for Love” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (On Sale through December 6, 2015)
By Sam Shepard
Directed by Daniel Aukin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Manhattan Theatre Club rolls out a kinder, gentle, more cerebral "Fool for Love" at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre with bruises more internal and spiritual than external and physical. Self-discovery on a dualistic battlefield is, after all, more cerebral though the wounds no less severe and long-lasting. True seekers often wrestle with demons in the desert and it is in a somewhat seedy motel room near the Mojave Desert that half-siblings Eddie (Sam Rockwell) and May (Nina Arianda) battle with the specters of demons that have haunted them since they met as children outside May’s mother’s home and realized they had the same father and different mothers.

Those demon memories are allegorized by the presence of the Old Man (Gordon Joseph Weiss) who remains in a chair stage left in the shadows throughout the play and occasionally, like Zoltar, comes out of the shadows and comments on the action on stage – even sometimes sharing a drink with Eddie and holding a brief conversation with him. The conversation is ontological and focuses on what is real and what is not. After asking Eddie if he sees a picture on the wall and Eddie concurs that he does, the Old Man affirms “Well, see, now that’s the difference right there. That’s realism. I am actually married to Barbara Mandrell in my mind. Can you understand that?”

The rest of the Old Man’s spin on realism is that – as Eddie and May fight on stage – the love he had for their mothers was “the same love. Just got split in two, that’s all.” It is this bifurcated love – and perhaps the bifurcated selves of the siblings – that is at the center of their struggle with one another and with self. In some way, they are two halves of one being – whether that is a male/female split inherent in every human being or a metaphorical split in identity/psyche that needs some kind of resolution before Eddie and May can move on.

Under Daniel Aukin’s slightly revisionist but extraordinarily meticulous direction, Sam Rockwell and Nina Arianda capture the angst and desperation of their characters and bring their struggle to separate and individuate to a cathartic frenzy that make a deep and lasting impression on the audience. Issues of unrequited love and identity are common themes that raise familiar enduring questions about personality development, the function of memory, and the nature of truth. After facing her demons, May finally affirms, “I’ll believe the truth! It’s less confusing.”

Memory is a fickle partner in crime – even the crime of self-delusion or self-destruction – and the unreliability of memory is allegorized by the Old Man’s lack of certainty about the events that transpired (whether or not the figure is the father of Eddie and May). Ultimately, everyone has to submit themselves to a trial similar to the events in the seedy motel at the edge of the Mojave Desert in their own “smoke lodges” at the edges of their own personal deserts. “Fool for Love” is a must see.

FOOL FOR LOVE

“Fool for Love” is written by Sam Shephard and directed by Daniel Aukin and is presented in association with the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

The creative team for “Fool for Love” includes Dane Laffrey (scenic design), Anita Yavich (costume design), Justin Townsend (lighting design), Ryan Rumery (sound design), and David S. Leong (movement and fights). Production photos are by Joan Marcus.

Tickets for “Fool for Love” are available by calling Telecharge at 212-239-6200, online by visiting www.Telecharge.com, or by visiting the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office (261 West 47th Street). Ticket prices are $70 – $150. Please visit http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/ for details on the performance schedule. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Nina Arianda, Sam Rockwell, Tom Pelphrey, and Gordon Joseph Weiss.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, October 10, 2015

VAJUNGLE, at Towson University, Center for the Arts.

VAJUNGLE, at Towson University, Center for the Arts.
Written by Mani Yangilmau
Directed by Tiana Bias
Reviewed by Brooke Clariday, Theatre Reviews Limited

“I will survive.”

Vajungle, written by Mani Yangilmau, a student written, directed, and acted piece at Towson University, is a feministic piece that is able to vividly express what a young woman goes through in various stages of her life. From sex, to breakups, body image, lust, and regrets, the mental heaviness brilliantly leads to tears, anguish, but also resilience in the eyes of the audience. Centering on the fact that women are verbally and mentally abused by lovers, friends, and worst of all themselves, Vajungle is a story of surviving the simplest and most complex terrors of being a woman.

The play begins with 5 women, each representing a version of a scared soul, and each completely nameless. With an eerie a capella song to present a warning, they each awake in a different state of mind. One is experiencing the best day; the other cannot escape her dreams and wakes up gasping. From then on, each actress transforms their bodies as set pieces, various voices, and stoic picturesque snapshots of various stages of love and abuse.

The direction by Tiana Bias is stunning. She is able to take actor driven dialogues and moments, and create sensory, all body scenes that add an extra edge for the play. In a standout moment, her direction captured a nighttime mental running we have experienced when trying to feel. One woman feels trapped, as the others circle around her in a perfectly planned chaotic juxtaposition, not allowing her to feel anything besides pain and enclosure. This takes the audiences breath away, and sweeps them into a mental trance as they each see themselves as that woman. Her direction also focuses on fluidity to represent mental states of happiness, confusion, and sadness.

In normal reviews I would give a breakdown of actors and actresses and their performances, but in this case I believe it would take away from what the playwright intended. Each performance is unique, but each character is also anonymous. And, each of the women all give breakout moments, and triumph at their ability to be daring, brave, and unforgiving in owning who they are, but also who they are portraying. From screaming about a breakup, to standing virtually naked in a mirror and hating a specific area of themselves, to the brutality and verbal anguish they all experience; the cast is a whole, not just single performances, and each of them enhance all of the performances. There were no hints of stardom, only of bettering the piece. And, for student actors, their ability of appreciation for the work is inspiring.

This play is a great example of great vivid theatre. It’s non-conventional, unique, heart wrenching, but mostly thought provoking. Mani Yangilmau’s writing is something to experience as she has the ability to leave audiences feeling uneasy, but also with a realization that they are not alone. It is proof of the fact that women go through things together, in varying degrees. Sexual and mental abuse are traumatic, but so is hating your body, being in unhealthy relationships, wanting sex but feeling unable to express it because of slut-shaming, but worse, hating yourself for the fact that we are simply humans, all surviving and all living.

I urge everyone to please see this show and support a student driven production that is above and beyond what you’d expect. You’ll leave feeling enlightened, and hopefully, strengthened.

Tickets are $5, and can be purchased online at events.towson.edu, or at the door. Vaungle closed on October 3. All proceeds went to the TU Foundation.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 08, 2015

“Sommerfugl” at New York Theatre Workshop’s 4th Street Theatre (Through Saturday October 10, 2015)

Aubyn Philabaum and Wayne Wilcox in "Sommerfugl" - Photo by Skipper Chong Warson
“Sommerfugl” at New York Theatre Workshop’s 4th Street Theatre (Through Saturday October 10, 2015)
By Bixby Elliot
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And I am like a deceiver, like a usurper who has reigned over a body which has ceased to be his own, like a person who owns merely the facade of his own house.” (Einar/Lili)

A fascinating story unfolds on the small performance space at the 4th Street Theatre thanks to the InViolet Theatre Theater Company’s engaging current production. “Sommerfugl” traces the life of Einar Wegener, the first person to receive gender confirming surgery in Germany in 1930 in order to blossom into Lili Elbe. The play is complex, intriguing, sensitive and emotional but never falls prey to convention, stereotype or social norm. The characters are real, honest, complicated and stripped of any false façade enabling them to capture and expose their heart and soul. The script by playwright Bixby Elliot is economical, intelligent, straight forward and candid, avoiding any external confusion, allowing an easy flow and keen dramatic arc. The direction by Stephen Brackett is precise and provides actors the luxury of discovery. The set by Jason Sherwood is minimal, clean and comfortable allowing the lighting by Zach Blane to create and transport the actors and audience to where they need to be. Costumes by Tilly Grimes provide existence and period for the characters with a harmonic color palette that is calm and pleasing to the eye.

Now to what breathes life into and provides the heartbeat of this production: the actors. Wayne Wilcox inhabits Einar with every fiber of his being Mr. Wilcox is intellectually, physically and emotionally invested in the transformation process to show the world the hidden Lili Elbe. He is strong, subtle, sensitive and inquisitive, never letting his vulnerability sway to simple melancholy. Aubyn Philabaum as Grete is devoted, determined, distinct and just purely delicious as she carefully maneuvers through an emotional minefield. Bernardo Cubria is remarkable as Claude providing a sincere warmth and incredible depth to an underwritten character. He morphs into other roles with ease and precision demonstrating his finely honed craft. Michelle David is delightful as Anna and more than competent in the role of the nurse.

There are times when these actors speak volumes with a stare or glance, no words uttered, just a silent communication as their eyes are flooded with pools of intelligence and emotion. Enhanced by beautiful moods of light, they appear as stars of a silent movie or held in a thought or pose to transform into a period painting. They are a joy to observe and touch your heart with their sense of understanding. This is a production that needs to be seen for more than one reason.

Constructive criticism comes with noting there might be room for more development in story and character. Claude needs more attention as does the evolution of his relationship with Lili. Also Dr. Steuben who pioneered the gender confirming surgery could be fleshed out and his understanding and compassionate character revealed on another human level. It would be easy to find another relevant 15 minutes of interest and very welcomed, but for now, kudos to the entire creative team who make this gem shine.

SOMMERFUGL

Written by Bixby Elliot and directed by Stephen Brackett. The creative team for “Sommerfugl” includes Jason Sherwood (scenic design), Tilly Grimes (costume design), Zach Blane (lighting design), Stowe Nelson (sound design), Dylan Luke (production manager/technical director), Melanie Aponte (production stage manager), Natalie Loveland (wig design), and Jennifer Bowen (props design). Production photos by Skipper Chong Warson.

Presented by InViolet Theater at NYTW’s 4th Street Theatre, 83 East 4th Street, New York, NY on the following performance schedule: Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. through Saturday October 10. General admission tickets are $18.00 and can be purchased by calling 866-811-4111 or by visiting https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/10032135. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Bernardo Cubria, Michelle David, Aubyn Philabaum, and Wayne Alan Wilcox.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 06, 2015

“The Quare Land” at The Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre (Through Sunday November 15, 2015

Peter Malomey and Rufus Collins - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“The Quare Land” at The Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre (Through Sunday November 15, 2015)
By John McManus
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Hugh Pugh (Peter Maloney) neither bathes nor opens his mail on any regular basis. He has not bathed in four years and his mail has been abandoned under the letter box “this decades.” Hugh succumbs to a bubble bath in anticipation of the visit from his ninety-one year old alcoholic brother. Hugh is ninety and is a small-time farmer living alone up a mountain in County Cavan Ireland. Things are going well for Hugh and his ablution – despite the pending visit – until his dog Jessie’s loud barking signals the arrival of an unexpected guest. The interaction between Hugh and this guest is the intriguing and often hysterical story line of John McManus’ “The Quare Land” which is part of the current Irish Repertory Theatre Season and is also part of the 1st Irish Festival.

The unexpected guest is building contractor Robert McNulty (Rufus Collins) who has been trying to reach out to Hugh through the snail mail piling up under Hugh’s letter box. When one is 90 and has not bathed in four years and receives a visitor other than one’s brother, there is only one strategy that works: stall long enough to scope out the guy and decide whether to trust him or not. And stall Hugh does and regales Robert with story after story about Hugh’s adventures and lovers until Robert discloses the reason for his visit and exposes his easily aroused temper. Once Hugh knows how to handle Robert, the fun of John McManus’ play begins – all taking place in Hugh’s bathroom with Hugh in the tub throughout: rubber pig with squeaker and bubbles included.

The exchange between Hugh and Robert is so engaging and authentic it would be a shame to say much about the content of the extended conversation except that the playwright skillfully switches the “control” of the conversation back and forth between the characters and keeps the audience guessing who will “overcome” throughout. Robert wants to purchase land Hugh owns so he can complete his eighteen-hole golf course next to his upscale hotel catering to vacationing Brits. This is land Hugh does not even know he owns but discovers it was a gift from his friend Artie who stole money (and his favourite flat cap) from Hugh, felt guilty, and deeded Hugh the piece of land in Ballinamore in County Leitrim to Hugh.

Once Hugh knows how badly Robert wants his “great” land, Hugh keeps upping the price and the demands he makes on Roberts to seal the deal are outrageous and very funny. At first Hugh considers Robert to be greedy: “And I have all the time going. For I’m not a greedy haveral like you are, for I’m contented with me few cows and me pension. I can't stand under your generations attachment to worldly goods. Big jeeps and huge houses and foreign trips and fake tits. You don't own the things you buy, the things you buy end up owning you. Stand under?” But then, the tables turn and Hugh becomes greedy. All of this banter leads up to a surprise ending as Hugh’s brother pulls up outside the house.

Under Ciarán O’Reilly’s steady and thoughtful direction, Peter Maloney and Rufus Collins make Laurel and Hardy look like amateurs with a comedic repartee that keeps the audience in stitches – until the surprise ending changes the mood drastically. Their banter is fast-paced and physical and the epitome of good timing. Charlie Corcoran’s set is compact and appropriately whimsical and costumes by David Toser and lighting by Michael Gottlieb equally appropriate and supportive of the action.

THE QUARE LAND

“The Quare Land” stars Rufus Collins as Rob, and Peter Maloney as Hugh. Scenic design is by Charlie Corcoran; costume design by David Toser; lighting design by Michael Gottlieb; sound design by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab; properties by Deirdre Brennan; and special effects by J&M Special Effects, Bodhan Bushell. The Production Stage Manager is Pamela Brusoski. Production photos by

“The Quare Land” will be performed through Sunday, November 15, 2015 at The Irish Repertory Theatre (at the DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street). The performance schedule is Tuesdays at 7pm; Wednesdays at 3pm and 8pm; Thursdays at 7pm; Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets to “The Quare Land” are priced at $70.00 and are on sale now through The Irish Rep box office by calling 212-727-2737, or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 02, 2015

“Fondly, Collette Richland” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday October 18, 2015)

Lindsay Hockaday, April Matthis, Mike Iveson, and Maggie Hoffman in Sibyl Kempson's "Fondly, Collette Richland" - Photo by Joan Marcus
“Fondly, Collette Richland” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday October 18, 2015)
By Sibyl Kempson
Created and Performed by Elevator Repair Service
Directed by John Collins
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The Revelation of the Undertow of Wonder

“I can’t help but wish and feel as if there’s more to our lives, somewhere, in this moment. Than this concern for the whereabouts and well-adjustment of a devil. I’m bored to exhaustion. Devil, devil. Devil. Bringer of evil. Filler of vacuums, blah blah blah.” Dora

In a recent New York Times interview (September 4, 2015), playwright Sibyl Kempson affirms that “you don’t have to struggle to understand” her new play “Fondly, Collette Richland” currently playing at the New York Theatre Workshop. That affirmation is true, but that understanding comes only after one exits the theater and realizes that what transpires on the street is even more confusing than what plays out on the stage inside. Ms. Kempson’s text is dense and to claim it is not would be to discredit the sophistication of the script. There are “big impossible problems to contend with” in this world premiere and all of them are hauntingly delightful.

The structure of Sibyl Kempson’s new play is complex and innovative and quite different from any conventional dramatic arc. Stage directions, for example, are sometimes provided in song by Father Mumbles (what a great juxtaposition) played with a frightening religiosity by Mike Iveson. And the storyline – such as it is – is not linear. Watching “Fondly, Collette Richland” is quite like seeing all of Salvador Dali’s paintings at once through a kaleidoscope. With music and choreography. The fourth wall is broken and repaired and broken again and what is play and what is not comes under rigorous scrutiny throughout.

After a prologue offered by Collette Richland (April Matthis) herself, the action of the play begins in the modest kitchen of Mabrel Fitzhubert (Laurena Allan) and her hardworking husband Colonel “Fritz” Fitzhubert (Vin Knight). Think Willy and Linda Loman. To get a sense of the surreal nature of Ms. Kempson’s remarkable play, the Fitzhuberts have a Cat Butler (Susie Sokol) that is as adept at coughing up a fur ball as dragging the beverage cart to the table for serving after-dinner coffee. This Cat Butler wears red high heels and a bomber trooper aviator hat with flaps. After the unexpected arrival of Local Representative Wheatsun (Greig Sargeant), the action moves (through a small secret door) to the Grand Hotel Conclae Vista in the Alpen highlands. Seat belts fastened tightly yet?

It is here that the Fitzhuberts and the Local Representative are joined by an Alice in Wonderland cast of characters that include Mabel’s sister Winnifr’d Bexell (Kate Benson), her sister-in-law Dora Fitzhubert (April Matthis), Queen Patrice (Lucy Taylor), hotel concierge Hans Pierre (Mike Iveson), and others – notable among these are Sailor Boy (Ben Jalosa Williams) slayer of the pigdog whose milk is “A regional specialty. But it’s potent shtuff. It is said that it contains the gos-ship of the village. And prophecy, if there is any this year … they ushed to bring a cup of it to the ancient prieshtesh to find out all the portent.” “Through the Looking Glass” meets “Death of a Salesman” with fireworks. It is difficult to say more about the action of this quirky and challenging play except to say it must be seen.

“Fondly, Collette Richland’s” journey began with a reading of author Jane Bowles, probably “Two Serious Ladies” which contains the kind of “peculiar psychic arrangements” found in Ms. Kempson’s play. Ms. Bowles once said, “In order to work out my own little idea of salvation I really believe that it is necessary for me to live in some more tawdry place.” The setting of Ms. Kempson’s play is exactly that tawdry place where her delightful characters attempt to work out their own “little idea[s] of salvation” outwith the trappings of traditional religious constructs (Roman or otherwise). Sex-role stereotypes, sexual identity, even reality itself are explored in the Grande Hotel. Things are topsy-turvy at the Hotel and nothing is one-sided. The Krampus (Ben Jalosa Williams) represents this duality, the two sides of everything. Nothing is really what it seems to be. If you know about Santa, you should know about Kramps. What Santa giveth, the Kramps taketh away including the children. Better to allow the audience member to experience the Kramps without further comment.

More of life than we care to admit is simply scary and unbearable and there are “exquisite crises of consciousness” (Act Three) that require attention throughout life – and probably thereafter. “Fondly, Collette Richland,” bravely explores these crises with honesty and miraculous artistry. The play affirms that “Heaven and earth, and hell, united in the deepest part of the dark night, must once again split, and consciousness again be born.” Ultimately, Ms. Kempson’s striking new play is about the rebirth of consciousness. The ensemble cast under John Collins’ resplendent direction is equally skilled in giving their characters a densely dark authenticity that – at the same time – send chills up the spine and brings smiles to the observant.

But it is ultimately best not to overthink the piece or wonder about issues of provenance of thoughts or images or ideas. The audience member – as much a part of the ensemble as the members of the Elevator Repair Service – simply needs to allow the piece to flow over mind, body, and spirit and rejoice at the resurgence of wonder, the revelation of the undertow of wonder.

FONDLY, COLLETTE RICHLAND

The ensemble cast features Laurena Allan, Kate Benson, Lindsay Hockaday, Maggie Hoffman, Mike Iveson, Vin Knight, April Matthis, Greig Sargeant, Kaneza Schaal, Susie Sokol, Lucy Taylor, and Ben Jalosa Williams.

The production features scenic design by David Zinn; costume design by Jacob A. Climer; additional costumes by David Zinn; lighting design by Mark Barton; sound design by Ben Williams; and original compositions by Mike Iveson. Production photos are by Joan Marcus.

For further information about “Fondly, Collette Richland, including performance schedule and ticketing, please visit https://www.elevator.org/shows/fondly-collette-richland/ Running time 2 hours and 40 minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, September 28, 2015

“Language Unbecoming a Lady” at the cell (Through Sunday September 27, 2015)

“Language Unbecoming a Lady” at the cell (Through Sunday September 27, 2015)
Written and Performed by Myles Breen
Directed by Liam O’Brien
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Realising your gay is such a strange thing. I know it’s different for everyone but for everyone there is that moment when you must “Come Out” to yourself! This can happen years before you have the courage to come out to anybody else. But it is no less stressful.”

The only language unbecoming a lady like Diva Diana – or anyone attempting to discover oneself and maintain a strong self – is the language of self-doubt, self-effacement, and regret. Myles Breen’s play about his character Robert’s discovery of self is a testament to the struggle one faces in the midst of that journey when one realizes one is gay. Issues of family, friends, employers, classmates are embedded in Mr. Breen’s script and performance.

Although, regrettably, there is nothing new in "Language Unbecoming a Lady,” Mr. Breen’s play does make a powerful and important affirmation: the journeys of gay men (and other members of the LGBT communities) seems to be a universal one with milestones that members of those communities face and surmount worldwide. Robert’s “soulmate” in his journey is his alter ego – his drag character – Diva Diana and the short play uses the “inner” dialogue between Robert and Diana to highlight Robert’s sometimes difficult struggle to accept himself and then seek acceptance from others.

Diva Diana uses the lyrics of the iconic songbooks of Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, Doris Day, Ethel Mermen, Peggy Lee, Donna Summers, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Perry Como. Mr. Breen does an admirable job of impersonation and lip-synching and – even after Robert “sheds” Diva Diana in his dressing room – continues to give Robert the strong persona of a middle-aged man reflecting on his life and his discovery of what is important ultimately in life’s complicated unfolding.

Myles Breen’s characterization of Robert and Diva Diana is well articulated, their conflicts are authentic and clear (though not unique), and the plot driven by these is believable and engaging. What is missing from “Language Unbecoming a Lady” is a sense of that rich environment of Ireland and its unique relationship to his journey.

LANGUAGE UNBECOMING A LADY

“Language Unbecoming a Lady” is presented by Bottom Dog Theatre Company and produced by Liam O’Brien and Origen’s 1st Irish (George Heslin). It is written and performed by Myles Breen with a production team that includes Pius McGrath (lighting design), Dave O’Brien (original lighting design), Liam O’Brien (sound design), Myles Breen (costume design), Jean McGlynn (wig design), Mike Burke production manager),. Production photos by Arthur Gough.

“Language Unbecoming a Lady” runs through September 27 on the following performance schedule: Wednesday - Saturday at 9:00 p.m. and Sunday at 5:00 p.m. the cell is located at 338 W 23rd St, between 8th & 9th Avenues -- accessible from the C & E trains at 23rd Street. Tickets are $25, available at 800-838-3006 or www.thecelltheatre.org. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, September 27, 2015

“Hamlet in Bed” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday October 25, 2015)

Michael Laurence and Annette O'Toole - Photo by Tristan Fuge
“Hamlet in Bed” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday October 25, 2015)
By Michael Laurence
Directed by Lisa Peterson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“There is no play and you know it.” – Michael to Anna

‘Clever’ morphs to ‘profound’ as film noire narration counterpoints with spoken word and played scenes, in Michael Laurence’s “Hamlet in Bed” a play within a play within a play. Playwright Michael Laurence constructs a fascinating and engaging retelling of the “Queen’s closet scene” in “Hamlet” (Act III, Scene 4) where Hamlet confronts his mother about her infidelity and her complicity in the murder of his father. Mr. Laurence’s premise is shared with the audience early on: “An actor and an actress perform a play./(It’s a play within a play.)/The actor and the actress may or may not be mother and son,/and they may or may not know it./You know the play, the play is Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Yes, ‘that’ mother and son.”

The protagonist of the new play – Michael (Michael Laurence) – was abandoned by his mother at birth and he has longed to find her all of his life – and believes he has in the person of Anna (Annette O’Toole). After purchasing a diary from Cy the book peddler, Michael reads it carefully and believes the actress who wrote the diary could in fact be his mother. How to find out if Anna is his mother? Asking her directly would result in her protesting too much, so instead he recreates Hamlet’s “mousetrap” to – in this case – catch the conscience of the Queen (played by Anna) and hope she will – under pressure – come clean.

Both Michael and Anna were abused – Michael by his adoptive father Professor Joe. Both have subtle and not-so-subtle connections to the Shakespeare characters they have agreed (it is, in fact, a contract!) to play. Like Hamlet, Michael is enigmatic, philosophical, contemplative, melancholy, depressed, and truly mad. And like Gertrude, Anna is sexual, has an aversion to the truth, dependent, spiritually conflicted, and guilt-ridden. Mr. Laurence and Ms. O’Toole embody these characterizations with incredible craft. Mr. Laurence fits well into the melancholic skin of both Hamlet and Michael – both with mega-mother issues. Ms. O’Toole riddles her dual characters with conflicted guilt and seductive disingenuous charm.

The conceit is brilliant and the execution by the actors under Lisa Peterson’s direction is equally brilliant and equally engaging. Both actors move – glide actually – in and out of narration, monologues, and engaging scenes in and out of “Hamlet’s bed.” This is a complicated and deeply rich script that lingers with the audience long after the curtain call providing many “Aha” and “Wait, now I think I get it” moments. Rachel Hauck’s scenic design is sparse leaving much to the imagination of the audience to determine the setting. Jessica Pabst’s costumes are simple, appropriate, and complimented exquisitely by Scott Zielinski’s mood-driven lighting which – like the set – teases the audience into star-studded wonderment.

Throughout “Hamlet in Bed,” Michael assumes Anna knows that he is her son and she is aware of the “conspiracy of the play.” The audience is drawn into this matrix of mental gymnastics and will enjoy every shift in the unraveling of the plot and every rebaiting of the mousetrap. Who sets the trap and who is the prey? “Hamlet in Bed” is so well written, the audience will need to be attentive to the layers of subterfuge and the rich allusions and re-tellings of “Hamlet.” When, for example, Michael decides to visit a sex worker “uptown” he refers to the business as a “nunnery” and when Anna auditions for Michael, she read’s Gertrude’s description of Ophelia’s death, the role she played with Michael’s presumed father (who played Hamlet) in the 1970s. Stay alert, be amazed, be dazzled!

HAMLET IN BED

The set design for “Hamlet in Bed” is by Rachel Hauck; costume design is by Jessica Pabst; lighting design is by Scott Zielinski; sound design is by Bart Fasbender; projection design is by Dave Tennent; fight director is J. David Brimmer. The production manager is Jeremy Duncan Pape; the production stage manager is Michal Mendelson; the assistant stage manager is Emily Ballou. Publicity: Don Summa, Richard Kornberg & Associates. Casting is by Calleri Casting. Production photos by Tristan Fuge.

“Hamlet in Bed” plays Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday at 7pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8pm at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, west of Seventh Avenue South, between Perry and West 11 Streets. Tickets $35. Theater artist and Under 30 tickets are $10; student tickets are $5. Tickets may be purchased by visiting www.rattlestick.org or by phoning OvationTix at 866.811.4111. Memberships for Rattlestick’s 2015-2016 season, which are priced at $83, are also available. Prices and performance schedule are subject to change. Please refer to the Rattlestick website for the most up-to-date information: http://www.rattlestick.org/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 17, 2015

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Extended through Sunday October 11, 2015)

Dave Thomas Brown, Matt McGrath, and Keith Nobbs - Photo by Joan Marcus
“The Legend of Georgia McBride” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Extended through Sunday October 11, 2015)
By Matthew Lopez
Directed by Mike Donahue
Choreography by Paul McGill
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

With only one glitch (more about that later in the review), Matthew Lopez’s “The Legend of Georgia McBride” is a high-energy, high-octane song and dance extravaganza that plays with exotic and explosive exuberance and verve on the stage of the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Manhattan’s West Village. It is a heartwarming story of courage and acceptance and it is about the ongoing need to reinvent oneself, do whatever needs to be done to support and protect loved ones, and learn to confront the “ghosts” from the past that haunt the present and interfere with self-realization and self-actualization. This play is more than exhilarating drag performances – although these are exquisite – and glitzy costumes. The title character (Georgia McBride) makes a legendry leap into very unfamiliar territory to regain his sense of purpose and his determination to accept who he is.

Casey’s (played with a sincere ambivalence by Dave Thomas Brown) gig as an Elvis impersonator at Cleo’s on Panama City Beach, Florida is not drawing a large audience and his boss terminates his employment. Casey plays to a maximum of seven patrons or sometimes just to the emcee Eddie (played with appropriate clueless warmth by Wayne Duvall) and Eddie has booked his cousin Bobby to replace Casey. Bobby, it turns out, is an elegant drag queen (Miss Tracy Mills played with exactitude and sheer perfection by Matt McGrath) who shows up at Cleo’s with her sidekick Rexy (played with a tough exterior belying a very vulnerable core by Broadway veteran Keith Nobbs) ready to perform their drag act. Casey and his wife Jo (played with a confused but loving innocence by Afton Williamson) are pregnant and two months behind on rent so not being employed is not an option for the young actor.

Tracy decides to keep Casey on as a bartender and, after Rexy is unable to perform (for a chronically recurring reason), Casey agrees to cover for Rexy for one performance. Predictably (but still thrilling to see Casey’s transformation), Casey teams up with Miss Tracy and becomes a success as drag performer Georgia McBride (his drag name is a combination of this mother’s birthplace and the last name of the first girl he kissed!). Casey does not tell his wife about his new gig but she finds out after deciding to visit him at his place of employment and subsequently kicks him out of their apartment. It is at this point of deciding whether or not to quit the new work he loves that the climax of the play occurs.

Under Mike Donahue’s meticulous direction, the ensemble cast gives each of their characters authenticity and believability and their clearly defined conflicts drive an engaging plot from beginning to end. The audience will be surprised and gratified by how Casey and Jo ultimately solve the dilemma of Casey’s employment at Cleo’s. The drag performances embedded in the paly are splendid and the audience literally roars as Casey and Tracy portray the circuit’s favorites performed by the roster of iconic divas. To say more about the performances would spoil the blessed beauty of what occurs on the stage of the Lucille Lortel. Paul McGill’s choreography is pure genius and the audience can scarcely remain in their seats at times watching his extraordinary work.

Now for that aforementioned “glitch.” Not all men who have performed drag are gay. Rexy’s lambasting of Casey when he understands he might have to stop doing something that he not only loves but has helped him discover who he is – performing drag – is completely out of place and inappropriate. Why the playwright thought he needed to add a rant about knowing the history of gay culture and being able to recite the canon of iconic drag queens is not only puzzling but it seriously detracts from the overall impact of the otherwise brilliant musical. Additionally, Rexy’s lack of acceptance of Casey flies in the face of his own need for acceptance and the struggle for acceptance the LGBT community has engaged in before and following Stonewall. This concern in no way discredits Mr. Nobbs’ performance in this scene: he delivers this monologue with brilliance and passion as he does elsewhere when, as Casey and Jo’s landlord Jason, he confesses his deep love for a “gender nonconformist” after high school, hoping to assuage (unsuccessfully) Jo’s fury at Casey’s decision to perform in drag at Cleo’s.

This concern does not detract from the overall success and enjoyment of Matthew Lopez’s creative and engaging play and would be less than prudent for to take advantage of the recent extension and see “The Legend of Georgia McBride” before its close on Sunday October 11. 2015.

THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” is written by Matthew Lopez with choreography by Paul McGill and direction by Mike Donahue and is presented by MCC Theater (George Forbes, Executive Director). The creative team includes Donyale Werle (scenic design), Anita Yavich (costume design), Ben Stanton (lighting design), Jill BC Du Boff (sound design), Jason Hayes (makeup and wig design), B.D. White (production manager), Lori Lundquist (production stage manager), Telsey + Company (casting), and O&M Co. (publicity). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

All performances of “The Legend of Georgia McBride” will be staged at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street in NYC on the following schedule: Tuesday – Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday – Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $69.00 - $79.00 and can be ordered online at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/947055 or by calling 866-811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

With: Dave Thomas Brown, Wayne Duvall, Matt McGrath, Keith Nobbs, and Afton Williamson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, September 16, 2015

NEW WEBSITE BY AND FOR THEATER LOVERS OPENS TO THE PUBLIC SEPTEMBER 15

NEW WEBSITE BY AND FOR THEATER LOVERS OPENS TO THE PUBLIC SEPTEMBER 15

“ROTTEN TOMATOES FOR THEATER” ORGANIZES ALL SHOW INFO, ALL TICKET PRICES, AND ALL REVIEWS, ALL IN ONE PLACE

Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

September 15, 2015 (New York, NY): Show-Score.com, a new website for audiences to discover live theater in New York City, started public beta, or “previews”, today. The free online service is geared to help New York theatergoers answer the question: What should I see?

Like Rotten Tomatoes for movies, or TripAdvisor for hotels, Show-Score is designed to simplify the process of deciding what to see for theater audiences. It is an independent website that does not review shows nor sell tickets. Rather, Show-Score simply and cleanly organizes information about all theater productions from Broadway to Off-Off-Broadway. It lists all available ticket prices, comparing box office prices and major publicly listed online discounts. And it collates all professional reviews for each production, all in one place.

Show-Score is not, however, just a listings site. It is an online community of theater lovers that invites members to share their own reviews. In the sixty days since private testing began, Show-Score has started to nurture a vibrant fanbase, which has already published over 500 member reviews. Built on a foundation of engagement, Show-Score encourages members to “follow” other members and critics whose tastes they share to discover shows that they love. Show-Score expands on the notion that the best way to discover shows is through the recommendations of trusted, theater-loving friends.

For example, an audience member looking to learn more about “Hamilton” can read why 45 critics gave it a collective ShowScore of 92, and why 29 members gave it a collective 96. Show-Score members can compare offers from the show’s two ticket vendors, or be alerted when prices reach a certain threshold that the member sets. Once members see the show, they can “score” it using a fun and quick review process. And if members want to see what Lin Manuel Miranda is up to next, they can “follow” him and get alerts about his next show.

Audiences can similarly track, score, and set alerts for over 170 shows currently listed on Show-Score.com. They can read reviews from over 700 publications worldwide, and compare prices from over a dozen ticketing outlets.

The idea for Show-Score began to take shape two years ago when Founder and CEO Tom Melcher and his wife moved to New York. They saw over 250 shows in their first year and became actively involved in the theater community. Yet, they struggled to keep informed about the city’s theater scene, since there is no truly comprehensive theater listing available. Googling to find reviews took hours; finding the best prices took even longer. All the while, they were inundated with emails from theater companies they liked. The whole experience was overwhelming, and Melcher assumed others felt the same way. Friends and acquaintances confirmed that they would see more shows if it weren’t so hard to figure out which ones to see.

“As a theater fan,” says Melcher, “I just wanted it to be easier to figure out what to see. When we started, Show-Score’s original members were our theater-going friends who shared my frustrations. Now we’re ready to expand our community to include everyone who loves theater. Together we can help each other find shows we’ll love, while expanding audiences for this amazing art form.”

To celebrate the public availability of Show-Score, the company is giving away free tickets to the hit show “Hamilton”. Visit www.show-score.com for more details.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, September 15, 2015

“Pondling” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday October 4, 2015)

Genevieve Hulme-Beaman in "Pondling" - Photo by Paul McCarthy
“Pondling” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday October 4, 2015)
Written and Performed by Genevieve Hulme-Beaman
Directed by Paul Meade
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Miss Madeleine, be free, courageous, be beautiful and be the best swan in the pond. And Johnno Boyle O'Connor will be entirely yours.” (The swan on the pond to Madeline)

If the world we are born into and expected to flourish in fails us, we sometimes need an alternate place to inhabit where we can find nurture and acceptance, and surcease from our emotional and spiritual pain. Madeleine’s world in Froam fails her miserably and she creates an alternative universe and a persona that rescue her from the dreariness and falsehood of her mundane life. She dons new raven black shoes to woo her intended beau Johnno Boyle O’Connor and fantasizes killing his “long armed girlfriend.” Madeleine fuels her imagination with frequent visits to “Mrs. Green’s second hand shop [where she] collects all sorts, teacups and matching saucers, small figurines of animals getting in and out of little shoes or maybe a framed display of rare and exotic moths.” It is at Mrs. Green’s that she also finds the workout video that assists Madeleine in her quest to be “proud, brave, and beautiful.”
Fantasy and reality clash with splendid results in Genevieve Hulme-Beaman’s extraordinary “Pondling” currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of the 2015 1st Irish Theatre Festival. The audience enters the dark and often disturbing fantasy world of Madeleine the young girl routinely excluded from the nightly “long conversations about poetry and killing animals” by her cattle farmer grandfather and her brother who gave her busy work to “distract her from her uselessness.” The men “couldn’t kill anything, they just liked to ‘talk the talk.’” Madeleine, on the other hand, can “capture and kill the stray cat that scared the chickens at night” and “pull the head off a chicken” so her friend Katie can be assured the chicken’s body “could still run around afterwards.” Madeleine also learns the magical powers of tansy ragwort (will not spoil that scene!). This is one brave young woman.

Hints of Madeleine's age permeate Ms. Hulme-Beaman’s brilliantly written short play (listen for comments about her hair and her preferred mode of transportation) for which she won the Best Actress Award at the 2013 Dublin Fringe. But whatever Madeleine’s chronological age, it is light years away from the age of her vivid and irrepressible imagination and her obsessive and sometimes delusional longing for Johnno Boyle O’Connor.

It is not just the creation of fantasy that sustains Madeleine. She lives in a world of magical realism where swans engage her in conversation and ponds become tropes for alternate and parallel universes where “inside her little round head is something else, something very beautiful. A beautiful French swan girl by the name of Madeleine Humble Butter Cup.” Magical realism is a fragile genre of writing and playwrights often shy away from its charms and the danger of “destroying the lines of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic" (Gabriel Garcia Marquez). Ms. Hulme-Beaman understands those lines completely and navigates the realm of magical realism with impressive skill.

Madeleine’s visit to Anne Marie Coleman’s majestic home (with an en suite bathroom) in search of a surrogate mother and her singing “If You Love Me” (Edith Piaf’s “Hymne à l'amour”) are two of many scenes in “Pondling” that exemplify Madeleine’s deep sadness and longing for acceptance. In these scenes – as well as in others – Ms. Hulme-Beaman displays her craft at writing with rich imagery and refreshing figurative language as well as her treasure trove of sparkling tropes.

What makes “Pondling” so delightful – in addition to its thoughtful and intelligent appeal – is the remarkable writing and performance craft of Genevieve Hulme-Beaman. From the first sentence the audience hears and the first movement the audience sees, one is fully aware that something spectacular is about to happen on stage. Under Paul Meade’s exquisite and detailed direction, Ms. Hulme-Beaman has the ability to transform the space she inhabits on stage to a world of fantasy and imagination that draws the audience in Madeleine’s world of longing and deep and abiding sadness, sadness that might only have one opportunity for resolution. See this remarkable play and decide what that choice might or might not have been.

PONDLING

"Pondling” is presented by Guna Nua Theatre Company and Ramblinman and runs through Sunday October 4 at 59E59 Theaters at 59 East 59th Street (between Madison and Park) on the following schedule: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.00 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets call 212-279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Production photos by Paul McCarthy. Running time is 70 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, September 14, 2015

“Stoopdreamer” at the cell (Through Sunday September 27, 2015)

“Stoopdreamer” at the cell (Through Sunday September 27, 2015)
By Pat Fenton
Directed by Kira Simring
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Playwright Pat Fenton's "Stoopdreamer" - part of the 1st Irish 2015 Festival – holds special meaning to the Irish American community of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn and it holds an equally special meaning to all residents of urban communities who have experienced the process of gentrification over the past quarter century (or more) – gentrification by outsiders and by urban planning and development.

“Stoopdreamer” is an immersive theatre piece that takes place in Farrell’s Bar and Grill in Windsor Terrace, the last remaining Irish saloon from the pre-gentrification era. Jimmy the Bartender (Jack O’Connell), neighborhood resident and regular Billy Coffey Bill Cwikowski), and former resident Janice Joyce (Robin Leslie Brown) up from Toms River hoping to find her old flame Billy regale the bar patrons (the audience at the cell) with memories, memorials, and dreams. After Roberts Moses decided to displace 1,252 families with his massive 1945 Prospect Expressway Project, the community fell prey to a progressive loss in established businesses and the influx of residents looking for affordable property.

The loss of Windsor Terrace Landmarks and the incursion by bargain-seeking property buyers foreshadowed the loss of tradition and community ownership. The disappearance of the M. J. Smith Funeral Home, the Sanders Movie Theatre (later the Pavilion), and other iconic Windsor Terrace landmarks not only provided space for high-rise apartments but also sapped the spirits of the “stoopdreamers” who watched their beloved neighborhood diminish.

Under the even hand of director Kira Simring, the cast of “Stoopdreamer” create three believable and authentic characters whose stories counterpoint the gradual development of Windsor Terrace and give flesh and blood to the historical account of the disappearance of a community and the dreams of its denizens. Jack O’Connell’s portrayal of Jimmy the Bartender is engaging and Mr. O’Connell gives voice to all the characters he includes in Jimmy’s narration. Bill Cwikowski handily embodies the character of Billy Coffey who chose the family tradition of becoming a police officer over his dream of becoming a writer. And Robin Leslie Brown’s portrayal of Billy’s old girlfriend Janice Joyce is filled with heartfelt passion and yearning. Billy and Janice’s meeting at the play’s end embodies the collision of past and present and symbolizes the possibility of future – for the couple and for the community.

It must not go unnoticed that the residents of Windsor Terrace once gentrified the land owned by the Canarsie Indians through a purchase by John Vanderbilt and later development by real estate developer William Bell. And it must not be unnoticed that the same discontent with the way things had been in his family for generations, led Billy Coffey to eventually separate and individuate from that family tradition by becoming a writer. Might it not have been the same wanderlust and desire to “better” oneself that led the residents of Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights to begin to gentrify Windsor Terrace in the 1980s?

"Stoopdreamer" is an engaging look at the process of gentrification and the loss of dreams of those who sat on their stoops and watched all they held dear slowly disappear.

STOOPDREAMER

“Stoopdreamer” stars Jack O'Connell, Bill Cwikowski, and Robin Leslie Brown with a production team includes Gertjan Houben (production design), Chris Steckel (assistant production design), M. Florian Staab (sound design), Siena Zoé Allen (costume design), Samantha Keogh (Dramaturg), Louisa Pough (stage manager) and Jane Davis (assistant stage manager). Production photos by Marianne Driscoll.

STOOPDREAMER runs September 4 - 27, Wednesday - Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday & Sunday at 3:00 p.m. the cell is located at 338 W 23rd St, between 8th & 9th Avenues -- accessible from the C & E trains at 23rd Street. Tickets are $25, available at 800-838-3006 or www.thecelltheatre.org. Running time is 60 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, September 11, 2015

“Desire” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday October 11, 2015)

Mickey Theis and Juliet Brett - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Desire” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday October 11, 2015)
Based on Six Stories by Tennessee Williams
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“No, there was another world that Tennessee Williams knew about, a universe filled with special people who didn’t want to be a part of this dreary conformist life that I was told I had to join.” (John Waters, “The Kindness of a Stranger,” New York Times, November 19, 2006)

59E59 Theater's critically acclaimed 5A Series begins the 2015-2015 Season with “Desire” described as “an evening of new plays based on stories by Tennessee Williams.” Divided into two Acts, the short plays are adaptations by six contemporary American playwrights. The “special people” celebrated by John Waters inhabit these six new plays with traits that are – as they were for Waters – salvific and often non-conformist and all of which tackle the fascinating dynamics of human desire.

It is difficult to “take on” Tennessee Williams and attempt to create adaptations of his dense text and rich writing filled with figurative language and imagery. It is especially difficult to appreciate these six adaptations when the obvious autobiographical nature of the original stories has all but been drained out of the adaptations. The audience is left to identify the connections between characters in the short stories and Williams’ iconic plays and often these connections are indeed revelatory and engaging. When the adaptations have more of a “period” flavor the results of the adaptations seem more successful. When the short stories are given a contemporary setting – as they are in “Tent Worms” and “The Field of Blue Children” the adaptations seem a bit flat.

The first, “The Resemblance between a Violin Case and a Coffin,” is an adaptation by Beth Henley of the 1950 short story of the same title. The violin case is an obvious allusion to Tom’s outburst to his mother in “The Glass Menagerie” when she continues to suspect his whereabouts after work. In Ms. Henley’s adaptation, Tom’s (Mickey Theis) homoerotic fascination with violinist Richard Miles is completely absent and Richard Miles’ (Brian Cross) premature death seems to leave Tom unaffected and merely provides an opportunity to again play with his sister Roe (Juliet Brett). These changes obfuscate the autobiographical nature of the original story and the autobiographical nature of the 1950 short story gets sidetracked. Young Tom Williams, his sister Rose, his mother (Megan Bartle) and grandmother (Liv Rooth) and the young man who not only broke hearts by lived with the family are ephemeral ghosts in Ms. Hanley’s adaptation.

Three of the short plays stand out in “Desire.” John Guare’s “You Lied to Me about Centralia” is an adaptation of “Portrait of a Girl in Glass” the story which evolved into “The Glass Menagerie” and is a wonderful character study of Laura’s gentleman caller Jim (Mickey Theis) and his girlfriend Betty (Megan Bartle). David Grimm maintains the setting of Williams’ 1974 "Oriflamme" which Williams wrote for his mother Edwina and Mr. Grimm’s play closely follows the short story giving it a sense of authenticity. Actors Derek Smith (Rodney) and Liv Rooth (Anna) deliver compelling performances. The third short plays deserves more attention.

The most powerful adaptation of the six is Marcus Gardley’s “Desire Quenched by Touch” an adaptation of Mr. Williams’ 1948 “Desire and the Black Masseur.” Questioned by Bacon (Derek Smith) about a missing person Burns (John Skelley), Grand (Yaegel T. Welch) defends his professionalism as a masseur and his personal honor by claiming (falsely) he has not seen the missing person since he last visited his studio. The official’s questioning is (as it was in the original short story) loaded with racism and homophobia – Grand is black, his client white and the interrogator’s prejudice leans toward the likelihood that the masseur might be homosexual. Mr. Skelley, Mr. Welch. And Mr. Smith shine in this piece and deliver the outstanding performances of the collection. They create authentic and believable characters that exude the mystery and magic and existential angst of Tennessee Williams. It would not be fair to reveal what happens between masseur and client except to affirm it is chilling and laden with important symbolism and relevant connections to contemporary issues.

Overall, these six plays by distinguished American playwrights lack the intense passion of Tennessee Williams’ writing though the three highlighted come very close and are outstanding contributions. The grittiness and the overwhelming despair found in the original short stories has for some reason been sanitized and the psychological trauma that accompanies being human succumbs to a sometimes uncomfortable blandness. Tennessee Williams aficionados will appreciate the allusions to plays in the Williams canon and will certainly appreciate the caliber of acting by the ensemble cast that easily takes on different characters with ease. Direction by Michael Wilson is overall proficient and serviceable but not always consistent from short play to short play.

DESIRE

The cast features Kristen Adele, Megan Bartle, Juliet Brett, Brian Cross, Liv Rooth, John Skelley, Derek Smith, Mickey Theis, and Yaegel T. Welch. The design team includes Jeff Cowie (scenic design); David C. Woolard (costume design); Russell H. Champa (lighting design); and John Gromada (original music and sound design). The musical director and pianist is Jono Mainelli. Choreography is by Peter Pucci. The Production Stage Manager is Jereme Kyle Lewis. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Produced by the Acting Company, “Desire” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, October 11. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 PM; Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 2:00 PM & 8:00 PM; Sunday at 3:00 PM. Single tickets are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, September 11, 2015

“Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” at the Cherry Lane Theater (Through Saturday October 10, 2015)

Jayce Bartok, Amy Hargreaves, Maury Ginsberg, Katya Campbell - Photo by Richard Termine
“Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” at the Cherry Lane Theater (Through Saturday October 10, 2015)
By Alan Hruska
Directed by Chris Eigeman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Life throws a lot at its participants during their time from birth to death. Some of the experience is pleasant, some of it unpleasant, some of it tolerable, and some of it intolerable. And some of what humankind “suffers” is just odd. One can either choose to take what comes lightly and laugh it up, or be more proactive and stare down the vicissitudes of life until they have to look away. The delightful characters Joe and Cleo in Alan Hruska’s new play “Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” spend a lifetime together trying to decide which approach might work better.

Playwright Alan Hruska has concocted an engaging and zany fable-like play that chronicles the relationship between Joe (Jayce Bartok) and Cleo (Katya Campbell) who spend twenty five years together determining whether or not Joe’s hypothesis is workable: “There’s really no need to settle on anything less than ecstatic love.” Joe – Joseph P. Allworthy – trades in currencies and Cleo is an anthropologist who teaches at the university. Joe’s optimism as a successful (and worthy) currency trader is often tempered by Cleo’s comprehensive knowledge of the human condition. What Joe experiences as “the natural order of things” Cleo identifies as the challenges of entropy. The pair bumble and bicker their way through dating, marriage, childbirth, and aging with enough aplomb to endear any audience looking for an alternative way to understand the “meaning” of life and love.

Under Chris Eigeman’s careful and intelligent direction, Mr. Bartok and Ms. Campbell navigate the terrain of fable and absurdity without becoming cartoons. They deliver engaging and authentic performances that give the audience enough room to “laugh it up” and yet - with these two characters - maintain the needed distance to stare down their own roadblocks on the journey to find meaningful relationships founded on indelible intimacy – intimacy that accompanies Joe and Cleo through real and imagined affairs, unexpected pregnancy, a stolen baby boy, whacky friends Stephen (Maury Ginsberg) and Dorothy (Amy Hargreaves), the would be burglar Chalmers (Mr. Ginsberg), the disingenuous Italian tour guide Arturo (also Mr. Ginsberg), and the terminally ill neighbor in Rhode Island Alberta (Ms. Hargreaves).

Mr. Bartok and Ms. Campbell are fortunate to have Maury Ginsberg and Amy Hargreaves as ensemble cast members. Each brings remarkable performances to their various characters giving each a unique and believable personality which counterpoint brilliantly the dynamic characters created by Jayce Bartok and Katya Campbell whose transformation from stock characters to well-rounded characters rooted in reality is remarkable.

Kevin Judge’s set is marvelously multipurpose and were it not for the extensive set change between Acts Two and Three, the piece could easily have fit into 80 action-driven minutes. Jennifer Caprio’s costumes are always appropriate and Matthew J. Fick’s lighting sparkles with energy and clarity. And the oversized chandelier that slowly inches down between scenes to mark the passing of time (brilliant, Kevin Judge!) eventually becomes the buoy that (perhaps) rescues Joe and Cleo from the storm (literal and figurative storms).

Perhaps “Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” does not fully answer the question of the attainability of ecstatic love but I am not sure that was the point of Mr. Hruska’s script. Cleo says it best at the play’s end as she and Joe cling for life to a buoy and wonder if the boat approaching is real or an illusion (wonderful tropes for the vicissitudes of life). As Joe waffles between hope and despair, Cleo admonishes him to: “Just do, Joe! Just do!” That is perhaps the very best humankind can do in the face of unspeakable joy and equally unspeakable sorry. “Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” is engaging, entertaining, and existentially satisfying and well worth the visit to the iconic Cherry Lane Theatre. Just, do, kind reader. Just do!

LAUGH IT UP, STARE IT DOWN

“Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” features scenic design by Kevin Judge, costume design by Jennifer Caprio, lighting design by Matthew J. Fick, and original music and sound design by Peter Salett. Casting is by Barden / Schnee Casting. Production photos by Richard Termine.

“Laugh It Up, Stare It Down” is presented by Red Horse Productions and RME Theatrical Group. Performances are Tuesdays at 7PM, Wednesdays at 7PM, Thursdays at 7PM, Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM and Sundays at 3PM and 7PM. Tickets are $59-$79 with premium reserved seating available. Tickets are available through OvationTix at 212-352-3101 / 866-811-4111 or by visiting www.LaughItUpPlay.com. Running time is 95 minutes including a 15 minute intermission.

WITH: Jayce Bartok, Katya Campbell, Maury Ginsberg, and Amy Hargreaves.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 10, 2015

“Mercury Fur” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday September 27, 2015)

Sea McHale, Jack DiFalco, Zane Pais and Emily Cass McDonell in "Mercury Fur" - Photo by Monique Carboni
“Mercury Fur” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday September 27, 2015)
By Philip Ridley
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’,/I saw a white ladder all covered with water,/I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken,/I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children, And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.” (Bob Dylan)

One's person's/group’s dystopia is another person’s/group’s perfectly normal utopia: nothing abnormal or frightening or undesirable. It might be all about point of view. What the audience sees play out in Philip Ridley’s “Mercury Fur” currently playing at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center might seem like a dystopian future or nightmare; however for Spinx (played with a gang-bent oligarchic panache by Sea McHale) it is just another day of “fun.” With his partner Lola (played with cross-dressing charm by Paul Iacono), Spinx oversees their underlings Elliot and Darren whose job it is to locate a place for Spinx’s parties, arrange the space for the party participants and guests, and not overthink the horror with which they collude.

The world of the abandoned New York City apartment chosen by Elliot (played with a confused loyalty and vulnerability by Zane Pais) and his younger brother Darren (played with a trustful neediness from the past by Jack DiFalco) has “progressed” far from the world of the Hogwarts wizardry depicted in the poster inside one of the apartment doors. It is a world of color-coded designer hallucinogenic drugs (butterflies) and expensive themed parties planned to satisfy the bizarre tastes of high-flying clients like their current Party Guest (played with a despicable arrogance by Peter Mark Kendall) the Wall Street professional who wishes to don military garb and dismember (literally) the Party Piece (played with appropriate ragdoll indifference by the young Bradley Fong) procured by Elliot and Darren and “staged” (including make-up) by the lovely Lola.

It is unfortunately not possible to describe in detail what happens at the Party and to the Party Piece except to say the events that unfold will change the viewers’ lives forever. My reaction was only a bit delayed and I was sobbing by the time I left the theatre and everything around me felt surreal. It is enough to know that as is often the case the “best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley” (Robert Burns). The Party Guest calls for the event five days early. There is an unexpected guest the Duchess (Emily Cass McDonnell), the Party Guest is late in arrival, the Party Piece is unable to perform and a substitute is required and when the guest of honor finally does arrive he has a bit of unexpected news to deliver. It is also important to know that something of the past still survives in this not-so-brave-new-world.

Love still lingers in this not-so-brave new world but it seems to have become overshadowed by greed and a growing dependence on “artificial” feelings. There is a “butterfly” for everything and the designer drugs can simulate or stimulate any experience desired including the wish to commit suicide. Elliot and Darren and their new friend Naz (played with a stunning soulful innocence by Tony Revolori) have authentic memories of the past – Elliot has the most extensive and authentic memory bank – and they playfully share those memories and their affection for one another amidst the surrounding moral decay. Naz, Elliot, and Darren often reach out and touch one another’s hearts and - “Ba-boom” - connect on a deeply affectionate level.

We use 'dystopic" to describe a play primarily in order to distance ourselves from the reality and truth it thrusts in our faces. Philip Ridley’s “Mercury Fur” is really not a dystopian nightmare. His 2005 play could not be more relevant or more important than it is now. It is about the present political-military-industrial complex that has managed to hold us all hostage globally and has successfully enlisted us as pawns for a very long time. Children are tortured and murdered globally in our “utopic” present with impunity. Refugees flee war and oppression and are turned away at “utopic” borders of safety. Urban centers ignore their homeless and their unemployed. Civil employees ignore legal mandates from the Supreme Court and religious fanatics find that somehow godless. The list of decay seems endless.

Philip Ridley’s “Mercury Fur” is an engaging theatre piece that exposes the underbelly of all that we hold to be sane, and normal, and safe – the underbelly of the myriad of utopias humankind has created to distance itself from the sting of reality. Under Scott Elliott’s exacting and thoughtful direction, the ensemble cast of “Mercury Fur” successfully discomfits the assembled comfortable and challenges them not only to witness the depravity of humankind but the (possible) resilience of comradeship and affection and celebrate (perhaps) the importance of protecting those whom we love despite the circumstance and cost involved.

MERCURY FUR

Directed by Scott Elliott, “Mercury Fur” features Jack DiFalco, Bradley Fong, Paul Iacono, Peter Mark Kendall, Emily Cass McDonnell, Sea McHale, Zane Pais and Tony Revolori. The design team includes Derek McLane (Scenic Design), Susan Hilferty (Costume Design), Jeff Croiter (Lighting Design), M.L. Dogg (Sound Design), Jeremy Chernick (Special Effects Design) and UnkleDave’s Fight-House (Fight Direction). Production Supervision is by PRF Productions. Valerie A. Peterson is the Production Stage Manager. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production photos are by Monique Carboni.

“Mercury Fur” plays at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre through September 27 as follows: Tuesday - Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets may be arranged at www.thenewgroup.org, or by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12:00 Noon – 8:00 p.m. daily). Tickets are $25.00 - $95.00. Premium onstage seating packages, including drink tickets, are also available.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, September 07, 2015

“In Bed With Roy Cohn” at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row (Through October 3, 2015)

Christopher Daftsios as Roy Cohn - Photo by Russ Rowland
“In Bed With Roy Cohn” at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row (Through October 3, 2015)
By Joan Beber
Directed by Katrin Hilbe
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The life and times of the notorious Roy Cohn have been chronicled in fiction and non-fiction and perhaps most notable in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” where Ethel Rosenberg “appears” at Cohn’s deathbed in a series of over-the-top conversations about her trial and execution. In a 2006 article in “The New York Times,” Adam Liptak wrote, “Mr. Kushner said he did not use historical figures for instruction or verisimilitude. ‘There is a power that you access that doesn't have to do with credibility but with a shared understanding,’ he said, adding that there was a transgressive thrill to it, too.”

Playwright Joan Beber seems to enjoy that same “transgressive thrill” in her “In Bed With Roy Cohn” currently running at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row through October 3, 2015. Her play – which has been produced since 2012 – does not address the same issues as “Angels in America” and is rather a more comedic look at the iconic character and is staged with the fractured finesse of a fairy tale mingled with the somewhat hallucinatory trappings of an extended dream ballet. This is a good thing and meets with limited success.

Christopher Daftsios is a convincing and very funny Roy Cohn. If only Ms. Beber had given the actor the expansive vocabulary of the real Roy. There are additional solid performances by Serge Thony who portrays Roy’s lover with a mixture of passionate charm and sincere disinterest. Broadway veteran Marilyn Sokol does a successful turn as Roy’s mother Dora and one wishes the playwright had given the actor a bit more to work with. Perhaps the best performance is that of newcomer Andy Reinhardt who exercises the craft he practiced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Acting Apprentice Program. Mr. Reinhardt is a convincing and affable young Roy Cohn who shadows his elder self with curiosity mixed with remorse.

The remainder of the cast delivers serviceable performances, again doing the best they can with the character development they are given by the playwright and the rather free reign given by director Katrin Hilbe. Rebeca Fong could have used more solid direction in her role as Roy Cohn’s housekeeper. Most of her scenes as Lisette seem extraneous and repetitive. Lee Roy Rogers’ performance as Barbara Walters could have been stronger and, again, the issue might be one of weak direction. And Ian Gould is a wonderfully mocking Julius Rosenberg who uses his return to Roy’s side to badger the prosecutor mercilessly. If the entire theater is going to be a playing area and a back stage and a props storage area, the director must give exacting and careful direction to the ensemble cast so they do not appear sometimes to be ambling about with no direction home.

The character of Barbara Walters is quite important however, and it is this characters soliloquies (delivered quite nicely by Ms. Rogers) that provide what might be the point of the play. When all else fails, give the title a try! Ms. Walters repeatedly addresses the rest of the imaginary characters (and the audience) asking enduring questions about complicity and culpability. When people like Roy Cohn behave badly and those “standing by” do nothing to interfere, are not all somehow culpable, somehow “in bed” with the perpetrator of minor and major crimes against humanity?

"In Bed With Roy Cohn" needs considerable tightening but provides a smorgasbord of light fare that will satisfy the palate of theatregoers not familiar with the antics of Roy Cohn and entertain those who enjoy a quick dose of comedy and farce.

IN BED WITH ROY COHN

The cast of “In Bed With Roy Cohn” includes Nelson Avidon, Christopher Daftsios, Rebeca Fong, Ian Gould, Andy Reinhardt, Lee Roy Rogers, Marilyn Sokol, and Serge Thony. The creative team includes Sarah Edkins (Set Design), Gertjan Houben (Lighting and Projection Design), Karen Ledger (Costume Design), Andy Evan Cohen (Sound Design), Lisa Shriver (Choreographer), Stephanie Klapper (Casting), Katie Kavett (Production Stage Manager) and Perry Street Theatricals (General Management). The production photos are by Russ Rowland.

“In Bed With Roy Cohn” is written by Joan Beber and directed by Katrin Hilbe and runs through October 3, 2015 and will play Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday - Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday matinee at 2:00 p.m.; and Sunday matinee at 3:00 p.m. at Theater Row’s Lion Theatre, located at 410 West 42nd Street. The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 03, 2015

“Informed Consent” at Primary Stages at the Duke on 42nd (Through Sunday September 13, 2015)

Tina Benko, Myra Lucretia Taylor, and Jesse J. Perez in "Informed Consent" (Photo by James Leynse)
“Informed Consent” at Primary Stages at the Duke on 42nd (Through Sunday September 13, 2015)
By Deborah Zoe Laufer
Directed by Liesl Tommy
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“A comprehensive movement toward informed consent began after World War II with the 1947 Nuremberg trials. In these war trials, it was revealed that physicians conducted abhorrent medical research experiments on concentration camp prisoners. The research included human experimentation with germ warfare, freezing individuals to learn what temperature kills individuals most effectively, and many more horrifying research trials.” (Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, Advameg Inc.)

The real power in Deborah Zoe Laufer’s play “Informed Consent” is not what it first appears to be. The play is not about mythos versus logos – storytelling versus science. The play is not about early onset Alzheimer’s or one’s awareness that “something is different” and one’s short-term memory is slowly deteriorating. It is about decision-making and how that process might be affected by cultural norms and scientific information. It is also about motivation and transparency. However, it is difficult to sort all of that out in Ms. Laufer’s play.

And one would want to assume that all of this obfuscation of intent was somehow purposeful on the part of the playwright. The writing is good enough to assume Ms. Laufer might have been intentional in the execution of her script; however, the cop-out ending belies that and what is more likely is that the playwright set in motion too many “stories” and did not know quite how to resolve her own dramatic arc. Is “Informed Consent” about protagonist Jillian’s concern that her daughter will have the same chance of early onset Alzheimer’s as she did or is it about helping others whose Nation is slowly dying off?

The play becomes powerful when it is allowed to serve as a trope for the many crimes against Original Peoples by settlers from Europe who as Arella (played with a determined commitment by Delanna Studi) affirms took everything away from all Indigenous Peoples and left them with nothing except their stories of beginnings. “Informed Consent” follows closely the case of The Havasupai People and Arizona State University in 1989 when ASU genetic anthropologist Teri Markow solicited members of the Havasupai Nation to provide blood samples to test for a specific genetic link to Type II Diabetes. Dr. Markow tested for additional markers not agreed to by the Nation and they eventually sued ASU in 2004 and won an out of court settlement and were able to retrieve their blood samples. The retrieval of those samples is a powerful moment in “Informed Consent.”

In Ms. Laufer’s play, the genetic anthropologist is given the fictitious name of Jillian (played with a compelling urgency by Tina Benko) but the events are strikingly similar to the ASU/Havasupai People dispute. The story is complicated and raises a series of rich and enduring questions. Do horrific events in the past exclude the possibility for healing in the present? In her conversations with Nation Leader Arella, Jillian admits many grievous wrongs were committed against the Indigenous Peoples of North America. But does that preclude Arella’s Tribe from accepting knowledge that might help the Nation survive? Is Jillian’s lack of securing informed consent the same type of betrayal experienced by Indigenous Peoples since the arrival of Europeans in the Americas? If Tribe members undergo amputation and dialysis at an off-Reservation hospital, why is having a blood sample taken not allowed? Where does the Sacred-Non-Sacred boundary lie?

Nearly half of Native American people (42 percent) are under the age of 24; more than one-third of Native children live in poverty; and Native youth have the lowest high school graduation rate of students across all schools (Fact Sheet: The White House Tribal Nations Conference). Nevertheless, many Native Americans have found entrepreneurship to be a way out of poverty. And more are likely to take that path in the future. (Foundation for Economic Education). Why is entrepreneurship permitted but not the benefits of science? And why would science be able to damage the strong faith of a community of believers?

Under Liesl Tommy’s exquisite direction, the ensemble cast moves through time and space changes with ease and both narrate and perform this important story. In addition to Ms. Benko and Ms. Studi, Jesse J. Perez delivers a compelling performance as Ken the anthropologist who trusted Jillian to be his successor; Myra Lucretia Taylor portrays the Dean of the College with grace and honesty; Pun Bandhu gives Graham - Jillian’s husband – a suffering forbearance. Each actor – except Ms. Benko – portrays other characters including Graham and Jillian’s daughter Natalie portrayed convincingly by Delanna Studi.

"Informed Consent" raises significant questions about what informs decision-making and what motivates individuals in their actions and encounters with other people. There is no right or no wrong here, just enduring and rich questions some of which are morally ambiguous. The play provides no answers but gives the audience the opportunity to re-examine an important historical event under a new dramatic microscope.

For a detailed account of the ASU/ Havasupai People events, please visit http://genetics.ncai.org/case-study/havasupai-Tribe.cfm.

INFORMED CONSENT

“Informed Consent” is presented by Primary Stages and Ensemble Studio Theatre and features scenic design by Wilson Chin, costume design by Jacob A. Climer, lighting design by Matthew Richards, original music and sound design by Broken Chord, projection design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production photos are by James Leynse.

“Informed Consent” plays a limited engagement through Sunday September 13, 2015 at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday 7:00 p.m., Friday 8:00 p.m., Saturday 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday 3:00 p.m. There is an added 2:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, September 2. Tickets for Informed Consent are $70.00 and can be purchased online at PrimaryStages.org or at Dukeon42.org, by phone at 646-223-3010, or at the box office. Running time is 95 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Pun Bandhu, Tina Benko, Jesse J. Perez, DeLanna Studi, and Myra L
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 31, 2015

“Sense of an Ending” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday September 6, 2015)

L-R: Heather Alicia Simms, Danyon Davis and Joshua David Robinson in SENSE OF AN ENDING at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Sense of an Ending” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday September 6, 2015)
By Ken Urban
Directed by Adam Fitzgerald
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Charles, we must speak directly. I know that your career is not what it was because of the scandal. You were the young star and now all that is changing thanks to this problem. I will not let these nuns go free.” (Paul)

Theatre-goers in New York City have the opportunity to see Ken Urban's haunting "Sense of an Ending” at 59E59 Theaters through Sunday September 6, 2015. This is a short run of Mr. Urban’s successful play (Theatre503 in London in May-June 2015) and it is playing in the smallest of 59E59 Theater’s performance spaces. As of this writing, three of the performances are sold out and the remaining performances will fill quickly. Therefore, it is imperative you secure tickets to see this remarkable play that raises the enduring and rich questions that challenge not just the broad issues of guilt and innocence but also challenge the larger issues of right and wrong and the ambiguity of morality.

At the core of these questions lies the alleged complicity of two Hutu nuns of the Benedictine Order in the ethnic Hutu extremist mass murder of hundreds Tutsi citizens who sought refuge in the church they served in Kigali Rwanda during the 100 days of Genocide from April 7 to mid-July in 1994. In an attempt to redeem himself and his position at the “New York Times,” Charles (Joshua David Robinson) travels to Kigali and arranges to interview the nuns five years after the murders in the church. They have been imprisoned by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as they await trial in Belgium.

The play’s the thing here to uncover the conscience of the audience (apologies to Shakespeare) and just as the play within the “Tragedy of Hamlet” uncovers the conscience of Claudius and Gertrude, the audience is “hooked” here into examining its own complicity in the inexorable “crimes against humanity” that occur locally and globally daily. The trial takes place on stage first prior to the transfer of the nuns to Belgium. Ken Urban has skillfully involved the audience in the trial. Audience members become jury and ultimately judge. Charles is unwittingly the defense attorney. Paul (Hubert Point-Du Jour) the RPF corporal assigned to guard the nuns is the prosecutor who calls Dusabi (Danyon Davis) - the only survivor of the church massacre - as the witness for the State. Dusabi purports to know the truth and he hopes his testimony (his private meeting with Charles) will generate justice.

Mr. Urban peels away layer after layer of ecclesiastical “privilege” as Sister Justina (sarcasm reigns!) played with a sinister motherly protection by Heather Alicia Simms and Sister Alice (played with a mix of naiveté and cunning by Dana Marie Ingraham) slowly lose their battle with truth. Sister Justina believes “The truth is what will set us free” but as the “trial” progress it might be the same truth that sets Dusabi’s grieving spirit free (his wife Elizabeth was dismembered by the Hutu and later “passed in her sleep”) and sanctifies Charles’ commitment to journalism and his mentor Dan.

Director Adam Fitzgerald mines every ounce of sheer genius out of his resplendent cast. His staging counterpoints so meticulously with Mr. Urban’s script that “Sense of an Ending” becomes a symphony for the senses. Hubert Point-Du Jour is unimaginably powerful in his role as Paul whose mission to unbridle the truth surpasses understanding. Danyon Davis gives Dusati the perfect balance between his unfathomable rage and grief and his tender love for his country and its people. And Joshua David Robinson manages to free the shackles of shame that have plagued his character Charles’ journalistic career and exposes him to “the blinding light of annihilation and hope of past and future of death and life of pain and the drug that banishes all grief of a truth that burns and burns the darkness forever.”

Ken Urban never disappoints in drawing the audience into important conversations. The frightening possibility that humans kill out of habit just as Paul killed a dog in front of the Kigali church looms large over the audience at the play’s end. There are no easy answers in this play, only difficult questions. No one is fully guilty or fully innocent and as the introductory paragraph of this review indicates even guilt and innocence are called to the witness stand. Moral ambiguity perseveres as it must if humankind is to experience the same catharsis Charles undergoes. In Paul’s words, “You will never forget this.”

SENSE OF AN ENDING

Ken Urban’s “Sense of an Ending” is presented by kef theatrical productions at 59E59 Theaters and is directed by Adam Fitzgerald.

The cast of “Sense of an Ending” features Danyon Davis, Dana Marie Ingraham, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Joshua David Robinson, and Heather Alicia Simms.

The design team includes David L. Arsenault (scenic design); Hunter Kaczorowski (costume design); Travis McHale (lighting design); and Christian Frederickson (sound design). Samantha N. Spellman is stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Sense of an Ending” begins performances on Thursday, August 20 for a limited engagement through Sunday, September 6. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday - Saturday at 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 27, 2015

“Coping” at FringeNYC 2015 at Teatro SEA at the Celemente (Through Friday August 28, 2015)

“Coping” at FringeNYC 2015 at Teatro SEA at the Celemente (Through Friday August 28, 2015)
Written by Jacob Marx Rice
Directed by Anna Strasser
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The stressors of coping with the loss of a dear friend and loved one seem to override the default coping mechanisms humans consciously or unconsciously depend on to navigate through the daily matrix of more “normal” stressors like missing a bus, or forgetting a wallet, or nor remembering to charge a cell phone. The dynamics of loss trigger an unhealthy set of inappropriate responses to even the most innocent question or challenge. The bereaved temporarily forget the need for adult-adult responses and slip too easily into parent-child responses which inevitable spiral out of control and leave friends and family pulled into in a dysfunctional vortex.

This process is exacerbated when the deceased has committed suicide as did soon-to-be physician Conner with the gun owned by his OCD girlfriend Sara (Lauren LaRocca) who joins Conner’s sister Jessica (Lipica Shah), her girlfriend Taylor (Lauren Hennessy), and Connor’s roommate Lucas (Scott Thomas) in his apartment to plan Connor’s service and sort out their individual and collective grief. Each member of this non-intentional extended family has her or his own life-problems. Sara is obsessive compulsive (more on this later); Jessica has attempted suicide in the past; Taylor often colludes with Jessica’s controlling and sometimes destructive behavior; and Lucas depends heavily on recreational drugs to get by.

Playwright Jacob Marx Rice brings these characters into the same setting and sparks fly! Mr. Rice has created well-rounded characters each with conflicts easily identified by the audience. These conflicts drive a matrix of interesting plots with rich layers of exposition. The process of grieving and the styles of coping are complicated by the dysfunctional relationships and the individual psychological idiosyncrasies of each member of this oddly configured extended family. An extended family that includes the whacky funeral director Janie (Dinah Berkeley) who is as “professional” as she is completely quirky.

The creative team has developed a convention to help the audience “visualize” the difficulty Sarah has coping with her boyfriend’s suicide. Grieving is one trigger that can “boot up” a string of uncomfortable obsessive- compulsive behaviors and the playwright and director have found an interesting way to deal with that event. It is also used to open the possibility of defining what is real and what is not in the context of the play.

Director Anna Strasser allows her talented ensemble of actors to “paint” with a large brush that fills the stage with colorful scenes that range from comedic interludes to deeply cathartic moments of truth and transparency. It is doubtful the audience will ever understand the process of coping in traditional ways again after seeing “Coping.”

COPING

“Coping” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Audra Arnaudon at Teatro SEA at the Celemente, 107 Suffolk Street (Rivington and Delancey).

All performances of “Coping” take place at on the following schedule: Wednesday August 19th at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday August 22nd at 9:45 p.m.; Wednesday August 26th at 4:45 p.m.; and Friday August 28th at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.copingplay.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 19, 2015

“The Princeton Seventh” at FringeNYC 2015 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Thursday August 20, 2015)

“The Princeton Seventh” at FringeNYC 2015 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Thursday August 20, 2015)
Written and Directed by James Vculek
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"The Princeton Seventh" was part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival in August 2010 and has been reprised in August 2015 for FringeNYC. And that is good news for those who have the opportunity to see James Vculek’s quirky drama about the process of writing and the fine line between what is real and what is fiction.

The audience witnesses what might be the truth in Act II. Princeton scholar and writer Max Lonoff (Richard Ooms) arrives in a Midwestern town with his devoted wife Mindel (Alayne Hopkins) to deliver an homage to a recently deceased poet. He meets fellow Princeton alum and author Jack Cutler (Alex Cole) who has been chatting with a Man (Ari Hoptman) who claims to have been part of a prestigious group of Princeton scholars (the Princeton Six) that included Lonoff. Mr. Vculek has the ability to make dialogue intricately fascinating and his meticulous direction results in the fast-paced and delicious repartee between all parties that results in the outing of the Man as a phony and a fraud who in reality begged to be the seventh in Lonoff’s group.

What the audience witnesses in Act I might be the fictional account of what the audience discovers actually happened later in Act II when Cutler meets the Man meets Lonoff. Both Acts are written with layer upon layer of rich exposition that gives the charters an authenticity and believability and compelling personal and professional conflicts that drive a pair of engaging plots. Truth and fiction exist side-by-side and create a metacognitive dimension that defies definition and description. What actually happens and how that becomes a novel is explored with uncanny charm.

The ensemble cast is remarkable in both Acts redefining their characters and making them rich and interesting and believable. Ari Hoptman is quirky and clever in his dual roles. Alex Cole defines and redefines a Jack Cutler who can be filled with vengeful rage or infused with scholarly inquisitiveness. Richard Ooms successfully creates a Max Lonoff who is on the one hand a caricature and on the other a professor reflecting calmly on the events of the past. Alayne Hopkins shines as trophy wife in Act I and overzealous caregiving wife in Act II. And Isy Abraham-Raveson is the waitress extraordinaire who can handle any customer request with the appropriate aplomb.

Whether in 2010 or in 2015 or as a quick read (see below), “The Princeton Seventh” is a mind-exercising bit of great theatre.

THE PRINCETON SEVENTH

“The Princeton Seventh” is presented by The Present Company and The New York International Fringe Festival at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street (between Rivington and Delancey).

All performances of “The Princeton Seventh” take place at on the following schedule: Wednesday August 19th at 7:00 p.m. and Thursday August 20th at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 55 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit https://theprincetonseventh.wordpress.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Mr. Vculek’s novel is available at the Kindle Store at http://www.amazon.com/The-Princeton-Seventh-James-Vculek-ebook/dp/B004V0CJPY.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, August 18, 2015

“Maybe Tomorrow” at FringeNYC 2015 at Under St. Marks (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)

“Maybe Tomorrow” at FringeNYC 2015 at Under St. Marks (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)
Written by Max Mondi
Directed by Tomer Adorian
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Based on the true story of a woman who was found stuck on her boyfriend’s toilet after sitting on it for two years in Ness County, Kansas, “Maybe Tomorrow” takes the premise of the meta-theatrical experience into the realm of a stunning psychological study of delusional behavior, the processes of collusion, and the consequences of controlling behavior. Playwright Max Mondi’s complex play might also be about marriage, fame, and a toilet but only in a secondary fashion.

Unable to cope with her marriage to Ben (Harrison Unger), arts-and-crafts entrepreneur Gail (Jennifer Bareilles) retreats to the bathroom of their trailer making it her “pause room” populated by her mantras “maybe tomorrow” and “I’ll figure it out.” From the relative safety of the toilet and her initial attempts to venture into the rest of the trailer, Gail manages to get pregnant, run her arts and crafts trailer-front store, and adjust to the move to New Jersey where Ben has landed a new job as a luxury car salesperson.

After the move, Gail retreats to the toilet and her “pause room” full-time, seemingly abandoning Ben and the new baby. At this point, it would appear that Gail is “suffering” from a psychotic disorder with hallucinations and that Ben had decided to collude with Gail’s “disorder” since it is the happiest he has ever seen her. But perhaps Gail just prefers “real” time and space and prefers to talk to a real audience (not a hallucination) and is colluding with Ben who is perhaps the delusional one thinking Gail sees no one and that they are simply actors in a play that is accountable to the convention of a fourth wall. Only when the reader attends a performance of “Maybe Tomorrow” can she or he decide if there is a baby beyond the bathroom.

Harrison Unger’s and Jennifer Bareilles’ strong commitment to Mr. Mondi’s complex and dense writing pays off. “Maybe Tomorrow” engages the audience in a rollercoaster ride that explores ego strength and the arrogance of diagnostic protocols that categorize the intricacies of what is considered mental illness. The title raises a variety of enduring and rich questions about life, love, and the thing we call theatre. Can two human beings make sense of marriage, money, and parenting? Does one member of a couple have the right to define for the other what life style she or he can assume? What defines ‘theatre’ in the twenty-first century? Are there theatrical conventions yet to be discovered and explored on stage? Why can the $18.00 FringeNYC performance of “Maybe Tomorrow” raise more important questions than any $150.00 (plus or minus) show currently running on Broadway?

Mr. Modi's challenging play also comments on the nature of the theatre itself and the assumed lack of realism and question (successfully) what is or what is not “permitted” in playwriting or on the stage. For example in a play where one member of the cast is sitting on a toilet should the audience be invited by the venue manager to visit the “real” bathroom at any time during the performance?

Tomer Adorian’s direction is meticulous, generous, and refreshing and allows Harrison Unger (Ben) and Jennifer Bareilles (Gail) room to explore Max Mondi’s script with impressive craft and commitment to authenticity. “Maybe Tomorrow” is one thing the reader should not put off until tomorrow. Take a break from the “pause room” and purchase tickets today.

MAYBE TOMORROW

“Maybe Tomorrow” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and The Poet Acts, Inc. at Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place (1st and Avenues A).

All performances of “Maybe Tomorrow” take place at on the following schedule: Friday August 21st at 7:45 p.m.; Sunday August 23rd at 1:15 p.m.; and Saturday August 29th at 1:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.maybetomorrowtheplay.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, August 18, 2015

“Single Room Occupancy” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Lynn Redgrave Theater (Through Thursday August 27, 2015)

“Single Room Occupancy” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Lynn Redgrave Theater (Through Thursday August 27, 2015)
Book and Music by Ben Rauch
Lyrics by Gaby Gold, Ben Rauch, and Rory Scholl
Directed by Joey Murray
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Matthew is stuck. Stuck in his musical career. Stuck in his search for true love. Stuck in his miniscule apartment in New Jersey. Stuck with his group of friends stuck in their own millennial generation angst-ridden matrix of unrealized dreams. Additionally, Matthew would prefer not to perform his music anywhere but in his claustrophobic apartment just west of the Eden that is every musician’s paradise. Ben Rauch’s new pop/rock musical “Single Room Occupancy” purports to address the dilemma of being one’s own worst obstacle – not the distracting obstacles of social media, nor the quest for romance. Mr. Rauch’s musical seems not to provide answers to overcoming the obstacle of self. Indeed, it provides no clear answers to anything.

Perhaps the best thing about “Single Room Occupancy” is the music by Ben Rauch who also plays the protagonist Matthew. The book is lackluster and often inappropriate as are many of the lyrics (the reader is welcome to go and judge for himself/herself). The balance between band and cast is off and it is often difficult to hear the lyrics. The device of having Matthew and the cast be part of an improv group does not work and adds nothing to the thin story line.

Add to this the lack of air conditioning in the Lynn Redgrave Theatre and the result is less than favorable. It is difficult to understand how a cast and audience can be subjected to intolerable conditions that jeopardize the health and well-being of patrons who pay to see a performance.

SINGLE ROOM OCCUPANCY

“Single Room Occupancy” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and BR Productions at the Lynn RedgraveTheater, 45 Bleecker Street (at Lafayette Street).

All performances of “Single Room Occupancy” take place at on the following schedule: Monday August 17th at 9:30 p.m.; Thursday August 20th at 7:15 p.m.; Friday August 21st at 2:15 p.m.; and Thursday August 27th at 12:00 a.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.singleroommusical.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 17, 2015

“The Starter” at FringeNYC 2015 at The Celebration of Whimsy Theater (Through Tuesday August 25, 2015)

“The Starter” at FringeNYC 2015 at The Celebration of Whimsy Theater (Through Tuesday August 25, 2015)
Written by Sean Murphy Based on “Platonov” by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Katie Falter
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Sean Murphy has penned a new play “The Starter” based very loosely on “Platonov” an obscure work by Anton Chekhov, and being presented as part of the NY International Fringe Festival. The resemblance is not so much the story but the supposition, examining the egotistical, idealistic, selfish nature of a generation of twenty somethings as they encounter the truth about feelings and desire. The plot unravels as seven friends, some old, some new, gather for an impromptu dinner party. As in many plays that have preceded, the alcohol flows, sparks fly, dreams drown, love is lost and during the finale drinking game isolation and hopelessness are the winners and reverting to the past is the only hope of salvation. Serving up heaps of unhealthy, narcissistic, destructive choices by the youth of any generation at a table set with platefuls of denial and repressed feelings is nothing new.

What sets this production apart is the inspired writing and the litter of misfits assembled for the fierce festivities. Mr. Murphy’s dialogue is like a tennis match flinging comical barbs with lightning fast repartee, always within bounds, forcing the opponent to reach, stretch and dive for answers until they fault with a lie. Truth and honesty keep the game in play and there is no winner. The cast is well trained and breathes life into complex characters. Tori Hidalgo is a cold, cunning destroyer as Anna, confronting Harry Percy Sanderson (Parker) who constructs a disillusioned, confused everyman, lost in his own invention. As Gretchen, Mary Kate O’Neill envelopes oddball beauty emerging from caterpillar, too cocoon, too butterfly with a nuanced performance. Mr. Murphy as Trevor is centered, simple and hopeful, clinging to unrequited love. Lauren Friednash portrays an offbeat Sophie, a self-absorbed wannabe, like a spider catching its prey in her web of optimistic fantasy. Haley Jones creates the false façade of the perfect wholesome fiancé Jennifer with precision. Eric Folks masks a solid Stephen, concealing his bubbling turmoil and rage beneath a smooth, calm exterior.

No one survives the evening. All are casualties, some more than others, and when their wounds heal you can only imagine they will be ready for another battle, never learning the fragility of life and that waging war for personal gain, power and control, only results in the destruction of humanity. This is an engaging evening of theatre and a promising ensemble of thespians, deftly directed by the keen sense of Katie Falter.

THE STARTER

“The Starter” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival at The Celebration of Whimsy Theater, 21-A Clinton Street (Houston and Stanton).

All performances of “The Starter” take place at on the following schedule: Tuesday August 18th at 2:00 p.m.; Saturday August 22nd at 4:45 p.m.; and Tuesday August 25th at 9:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.thestarter.org/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 17, 2015

“Elaine Stritch Still Here” at FringeNYC 2015 at Spectrum (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)

“Elaine Stritch Still Here” at FringeNYC 2015 at Spectrum (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)
Written and Performed by Jay Malsky
Directed by Zak Sommerfield
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Elaine Stritch Still Here” is a new musical constructed in cabaret format, paying homage to the theatrical paragon, being presented as part of the NY International Fringe Festival. The legendary Ms. Stritch, played marvelously by Jay Malsky, with the accomplished Keith Rubin as Rob Bowman, her friend and musical director at the piano, deserve a much better venue that might help translate the stature of this theatrical icon. This diminutive look into her amazing career, peers into the short time capsule when she is 86 years old and preparing and performing her last cabaret tour. It is a reflection and a celebration, filled with her undeniable talent, appeal, strength and sarcasm laced with sadness, but not withstanding effects of the relentless demon of alcohol and the debilitating affliction of diabetes. What came before this time seems to have been only the preparation for the battle that takes place now, with no regrets for the misguided plan of attack.

Mr. Malsky captures the physical nuance with ease as he morphs into the larger than life character, appearing in her signature garb of black tights and oversized white dress shirt, announcing that “I hate pants.” He attacks the many vocals that can easily be associated with her name, with powerful insistence, reminiscent of the no nonsense style that was part of her charm. What makes this performance soar is the emotional connection Mr. Malsky displays as he digs deep down into the sadness of being alone after her husband dies, the anger at the debilitating disease, and the weakness for the demon that haunts her.

This show is not perfect but most of that is due to limitations of the space. Direction by Zak Sommerfield is spotty, with a wish for better flow and continuity, even musical interludes of familiar tunes. For those that are familiar with Ms. Stritch it is an opportunity to examine a more personal, intimate facet of her incredible journey; for those who are not that familiar, it may open up an entire new avenue of interest into the incredible life of this theatrical legend. Try to catch a performance during this short run.

ELAINE STRITCH STILL HERE

“Elaine Stritch Still Here” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival at Spectrum, 121 Ludlow Street, 2nd Floor (Rivington and Delancey).

All performances of “Elaine Stritch Still Here” take place at on the following schedule: Monday August 17th at 9:15 p.m.; Friday August 21st at 10:30 p.m.; Monday August 24th at 8:00 p.m.; and Saturday August 29th at 2:45 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 50 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit https://www.facebook.com/elainestritchstillhere. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 16, 2015

“Hell Is For Real” at FringeNYC 2015 at Theatre 80 (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)

“Hell Is For Real” at FringeNYC 2015 at Theatre 80 (Through Saturday August 29, 2015)
Written by Gary Apple
Directed by Jay Stern
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is Fringe season, and the lower East side of Manhattan is buzzing with the NY International Fringe Festival now celebrating a 19th year with a new theatrical kaleidoscope. As in years past, audiences, reviewers and staff search for the golden ticket, the reward of finding a few shows that might have a glimmer of hope for a future, or at least be treated to an hour or two of good solid theater. The new musical comedy “Hell is for Real” with book, music and lyrics by Gary Apple falls into the category of the typical fringe musical filled with satire, zany characters, vulgar language, derivative music and simple often mundane lyrics. Although this is not the quintessential example of dramatic structure and writing, what it offers is a couple of hours of crazy, ridiculous, superfluous humor in the dog days of summer.
Six year old Davin is accidentally transported to hell where of course he does not belong. Upon returning from his visit, he is plagued with strange, weird and satanic events as well as visits from Carl the banjo playing Bogeyman. Dad Richard goes to all lengths to save his child visiting churches, secret satanic cults, exorcists and finally a trip to hell to meet with Lucifer who gives him an impossible task to complete in order to save his son. What follows is an absurd comical adventure that moves at a fast pace under the direction of Jay Stern.

The cast is strong and plays whole heartedly into the material giving it more substance than it actually has, riding the thin line between actuality and pasquinade. They work extremely well as an ensemble each supporting the other, fully committed to the task at hand. They are accompanied by an overly competent band that deserves more sophisticated material and arrangements. There is nothing new or inventive here, just what you might expect from a wacky musical comedy. Audiences should give it a try if you are looking for a few laughs, some good vocals and an evening of light, mindless entertainment reminiscent of an extended SNL sketch with music. It could possibly become one of those late night cult musicals that lasts for a while, and might be better after a few drinks.

HELL IS FOR REAL

“Hell Is For Real” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival at Theatre 80, 80 St. Marks Place (1st and 2nd Avenues).

All performances of “Hell Is For Real” take place at on the following schedule: Sunday August 16th at 1:15 p.m.; Thursday August 27th at 4:45 p.m.; and Saturday August 29 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.hellisforreal.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 16, 2015

“Rapunzel in the Wild West” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Theater at the 14th Street Y (Through Friday August 28, 2015)

“Rapunzel in the Wild West” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Theater at the 14th Street Y (Through Friday August 28, 2015)
Book by Bobby Becher, Ashley Mills, Marc de la Concha, and Ashley Whiting
Music and Lyrics by Bobby Becher and Ralph Krumins
Directed by Ashley Mills
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited

Whoever decided to have Rapunzel use her hair to lasso criminals in the Wild West most certainly has the mindset for children’s theatre. It’s the premise of WhatFun! Theatre’s aptly named ‘Rapunzel in the Wild West’ an interactive children’s musical where the audience is encouraged to boo, cheer, and lament, all in the name of family-friendly fun.

Rapunzel is a long-haired lass locked away in her mother’s tower-like-tavern. Although our heroine has dreams to fight bad guys with her lasso-like hair, she’s content to play make-believe with her friends Willy and Sally since her mother seems dead-set on ensuring her fantasies stay, well, fantasies. When the evil Bandit Queen rolls into town, however, it’s up to Rapunzel to live her dreams, beat the baddies, and save her mother’s saloon.

Despite the show’s playfully soft touch, there are some highly admirable themes in WhatFun!’s new show: Rapunzel’s mother (played by Elise Holman) doesn’t keep her daughter cooped up because she’s evil, just overprotective. Rapunzel wants to be a cowboy but her mother would much prefer her to emulate her more ladylike best friend Sally. In the end we learn that, while being genteel is okay for some people, what’s most important is choosing your own way. (And if you happen stop the Bandit Queen in the process, all the better.) In a brilliantly rare subversion of the musical archetype, Rapunzel’s love interest, Willy, sings about how all he wants in life in a family and children. (Boom! Take THAT gender norms!)

Ashley Mills, who plays Rapunzel, is a perfect for children’s theatre. Mills is genuine without harshness and endearing without being hokey. Childlike without being childish Mills plays the kind of character you’d want children to take after, and that’s saying quite a lot.

It’s hard to ‘Boo’ at the loveable villains. The Bandit Queen, played by Jacqueline Wheeler, is boisterous, and manipulative, but admirable in her own headstrong sort of way. She’s closer Molly Shannon’s Mary-Katherine Gallagher than a traditional Black Hat. Of course that’s probably for the best, since the play’s sung through about half the time. Kurt Perry gives a side-splitting performance as the ever-awkward Bart, the Queen’s much-underappreciated sidekick.

Of course it’s not a flawless show. The singing is a bit on the soft side, and I did have one little gripe: Are the Bandit Queen’s fans magical? I mean, she can psychically control people with them, but that might have just been a theatrical convention. Maybe they couldn’t find a rhyme for ‘magic fans’ (in my hands? tragic tans? wedding bands? Just trying to be helpful).

But when kids are literally standing on their seats to get a better view, you know your children’s show is a success. I liked ‘Rapunzel in the Wild West,’ and I know a ten-year-old me would have liked it even more. Bring the kids, and get ready to boo (but only when they tell you, of course!)

RAPUNZEL IN THE WILD WEST

“Rapunzel in the Wild West” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and What Fun! Theatre at the Theatre at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street (at 1st Avenue).

All performances of “Rapunzel in the Wild West” take place at on the following schedule: Wednesday August 19th at 4:45 p.m.; Saturday August 22nd at 12:00 p.m.; Wednesday August 26th at 2:00 p.m.; and Friday August 28th at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase. The running time is 50 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.whatfuntheatre.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Featuring: Ashley Mills, Jacqueline Wheeler, Kurt Perry, Ariane Ryan, Bobby Becher, Elise Holman, and Tommy Walker.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 16, 2015

“The Gap” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Falmboyan Theatre at the Clemente (Through Tuesday August 18, 2015)

“The Gap” at FringeNYC 2015 at the Falmboyan Theatre at the Clemente (Through Tuesday August 18, 2015)
Written by Harrie Dobby
Directed by Jamie Biddle and Gillian King
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Harrie Dobby's play "The Gap" purports to be about what individuals must sacrifice to be happy; however, that enduring and rich question seems to get lost in the gaps in time and place in this otherwise charming play about two seemingly star-crossed lovers who meet in Southeast Asia in the midst of their backpacking adventures across the globe. Lisa (Abigail Arnold-Ochs) decides to escape her trailer-park existence by taking her first flight to Southeast Asia where she stumbles upon Dave (Rafiq Richard), falls in love with him, marries him, gets pregnant, settles back in the UK and becomes totally miserable. Dave wants to stay in the UK after he gets a job offer from former backpacking friend Megan (Harrie Dobby). Dave is content to spend Saturdays with Megan and Andy (Jamie Biddle), work hard, earn money to properly raise his daughter, and enjoy vacation time. Lisa not so much.

Lisa is a wanderer and was identified as such back in Southeast Asia by Sylvie (Madeleine Brolly) with whom she and Dave stayed a night (along with Sylvie’s mate Sean also played by Jamie Biddle). That wanderlust drives her to leave husband and child and go back on the road again. Because the characters in “The Gap” are not clearly defined and their conflicts properly identified, the plot here is thin. There is a lot of kissing and cuddling and drinking and toking but the audience learns very little about the “inner lives” of the protagonists Lisa and Dave or their acquaintances. These characters need to match the grit of the language they speak – they need to be far more morally ambiguous to make their choices understandable and appealing.

There are musical interludes between scenes which one assumes comment (like a Greek Chorus) on the action of the play. Unfortunately, because of the dreadful acoustics in the Flamboyan Theatre, not a word of the songs could be clearly understood.

While it is clear Lisa and Dave see the world from two disparate points of view, their story in “The Gap” adds little to the important conversation about sacrifice, happiness, or the difficulty of making life choices that lead to happiness. The actors work hard but they do not have enough richness of text to create authentic and believable characters.

THE GAP

“The Gap” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Harrie Dobby at the Falmboyan Theatre at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street (Rivington and Delancey).

All performances of “The Gap” take place on the following schedule: Saturday August 15th at 7:15 p.m.; Sunday August 16th at Noon; Monday August 17th at 7:00 p.m.; and Tuesday August 18th at 2:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 at the door and $15.00 for advance purchase (see a FringeNYC Ambassador). The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.the-gap-play.com/. For more information about the 19th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 15, 2015

The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) Announces Sold Out Shows

The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) Announces Sold Out Shows
Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC), the largest multi-arts festival in North America, will present the 19th Annual Festival from August 14 - 30, 2015. This year the festival will present programming by 184 of the world's best emerging theatre troupes and dance companies representing 8 countries and 21 US states. Shows will be presented in 16 venues in downtown Manhattan. With attendance topping 75,000 people, FringeNYC is New York City’s fifth largest event (just behind New York International Auto Show, Tribeca Film Festival, New York City Marathon, and New York Comic Con).

After beginning advance sales a week earlier than in previous years, FringeNYC will open on Friday with more sold out performances than ever before. At press time, 47 performances are sold out and two shows, “Maybe Tomorrow” and Feelings …,” have sold out their entire run. Shows with individual performances that have sold out include: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again,” “Father Kennedy,” “Popesical,” “Elaine Stritch: Still Here,” “An Inconvenient Poop,” “Schooled,” “Far From Canterbury,” “Parthenogenesis,” “Ripple of Hope,” “The Bad German,’ “Lucky Chick,” “Your Love Our Musical,” “Above Us,” “Small Membership,” “The Buffalo,” “butyou'reaman or: The Seven Men I Came Out to in India,” “The American Play,” “The Boy From Bantay,” “To Each Their Own,” “Type What Now,” “Baba,” “Bed Beth and Beyond,” “Shake The Earth,” and “To Dance - The Musical.” Nearly two dozen more performances have only a handful of tickets available. Shows leading the pack in overall ticket sales include: “Divine/Intervention,” “Far From Canterbury,” Popesical,” “The Report,” “Hell is For Real,’ “Virgin Sacrifice,” and “Beware The Chupacabra!”

If a show you want to see is sold out, never fear, you may have another shot; this year, FringeNYC inaugurates FringeFAVES. On August 30th, the final performance slot in each of the 16 theaters hosting the festival will be given to the best-selling show in that venue. The actual shows will not be announced until the final week of the festival, but the slots are currently on sale (at www.fringenyc.org/special-events/fringefaves). Patrons can buy tickets now and be surprised or wait and find out if their favorite show grabs one of the coveted slots.

FringeNYC is a production of The Present Company, under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Elena K. Holy. In 1997, New York City became the seventh US city to host a fringe festival, joining Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Houston, Orlando and San Francisco. FringeNYC has presented over 3000 performing groups representing every continent, prompting Switzerland's national daily, Neue Zuercher Zeitung, to declare FringeNYC as “the premiere meeting ground for alternative artists.”

FringeNYC shows run 2pm - midnight weekdays and noon - midnight on weekends. Tickets are $18 each ($13 for kids under 12 for FringeJR shows only), available at www.FringeNYC.org. Discount passes for multiple shows (including the Fiver and the all-you-can-see Lunatic Pass) are also available. Tickets can also be purchased in person at FringeCentral (56 E 1st Street between 1st & 2nd Aves) beginning August 7. For more information visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 13, 2015

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