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“This Is Mary Brown” at La MaMa (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)

Winsome Brown (Photo Credit - La Mama Website)
“This Is Mary Brown” at La MaMa (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)
Written and Performed by Winsome Brown
Directed by Brad Rouse
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Everything seems to be in place in Winsome Brown’s one woman tribute to her late mother Mary. Ms. Brown has gathered stories from her mother’s life, written a script which tells those stories from the points of view of a cast of fifteen characters (in addition to several Irish cousins), used more than the requisite number of rich tropes, and packaged it in a palatable seventy minute performance – a product she intends to take to this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And although Ms. Brown's commitment to honoring her feisty mother’s memory is admirable, there are concerns about the overall success of this well received performance piece.

“This Is Mary Brown” is episodic in structure (not linear), character driven, depends on a variety of points of view, and employs the use of strong imagery and often compelling figurative language. What is missing unfortunately is much needed emotional connection to the characters Ms. Brown has created. One comes away from this piece not really knowing who Mary Brown was and why she is such a morally ambiguous individual. A woman who flicks cigarette ashes into her child’s hands, fails to respond quickly to the report that her young son has been electrocuted, and fails to deal with her addictive behavior is somehow less than endearing – unless somehow that matrix of behaviors is redemptive. There is no sense of redemptive catharsis in Winsome Brown’s convoluted script.

Adding to this is the cast of poorly defined “supporting characters.” No one is really likable. Funny, yes. Likable, no. And the actor Winsome Brown does not distinguish between these characters in her performance. Perhaps Ms. Brown is too close to this material and should hand the role over to another actor. Or perhaps director Brad Rouse needs to better assist the playwright gain emotional distance from the script.

The script itself needs attention. There are scenes which seem completely extraneous or wrongly placed in the narrative. And the final scenes are troubling as well. Mary’s remorseful speech is not convincing and the audience really does not care about Mary’s husband Covell’s daughter Tracy’s gluten allergies. And whether or not the priest administering extreme unction is gay is puzzling and out of place.

The audience is clear about one thing: Winsome Brown loves her mother deeply and attempts to pay homage to her memory in this tribute script. Perhaps that is enough. But one longs for more understanding about the woman who breaks hospital rules when she brings her son Nicholas a new bike covered up on a gurney she wheels to his bedside. In its current incarnation, this understanding is missing and whether is can be included before the Edinburg Festival Fringe remains an open question.

THIS IS MARY BROWN

Presented by La MaMa Earth. The creative team includes Michael O’Connor (lighting design), Jane DiBartolo (stage manager), James Physick (production manager), and Jack Reynolds (light board operator). Photo credit - La Mama Website.

Scheduled through June 28, THIS IS MARY BROWN performs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $18; $13 for students/seniors. To purchase tickets, visit www.lamama.org or call 646 430 5374.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, June 26, 2015

“My Perfect Mind” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)

Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge - Photo by Manuel Harlan
“My Perfect Mind” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)
Written by Kathryn Hunter, Paul Hunter, and Edward Petherbridge
Directed by Kathryn Hunter
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Who we are, who we were, who we think we are, who we think we were, who others think we are, and who others think we were is the stuff of the process of examining one’s practice – even the stuff of metacognition. Such thinking can be restorative or contemplative; however, often it results in a kind of restlessness that skews one’s perception of the world or even one’s perception of one’s self. "Restless Mind Syndrome” sufferers lie awake for hours, deprived of sleep, thoughts and images racing through their minds in a seemingly unstoppable barrage of data demanding attention and/or resolution. “My Perfect Mind” splays the contents of Edward Petherbridge’s post-stroke mind in kaleidoscopic wonder across the stage at 59E59 as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival.

Edward Petherbridge suffered a stroke just before starting rehearsals of “King Lear” at one point in his long career and, despite having a long recovery from the effects of the stroke, the whole lot of “Lear” remained in his mind. Mr. Petherbridge enacts scenes from "Lear" throughout “My Perfect Mind” (including the scene from which the title originates) and each enactment is a tribute to the actor’s enormous talent. Paul Hunter (as a host of interesting characters drawn from theatre, film, and television) plays various roles from “Lear” and the pair are at the same time profoundly touching and oddly hilarious.

On Michael Vale’s dramatically raked stage (complete with trapdoor) and a set stuffed full of theatrical accoutrements (thunder, rain, wind machines), the pair use the stuff of “Lear” to celebrate survival and longevity of spirit and resilience of mind. Directed with care by co-writer Kathryn Hunter, “My Perfect Mind” becomes Everyman’s opportunity to examine the often thin line between sanity and that which is not sanity and traverse that line with dignity and hope.

Whether it is advice from professional colleagues (Sir Laurence Olivier, for example) or from our post-stroke memories or from things we learn about our Dads long after they are gone, it is all part of the “telling of who we are” and the sorting out of what is real and what is not, what makes sense and what does not. And this is the gritty stuff of “My Perfect Mind” currently running at 59E59 Theaters. See it before June 28.

MY PERFECT MIND

Produced by Told by an Idiot, Young Vic, and Theatre Royal Plymouth, MY PERFECT MIND is part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). The creative team for “My Perfect Mind” includes Michael Vale (designer), Alex Wardle for Charcoalbue (lighting designer), Gregory Clarke (sound designer), Andy Beardmore (production manager), and Devin Day (AEA stage manager). Production photos by Manuel Harlan.

MY PERFECT MIND begins performances on Wednesday, June 10 for a limited engagement through Sunday, June 28. 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 an additional performance on Sunday, June 21 at 7 PM. Tickets are $70 ($49 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.

WITH: Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, June 25, 2015

“Cuddles” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)

Carla Langley and Rendah Heywood in "Cuddles" - Photo by Alex Beckett
“Cuddles” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)
By Joseph Wilde
Directed by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose, And nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free.” Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby Mcgee”

Under the guise of a grippingly gory vampire story, Joseph Wilde’s “Cuddles” exposes more than throbbing veins. His sharp and witty (actually, it is) tale of two sisters living a symbiotic life in the elder’s home exposes the throbbing and broken hearts of two women whose co-existence has bordered more on mutual control than mutual love and just might be no longer necessary for survival. How can the younger exist without the supply of the elder’s blood? Therein lies the wonderful conflict between two well developed and – oddly - easily accessible characters. “Cuddles” is part of the very smart Brtis Off Broadway Festival currently running at 59E59 Theaters.

What happens when Tabby (the witch?) meets Eve (the mother of all humankind?) is not unlike when any two humans conspire to stay together after history or chance or necessity tosses them together. And that is the brilliance and the challenge of Mr. Wilde’s well-crafted play. For reasons which are disclosed ever so subtly throughout the play, Tabby (Rendah Heywood) has sacrificed much of her life to “care for” her younger sister Eve (Carla Langley). This caregiving includes sometimes chaining Eve to her attic bed and – when jam sandwiches seem not to sate Eve – allowing Eve to satisfy her vampire hunger for blood with a fix of blood from Tabby’s veins. When this relationship becomes too stressful, one or the other of the sisters utters “cuddles” and a hug (of varying degrees) follows.

But hugs are not enough for this star-crossed pair and one (Eve) fears the other will one day not return home from work and the other (Tabby) is beginning to feel more trapped than her sister. She meets someone and would like to develop a relationship that does not include the loss of blood (sometimes more than she bargains for). Eventually Tabby needs to disclose the secret she has kept since Eve’s untimely birth, the secret that cannot be disclosed here.

Carla Langley is absolutely brilliant at the vampire sister Eve. Ms. Langley gives Eve the cunning charm of the First Woman who, though tempted, knows how to seduce others into her Fall. And Rendah Heywood counterpoints Ms. Langley’s performance with explosive witch-full antics. Her Tabby is at the same time wounded and warrior. Rebecca Atkinson-Lord’s meticulous direction moves the performance in brilliant twists and turns that expose layer after delicious layer of Joseph Wilde’s stunning script.

Tabby vows never to leave Eve but Eve keeps a few things under her bed just in case Tabby gets a case of wanderlust. Prepare to be surprised. There is no vampire tale quite like “Cuddles” and all lovers of the Gothic should see it before it dissembles on June 28.

CUDDLES

Presented by Arch 468 and Ovalhouse at part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters. The design team includes James Turner (production design); Pablo Baz (lighting design); Edward Lewis (sound design). The fight director is Mathew McKay. The production stage manager is Cressa Amundsen. Production photos are by Alex Beckett.

CUDDLES runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, June 28. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 & 7:30 PM. (Please note there is no 7:30 performance on Sunday, June 28.) Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 75 minutes with no intermission.

WITH: Rendah Heywood and Carla Langley.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, June 25, 2015

“Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre at the Gym at Judson (Through Saturday June 27, 2015)

Brian Miskell and Seth Numrich - Photo by Joan Marcus
“Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre at the Gym at Judson (Through Saturday June 27, 2015)
Written and Directed by Daniel Talbott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Remember that feeling? Of endless energy?/Endless joy? Like when you’d have your/parents’ car late at night with your friends? All/the windows down? In the summer? Loud/music? Your hands on the wheel? Everything/felt so strong? So easy? So light?/Where is that?/Who feels that anymore?” – Mom to Smith

Daniel Talbott has written one of the best surreal, kaleidoscopic fables about not just the horrific legacy of combat on “foreign” soil but perhaps more importantly about the specter of all human conflict – physical, psychological, and spiritual. The unnamed military outpost that serves as the setting for Daniel Talbott’s “Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” serves as a trope for all of the “mental wards in the middle of the desert” where feelings become numb and connections to moral centers become unhinged.

On the surface, this challenging and well-constructed play centers around the conflicts between Smith (Seth Numrich), Leadem (Brian Miskell), Miller (Chris Stack), and their collective demons past, present, and future. Those demons include the Serbian woman (Jelena Stupljanin) who introduces the play and serves as the soldiers’ superego and the fusillade of hallucinations that both anchor the three men and challenges them to ultimately question the possibility and desirability of survival. Beneath the surface, covering the play’s underbelly, is an absurdist exploration of the meaning of life and the ability of the species to survive (yes, it is that dark).

Raul Abrego’s multilayered set, covered with the dry desert sand that stretches into the audience, connects profoundly to the creviced contours of the brain and the elusive mind that mysteriously counterpoints the more tangible structures of the brain. Just as the audience steps carefully over uneven terrain to get to their seats, actors and audience members are challenged to stumble over repressed memories and navigate their own issues of survival. The specter of discomfort pervades the spaces of set and mind.

The cast is uniformly brilliant. Seth Numrich brings a tortured authenticity to his portrayal of Smith the young soldier who attempts to hold onto the belief that somehow what he has done in the desert mattered and that someone was on the way to rescue him and his mates. Abject angst pours from every pore of Mr. Numrich’s being as he gives life to the deconstruction of his character Smith. Brian Miskell gives a charming vulnerability to Leadem who leans heavily on his vivid imagination to survive the desert. Chris Stack’s Miller completes the trio of soldiers awaiting rescue. Mr. Stack brings a frenetic presence into the well-established family system and manages to add his character’s own brand of dysfunction to daily life in the outpost.

This talented cast is rounded out by the equally talented Jimi Stanton (Brother), Kathryn Erbe (Mom), Andy Striph (Soldier 4), and Stephen Dexter (Soldier 5). Ms. Erbe is a powerful presence as the hallucination (“Do you think they’re real?” Leadem asks) that not only haunts Smith repeatedly but eventually ushers him into a new and unfamiliar place. More cannot be said about this encounter without a spoiler alert.

Just as the spoils of war continue to leave trails of death, destruction, rape, suicide, and despair so the spoils of living leave trails of joylessness, ennui, weakness, numbness, regret, and guilt. Soldiers of war and soldiers of civilian life hunker down waiting for reinforcements or for much-needed supplies which, more often than not, never arrive or fail to arrive on time. Whether it be Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Kuwait, Charleston, Birmingham, Ferguson, or Aurora (among many other outposts) these soldiers long for times of peace, justice, equality, freedom, joy. Daniel Talbott raises profoundly rich questions in his new drama that resound far from the battlefields of war.

AFGHANISTAN, ZIMBABWE, AMERICA, KUWAIT

Written and directed by Daniel Talbott. Presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre and piece by piece Productions. The set design for “Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” is by Raul Abrego; costume design is by Tristan Raines; lighting design is by Joel Moritz; sound design is by John Zalewski; projection design is by Dave Tennent; violence and dance choreography by UnkleDave’s Fight-House. Production photos are by Joan Marcus.

“Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait” plays Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday at 7:00 p.m. at The Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street. Tickets are $45.00 and may be purchased by visiting www.ovationtix.com; by phoning 866-811-4111; or by going to the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater box office, 224 Waverly Place, Monday through Friday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Student tickets are $10.00 and are available for advance sale at the Rattlestick box office with a valid student ID. For more information about “Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait,” please visit www.rattlestick.org. The running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Stephen Dexter, Kathryn Erbe, Brian Miskell, Seth Numrich, Chris Stack, Jimi Stanton, Andy Striph, and Jelena Stupljanin.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, June 23, 2015

“The Spoils” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)

Cast of "The Spoils" - Photo by Monique Carboni
“The Spoils” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday June 28, 2015)
Written by Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Jesse Eisenberg's "The Spoils," currently running at the New Group, is the “This Is Our Youth” for the twenty-first century millennial generation and captures the angst of this generation with gripping honesty and often disturbing realism. The complicated dynamics between the protagonist Ben (Jesse Eisenberg), his Nepalese roommate Kalyan (played with a charming innocence by Kunal Nayyar), Kalyan’s girlfriend Reshma (played with a steely veneer by Annapurna Sriram), Ben’s high school mate Ted (played with the right mix of naiveté and revenge by Michael Zegen) and his fiancé Sarah (played with splendid resolute dignity by Erin Darke) enliven the iconic Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and splay the stage at the Pershing Square Signature Center with identification, projection, delusional behavior, magical thinking (to name but a few) and near ego strength meltdown. Mr. Eisenberg’s script is the best on or off Broadway at the present time and for quite some time before.

Ben lives in a New York City apartment (a splendid design by Derek McLane) purchased for him by his father. He is a (sometimes) filmmaker, having – through a “mutual falling out” – left NYU believing the University “did not know how to think of him, what little box to put him in.” Ben invites Kaylan – who have come to the United States from Nepal to start a new life - to be his roommate and a relationship brimming with classism and racism ensues despite Ben’s seeming bromance with Kaylan. In an offbeat way, Kaylan is Ben’s doppelganger. Kaylan’s quest to make sense of living as a stranger in a strange land parallels Ben’s identical quest: Ben does not quite fit in and is out of synch with his environment. Despite his mantra that “the best revenge is a life well lived” he simply cannot achieve that goal and he alienates everyone in his circle of friends.

The apartment becomes a war zone as Ben manages to alienate not only Kaylan, but Reshma, Ted, and Sarah. To detail the emotional warfare waged by Ben would require a spoiler alert. It is enough to know that Ben intends to leave no survivors in his verbal and emotional assaults – all meant to isolate himself and become the champion of self-effacement. And the actual success of his friends – new and old – and the rebuff from Sarah (after he makes advances toward her) push Ben further to the dissolution of his ego strength. The spoils of this inter and intra psychological battle spread across the stage – neatly symbolized by Ben’s burst bag of microwaved popcorn that leaves its contents like fallout from a nuclear blast. Scott Elliott’s direction throughout is exacting and supports the entire cast in delivering outstanding performances that explore the depths of the human psyche with deliberate honesty and authenticity.

In one of the plays most engaging scenes, Ben lashes out at Kalyan, "The thing that the world has been telling you to do at every turn. It’s why your f**ing girlfriend won’t commit. It’s why you can’t get a job at that place. It’s why people like me aren’t going to let you freeload forever. Everything is pointing in one direction for you but you keep walking the other way.” Ben is not really speaking to Kalyan here; rather, Ben is speaking of himself and his situation. It is not until Ben experiences this cathartic moment that he can begin to heal and Sarah further enables that healing with her touching story of eleven-year-old Ben’s rescue of Inga Lushenko, his grade school classmate from the Ukraine. None of the students would go near her because of childish rumors she “had like deadly radiation that was really contagious.” Ben proved Inga was able to be touched, to be cared for and Sarah – despite being abused by Ben – wants Ben to know that he is “not radioactive” and is capable of being embraced and restored to the community he has alienated himself from.

Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of twenty-something Ben is brilliant. The actor is always in the moment and his every move defines his character’s failure to come to terms with his inability to cope with disappointment and rejection. Watching Mr. Eisenberg navigate the vicissitudes of Ben’s experience puts the audience members in touch with their own sense of alienation and cultural ennui. One would expect to see “The Spoils” on stage beyond its current run scheduled to end on Sunday June 28, 2015.

THE SPOILS

“The Spoils” is presented by The New Group (Artistic Director Scott Elliott and Executive Director Adam Bernstein) and is directed by Scott Elliott. “The Spoils” features Erin Darke as Sarah, Jesse Eisenberg as Ben, Kunal Nayyar as Kalyan, Annapurna Sriram as Reshma and Michael Zegen as Ted. This production includes Set Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Susan Hilferty, Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski, Sound Design by Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen and Projection Design by Olivia Sebesky. Production photos are by Monique Carboni.

Performances of “The Spoils” take place at The Pershing Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street in Manhattan through Sunday June 28, 2015 and run on the following schedule: Tuesday - Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00pm; Sunday at 2:00 p.m.; with Wednesday matinees at 2:00 p.m. on June 10 and June 24. For further information and to purchase tickets ($77.00 - $97.00), please visit http://www.thenewgroup.org/the-spoils.html or call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, June 08, 2015

"Nice Girl" at the Labyrinth Theatre Company at Bank Street Theater (Through Sunday June 21, 2015)

Diane Davis and Kathryn Kates in "Nice Girl" - Photo by Monique Carboni
"Nice Girl" at the Labyrinth Theatre Company at Bank Street Theater (Through Sunday June 21, 2015)
Written by Melissa Ross
Directed by Mimi O'Donnell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

What is a nice girl to do when her grieving mother insists she keep the promise made to her now deceased father that she would return home from her freshman year of college after the funeral to care for her mother? If the young woman were nineteen it might seem a reasonable and necessary – although temporary – decision: suspend matriculation at college, spend some bereavement time with mum, and return to her studies. Unfortunately, this is not the case In Melissa Ross’s new play “Nice Girl,” currently playing at the Labyrinth Theatre Company. Josephine Rosen (Diane Davis) the nice girl is late thirty-something and never returned to college, never dated, never married and is now - in her words - a spinster. And her mother Francine (Kathryn Kates) is an insufferable and controlling agoraphobic hypochondriac who never encouraged her daughter to return to college and has sacrificed Josephine on the altar of arrested development.

Josephine is part of a dysfunctional extended family that includes her mother, her co-worker Sherry and Sherry’s married (but promising soon-not-to-be) love interest Donny (Nick Cordero). Needing rescue from a string of married cads promising to abandon their loveless marriage to take Sherry to wife, Sherry is certain Donny is the one – after all he’s a neurologist. “He’s like a gynecologist,” Sherry tells Francine, “except he’s for men.” In those few words, playwright Melissa Ross manages to define the wonderful character of Sherry played with a clueless competence by Liv Rooth. Sherry ignites Josephine’s latent desire to be separated and individuated from the clawing claustrophobia of her life with Francine and – combined with a new love interest Josephine finds in the local butcher – pushes Josephine to the tipping point.

It only takes one member of a dysfunctional family system to bring that system to dissolution and in this interesting new play, Josephine is that change agent. No longer willing to be at her mother’s beck and call, she informs her mother she is moving out. That announcement puts Francine’s controlling behavior into hyper drive (perhaps the climax of the dramatic arc) and the falling action – further driven by Josephine’s discovery that her butcher might have a split personality – provides a solid tragi-comedic theatre experience. Directed meticulously but at times unevenly by Mimi O’Donnell, the competent ensemble cast brings rich authentic performances to their characters, each seeking in her or his unique way, to hold on to or discover some semblance of a loving relationship.

Diane Davis brings depth and dimension to her character Josephine. Her ‘nice girl’ is brimming with repressed anger and guilt and Ms. Davis’s performance gives a realistic balance between that bubbling rage and the fear involved in removing the character from the dysfunction. Kathryn Kates is the perfect mother unwilling to let go of her daughter because she refuses to abandon two decades of bereavement and move on with her life. Francine is not a likeable character and sometimes Ms. Kates might ratchet up her character’s controlling demeanor. Nick Cordero’s puppy-eyed Donny is the perfect counterpoint to Sherry’s naiveté and Josephine’s innocence and his performance is solid. Director Mimi O’Donnell might have challenged her cast to deepen the connections between the characters particularly the bittersweet relationship between daughter and mother.

David Meyer’s multipurpose set functions splendidly and makes use of every corner of the Labyrinth Theatre Company’s stage. Sliding and rotating walls function seamlessly and, nicely lighted by Japhy Weideman, these walls envelope the play’s action with authentic charm.

At the play’s end, Josephine waits outside on the porch for her ride to a new life. Someone has promised to help her escape her self-inflicted prison. The audience wonders if the car lights illuminating the driveway are those of her rescue vehicle or perhaps something else Francine has concocted to further delay her daughter’s ascent into adulthood. “Nice Girl” is a delicious bit of theatre well worth the visit.

NICE GIRL

The creative team for “Nice Girl” includes David Meyer (set design), Emily Rebholz (costume design), Japhy Weideman (lighting design), Ryan Rumery (sound and music), and Dennis O’Leary-Gullo (production manager). Production photos by Monique Carboni. At the Bank Street Theater, 155 Bank Street in the West Village, 212-513-1080, www.labtheater.org Through June 21. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes with one intermission.

With: Nick Cordero, Diane Davis, Kathryn Kates, and Liv Rooth.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, June 08, 2015

“A Queen for a Day” at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (Through Sunday July 26, 2015)

Vincent Pastore and David Proval in
“A Queen for a Day” at the Theatre at St. Clement’s (Through Sunday July 26, 2015)
Written by Michael Ricigliano, Jr.
Directed by John Gould Rubin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When Giovanni (David Proval) tells his attorney Sanford Weiss (David Deblinger), "I shouldn’t be here,” only he knows why that is true and the audience will not know until minutes before the end of Michael Ricigliano, Jr.’s beguiling thriller “A Queen for a Day” currently running at the Theatre at St. Clement’s in New York City. Mr. Ricigliano’s script is pure mob-inspired drama and – in a compelling way – examines the meaning of loyalty, family, and trust. The play also examines the limits of those phenomena: is there a tipping point where acceptance ends and non-acceptance begins?

That tipping point for Giovanni “Nino” Cinquimani’s Family Boss brother Pasquale (Vincent Pastore) is all about sexual status. Nino thinks he and his attorney have arranged to negotiate a proffer agreement with U.S. Attorney Patricia Cole (Portia) – a one day only immunity Queen for a Day deal. All Nino has to do is turn on his brother and all his own past transgressions will be forgiven – along with a new identity. Playwright Michael Ricigliano makes it clear from the start things are not going to work out in this deal: Nino does not feel the warehouse meeting spot is safe and he is missing Mass to mess with the government.

And Nino is quite right. Both he and his attorney have been duped by Pasquale who sets up the meeting to confirm a directive he gave Nino in the past regarding Nino’s lover Jimmy. To say more about that particular directive would require a spoiler alert; however, confirming his brother’s relationship to Jimmy and Nino’s sexual status is enough for Pasquale to do what he has to do to preserve organized crime’s cloaks of loyalty and trust.

Actor Portia is the perfect plant for the U.S. Attorney and skillfully sways between interrogator and confidant as her character slowly excoriates Nino. And the rest of the ensemble cast – David Deblinger, Vincent Pastore, and David Proval – make an easy transition from their former “The Sopranos” roles into their roles in “Queen for a Day.” All four actors deliver authentic and convincing performances of characters struggling with their commitments to self and family and try to enter the unfamiliar territory of forgiveness. Each manages to bring an honest dose of moral ambiguity to their characters giving them depth and richness.

"A Queen for a Day" is a powerful trope (here an extended metaphor) for all of the decisions that need to be made quickly. Life delivers a multitude of Proffers to humankind and it is the way women and men respond to those offers that defines character. The audience will need to decide whether Pasquale made the “right” choice or simply the expedient choice, the selfish choice, the survival choice.

A QUEEN FOR A DAY

“A Queen for a Day” is written by Michael Ricigliano Jr. and directed by John Gould Rubin. The creative team includes: Andreea Mincic (Set Designer), Bobby Tilley (Costume Designer), Isabella F. Byrd (Lighting Designer), Leon Rothenberg (Sound Designer), Arielle Toelke (Effects Designer), Libby Jensen (Production Manager), Erin Cass (Stage Manager) and Cheryl Dennis (General Manager). Presented in association with Steve Acunto and Ric Zivic. Production photos by Russell Rowland.

“A Queen for a Day” runs through July 26, 2015 at Theatre at St. Clement’s located at 423 West 46 Street (Between 9th & 10th Ave). “A Queen for a Day” plays Sunday - Tuesday at 7:00 PM; Thursday – Saturday at 8:00 PM with matinees on Saturday at 2:00 PM; Sunday at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $49.00-$99.00 and can be purchased by visiting www.AQueenForADayPlay.com, or by calling Ovationtix (866) 811-4111.The running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

The cast includes David Deblinger, Portia, Vincent Pastore, and David Proval.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Sunday, May 31, 2015

“The Assistant” Presented by Six Part Productions at the Treehouse Theatre (Through Sunday May 31, 2015)

“The Assistant” Presented by Six Part Productions at the Treehouse Theatre (Through Sunday May 31, 2015)
Written by Ashley Minihan
Directed by Kelly Johnston
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The Human Brain is such a fu** up” says Craig, praising the elegance of a computer and lamenting his learning-disabled daughter. It’s a sad, if vexingly relevant, notion that fits right at home in “The Assistant, “written by Ashley Minihan. (The Sunrise Side, Remission) A show about the future, family, and faulty-wiring, her play is a beautifully delicate balance of intellect, anxiety, and melancholic charm.

The show centers on a family that owns the first ever Empathetic Assistance robot. The machine (named Steven) was created for Julie, an emotionally challenged teenager, by her genius father, Craig. Frustrated with his failures and unwilling (or perhaps unable) to bond with Julie, Craig abandoned his family. This derailment left his exhausted wife Lynn as Julie’s sole provider. When Craig returns to reclaim Steve to jumpstart his waning career, Lynn and Julie rally to defend the synthetic being they’ve grown to love.

The breath, psychosis, and unease of the characters is brought vividly to life by director Kelly Johnston. Johnston’s sophisticated guidance imbues ‘The Assistant’ with the fierceness and awkward comedy it needs to soar. Julie’s severe anxiety issues coupled with Lynn’s mounting frustration erupts with visceral intensity. The comedy is equally as satisfying, most notably the scenes involving Dave, Lynn’s lovesick co-worker. Josh Evans brings a delightfully painful awkwardness to the stage as Dave; he’s a perfect flipside to Shana Wiersum's frantic, end-of-her-rope Lynn, who just wants a little peace and quiet.

The robot, played with flawless diligence by Jamie Geiger, is eons away from the sexy metallic sociopath seen so often on stage and screen. Steven is exactly what one would expect from an android prototype: He’s imperceptive, buggy, and (as Dave cleverly points out) is more akin to a grandparent with dementia than anything else. Steven’s goal in life is to help Julie (portrayed with violent distress by Gina Trebiani) and along the way, his programming allows him to make certain connections, leading to a genuine care for her. Is Steven sentient? Probably, but "The Assistant" is not about the humanity of robots. Instead, the play brings to light just how machine-like the human brain can actually be. The neuroses of the characters, especially Julie, are impeccably comparable to faulty computer programming; the humans descend to the machine’s level, rather than the machine ‘rising’ to theirs.

It’s a tragicomically blunt lesson, but in the end, hope prevails. As Steven surmounts his hard-wiring to love Julie (instead of just asking her how she’s feeling) there’s the faint, unquenchable optimism that we can do the same. Despite our massive fears to the contrary, the whole, suggest Minihan, might still be more than the sum of its parts.

THE ASSISTANT

Written by Ashley Minihan, Directed by Kelly Johnston. Featuring David Bunch, Josh Evans, Jamie Geiger, Gina Trebiani and Shana Wiersum. Susannah Baron, Lighting design. Ian Wehrle, Sound and Projection design. Leslie Ann Ken, Stage manager. Photos by Andrew Wilchak.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Sunday, May 31, 2015

Anthony Burgess’ “One Hand Clapping” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday May 31, 2015)

Eve Burley and Oliver Devoti in "Anthony Burgess' One Hand Clapping" - Photo by Emma Phillipson
Anthony Burgess’ “One Hand Clapping” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday May 31, 2015)
Adapted and Directed by Lucia Cox
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The world is going to hell in a handbasket and Howard Shirley (Oliver Devoti) knows that perhaps better than anyone. Not only does he have a photographic memory, but he is clairvoyant so Howard – if anyone would - knows the center is not holding and it might be time for him and his wife to check out. In an impassioned plea, Howard tells his wife Janet (Eve Burley), “It’s a rotten world, love. We gave it a chance. We fed money into it like it was a big machine and it paid out nothing. And it’s all collapsing all around us, decaying with rottenness. It won’t last much longer if it goes on as it is going on. It’ll be finished soon.”

Using his extraordinary powers, Howard amasses enough money to buy Janet the things he feels she deserves and to travel to the United States with her before returning home and disclosing his plan to execute a suicide pact to remove the couple from the “one big disappointment” of life. “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” (Robert Burns) and Howard’s well thought out scheme fails in the end (but not to his end) as “One Hand Clapping” concludes. This failure is the result of Janet’s tryst with Redvers Glass (Adam Urey) and her fear of “eternal fire and torment” after “doing away” with oneself.

Under Lucia Cox’s careful direction, the ensemble cast successfully brings Ms. Cox’s adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel to the stage and challenges the audience to examine its culpability in the alleged downturn in the affairs of humankind. Like the “very, very strong” American sleeping pills Howard plans to use to end his life, every culture creates ways to induce insomnia in its citizens and, with Janet” to see “it’s not too bad of a world when you come to look at it.” Oliver Devoti is perfectly stoic and armed with reason in his role as Howard. Eve Burley brings a blend of innocence and devilishness to her portrayal of Janet. And Adam Urey balances naiveté with cunning debauchery in his dual roles as Red and the game show host Laddie O’Neill.

It is easy to mistake “One Hand Clapping” for a diatribe against global consumerism; however, its polemic is more far-reaching and nihilistic. Anthony Burgess is questioning the ability of society to survive. The consumerism evident on the television screens on Meriel Pym’s (appropriately) claustrophobic set is only one of many symptoms of the decay and rottenness Howard senses. And placing the fireplace poker and the hammer in reach of the audience is a brilliant trope for “everyman’s” culpability in all that’s rotten in Denmark and beyond.

ANTHONY BURGESS’ ONE HAND CLAPPING

Written by Anthony Burgess and adapted and directed by Lucia Cox. The design team includes Meriel Pym (sets, props and costume design) and Owen Rafferty (sound and video design). The production stage manager is Cressa Amundsen. Production photos by Emma Phillipson. Anthony Burgess’ “One Hand Clapping” is presented by House of Orphans (Manchester UK) and runs for a limited engagement through Sunday May 31, 2015. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM & 7:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 75 minutes without interval.

Anthony Burgess' “One Hand Clapping” features Eve Burley, Oliver Devoti, and Adam Urey.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Simon Callow in “Tuesday’s at Tesco’s” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 7, 2015)

Simon Callow in "Tuesdays at Tesco's", part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59
Simon Callow in “Tuesday’s at Tesco’s” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday June 7, 2015)
By Emmanuel Darley, Adapted and Translated by Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande
Directed by Simon Stokes
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"Tuesdays that’s that. I spend the day there doing this and that dusting and all sorts. I shake out the tablecloth. I change the sheets. I empty the bin.” Pauline in “Tuesdays at Tesco’s”

The only thing that interrupts the samsara of Pauline's (Simon Callow) hum-drum life is the string of dream ballets that spontaneously burst forth from the piano in her cramped apartment, or from inside the cramped interior of her expansive mind when she is out an about. These brief balletic romps remind Pauline of the life that could have been if only she were loved unconditionally and nonjudgmentally by her father for whom she cares and shops on Tuesdays.

Pauline’s father wants his son Paul back, the Paul who from childhood knew he was a girl - not a son, a daughter. But her father will not, cannot accept his transgender adult daughter though she caters to his every need. He seems able to tell a friend he has a daughter but that “confession” is not enough to redeem his insolence and his rabid intolerance of Pauline.

Robin Don’s set clearly defines the repetitive nature of Pauline’s life from which she attains liberation and sanctity not through practice but through an unexpected and unwelcomed incident on the night before the Tuesday she determined not to submit to her father’s abusive ranting. Conor Mitchell is splendid as the onstage musician whose “unfinished symphony” counterpoints Pauline’s unfinished journey from self-acceptance to freedom from external judgement.

Under Simon Stokes’ direction, Mr. Callow wrestles Emmanuel Darley’s sparse story and manages to kick it to the curb, finding within the few morsels of transcendence that make his performance authentic and memorable. But it is not an easy match. The script – as translated and adapted by Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande – is full of repetition and leaves the actor the daunting task of creating a believable character. Mr. Callow is successful in this effort and his Pauline emerges as a transgender woman who has all her life struggled to simply be what she has “always been as I am now me myself a woman.”

"Tuesdays at Tesco's" is - because of Mr. Callow - a rich examination of the interior-scape of a transgender woman and invites the audience to examine its collective trove of misconceptions and prejudices about all who simply want to, in Pauline’s words, affirm “I am as I am. Myself me and that’s that.”

SIMON CALLOW IN TUESDAYS AT TESCO’S

Produced by Richard Darbourne Ltd. in association with Assembly & Riverside Studios, “Tuesdays at Tesco’s” is part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). The creative team includes Robin Don (set and costume design), Chahine Yavroyan (lighting design), Quinny Sacks (movement director), Tara Llewellyn (wardrobe), and Jess Johnston (production stage manager). Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Tuesdays at Tesco’s” runs at 59E59 Theaters through Sunday, June 7. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 PM; Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 2:00 PM & 8:00 PM; and Sunday at 3:00 PM & 7:00 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 80 minutes without interval.

In addition to Simon Callow, the cast includes Conor Mitchell.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, May 20, 2015

“Cool Hand Luke” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 31st, 2015)

(L to R) Jason Stanley, Julia Torres, Lawrence Jansen and Nick Paglino in "Cool Hand Luke" - Photo by Jason Woodruff
“Cool Hand Luke” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 31st, 2015)
Written by Donn Pearce and Adapted for the Stage by Emma Reeves
Directed by Joe Tantalo
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"No more my Lord/No more my Lord/Lord, I’ll never turn back/No more my Lord” (Traditional American Spiritual, Composed for Choir by R. Nathaniel Dett)

What matters about “Cool Hand Luke” is the corpus of enduring questions Donn Pearce’s rich text raises and what matters about Emma Reeves’ stage adaptation of the 1965 novel is whether or not those enduring questions transfer from Pearce’s rich word to the engaging adaptation of the novel currently running at 59E59 Theaters. On the surface, "Cool Hand Luke” is about the troubled Luke Jackson (played with the perfect balance of grit and vulnerability by Lawrence Jansen), the war veteran who takes the tops off parking meters to make ends meet and it might appear this is the story of a specific man against the broken and unjust system he encounters. However, when one strips away issues of sexual status, age, and race, “Cool Hand Luke” is ultimately an extended metaphor (an allegory) for every person’s struggle with systems that violate rather than free the human spirit. The play effectively raises rich and deep questions through this extended metaphor.

“Cool Hand Luke” raises important questions that transcend the text. How well does America care for its war veterans? How effective is the justice system at rehabilitating convicted criminals? The engaging play raises even more rich and deep questions like: “What is forgiveness?” Is faith in a superior being necessary? Do political, economic, and education systems “enslave” participants? Are systems more interested in conformity (“getting the mind right”) or creativity? Is it possible to escape oppression? Is there no other world but the world we experience in the present? Does that world define us? When Luke is captured and returned to prison after a successful escape, his mates ask him to tell them “the way it was supposed to be.” Luke replies, “Cain’t help ya fellas. Guess there is no other world but this.”

When is enough oppression enough? This is perhaps the most compelling rich question raised by “Cool Hand Luke” and the question continues to be raised by those living on the fringes of “mainstream” and privileged society. This question often explodes with moral ambiguity, the kind of ambiguity expressed by Luke, “Anything I do, no matter how I do it, it’s all wrong. An’ you know what? By now, I don’t even know myself what’s wrong and what ain’t.”

Under Joe Tantalo’s direction, Mr. Jansen and the ensemble cast of "Cool Hand Luke" effectively portray characters locked in systems of oppression - as the oppressed and as the oppressors – with authenticity and exuberant believability. The members of the chain gang, Luke’s fellow inmates, attempt to “play a cool hand” in the game with the prison bosses and those bosses deal hard blows to keep the inmates from getting the upper hand.

The Godlight Theatre Company's commitment to creating original adaptations of modern classical literature is to be commended and should be supported by the theatergoing audience. “Cool Hand Luke” at 59E59 Theaters is clear evidence of the success of this company’s brave mission.

COOL HAND LUKE

“Cool Hand Luke” is written by Donn Pearce and adapted for the stage by Emma Reeves and directed by Joe Tantalo. The design team is Maruti Evans (set and lighting); Ien DeNio (sound); and Orli Nativ (costumes). Rick Sordelet is the fight choreographer. Original music by Bryce Hodgson and Danny Blackburn. The production stage manager and dramaturge is Christina Hurtado-Pierson. The stage manager is Cris Knutson. The production photos are by Jason Woodruff.

“Cool Hand Luke” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, May 31. 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. Tickets are $30.00 ($21.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. The running time is 80 minutes without an intermission.

The cast features Kristina Doelling, Lars Drew, Lawrence Jansen, Mike Jansen, Ken King, Nick Paglino, Jason Stanley, Julia Torres, Brett Warnke, and Jarrod Zayas.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, May 20, 2015

“Forever” at the New York Theatre Workshop (through Sunday May 31st, 2015)

“Forever” at the New York Theatre Workshop (through Sunday May 31st, 2015)
Created and performed by Dael Orlandersmith
Directed by Neel Keller
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.” Richard Wright, “Black Boy” (1945)

With rhythms more reminiscent of song than spoken word, Dael Orlandersmith’s “Forever” is a requiem with three movements with a choir of Ms. Orlandersmith’s relatives looking on and an orchestra of audience members in awe of Ms. Orlandersmith’s remarkable artistry. The playwright’s long-awaited trip to Paris and her spiritual encounters with the “ghosts” of Jim Morrison, Richard Wright, Balzac, Modigliani, Piaf, and Oscar Wilde in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery comprise the first movement (the Introitus). These encounters lead her to reflect upon another “ghost” – that of her abusive and alcoholic mother Beula. This ghost “pulls her back” to her birth in October of 1959, through her childhood and adolescence, and to her eventual escape from her mother’s powerful hold.

Ms. Orlandersmith’s haunting recollections of her life with her “cut off, closed off” mother comprise the second and third movements of the “Requiem” (the Sequenz and the Offertorium) and include graphic verbal images of physical and psychological abuse by her mother and sexual abuse and rape by an intruder into her bedroom when she was fourteen. Her rage in the present reflects the depth of the pain inflicted upon her in the past and Ms. Orlandersmith’s performance here is deeply authentic and painfully believable. Ironically, this performance occurred on Mother’s Day perhaps the most saccharine-coated invented holiday in the calendar. Amidst the “hardness” in her mother, there was apparently a “softness” which came to Beula through “books/music/poetry” and often emerged in recitations of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Dreams.” The soft moments seem rare and there are more moments when Beula is “not human” and hurls insults and painful barbs at her daughter Dael. This long middle section of “Forever” is as difficult to see and hear as it must be for the playwright to share.

The only surcease for Dael was her childhood friend Tommy and the relationship was so salvific and redemptive for Dael that her mother forbade it, ended it. The second and third movements include graphic depictions of Dael’s mother’s hospitalization and death and these recollections are as powerful and engaging as the prolonged description of the rape. Under Neel Keller’s expansive direction, Ms. Orlandersmith commands the mindscape set designed by Takeshi Kata, moving in and out of the mood-filled pools of light provided by Mary Louise Geiger and re-membering her struggle for separation and individuation from her mother.

In the final movement of this requiem for her mother (the Communio), Ms. Orlandersmith seems to soften her tone and almost become forgiving of her mother’s abusive behavior. Crediting her mother for her love of books and music seems out of place and insincere. The young girl she sees at her first visit to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery morphs into her mother upon her return visit and Dael confesses that her mother is there with her in her “head/mind forever” and seems to welcome reconciliation with her mother. Obviously, this is Ms. Orlandersmith’s story and one must accept it in its entirety. However, the end of the play just seems out of place, perhaps out of time. Despite the decrescendo of the closing, “Forever” is a formidable piece of theatre full of sound and fury and a stream of consciousness that lingers with the audience long after the lights on the stage have dimmed.

FOREVER

Created and performed by Dael Orlandersmith and directed by Neel Keller. The creative team for “Forever” includes Takeshi Kata (scenic design), Kaye Voyce (costume design), Mary Louise Geiger (lighting design), Adam Phalen (sound design), Joy Meads (dramaturg), and Sunneva Stapleton (stage manager). Production photos by Joan Marcus. Presented the New York Theatre Workshop. At the New York Theater Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, Manhattan; Ticket Central 212-279-4200 or http://nytw.org/tickets.asp. Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, May 15, 2015

Pompie’s Place at Don’t Tell Mama (Through Thursday May 28, 2015)

Ehud Asherie, Lezlie Harrison, Arthur Pomposello, Brianna Thomas, and Hilary Gardner
Pompie’s Place at Don’t Tell Mama (Through Thursday May 28, 2015)
Hosted and Produced by Arthur Pomposello with Beck Lee, Consulting Producer
With Hilary Gardner, Lezlie Harrison, and Brianna Thomas
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

A welcomed case of the blues has landed in Manhattan at the new pop-up blues supper club currently residing at the iconic Don’t Tell Mama on Restaurant Row in midtown Manhattan. Under Ehud Asherie’s music direction, three of New York’s most distinguished blues and jazz singers croon and make the audience swoon with their rich blend of voices and superlative interpretive skills. With Ken Peplowski on reeds, Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Jackie Williams on drums, and David Wong on upright bass, the three chanteuses charm the audience with a program of blues standards that pleases any blues-lover’s palate.

After an introduction by “Pompie” ( producer Arthur Pomposello), the three artists sing solo, in duet, and in trio following a fictional back story provided between each number by the impresario Pompie. Lezlie Harrison delivers a sultry and engaging rendition of “Saint Louis Blues” by the Father of the Blues W. C. Handy. Brianna Thomas struts slowly down one of the aisles singing “Darkness on the Delta” (Jerry Livingston and Marty Symes) a cappella. She finishes on stage with the mike but her rich voice and careful styling hardly require amplification. Hilary Garnder follows with a plaintive “10 Cents a Dance” by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart. The singers have three distinctive vocal qualities and approach their songs with equally distinctive stylings and interpretations of the lyrics.

Other highlights of the evening are Brianna Thomas’s brassy, bawdy, and bluesy rendition of Lil Johnson’s “My Stove’s in Good Condition” which prompted the audience to do its best to “turn [its] damper down”; Lezlie Harrison’s seductive rendition of “Kansas City” (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller); and Hilary Gardner’s hauntingly beautiful rendition of “When I Get Low I Get High” (Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald). The band’s instrumental version of Duke Ellington’s jazz standard “Creole Love Call” highlighted the remarkable skill of each member of the show’s band.

The evening rounds out with duets by Hilary Gardner and Lezlie Harrison (“After You’re Gone”) and Brianna Thomas and Hilary Gardner (“Willow Tree”) and two songs highlighting all three singers (“Mood Indigo” and “Blues in the Night”). Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s lyrics “The evenin' breeze'll start the trees to cryin'/And the moon'll hide it's light/When you get the blues/Blues in the night” capture the mood at the successful start-up of Pompie’s Place where the audience gets a good dose of “blues in the night” and yearns for more.

The setting is intimate and the seating is limited allowing an excellent view of the stage. The three-course meal is delivered quietly by the Don’t Tell Mama staff and the drinks delivered personally by the venue’s bar tender. The menu provides a choice of a market salad or a large bowl of homemade chill (with Mamas amazing cornbread) for the appetizer; pan roasted Atlantic salmon, butternut squash ravioli (with a cream sauce topped with pecans), or baby back BBQ ribs (with garlic mashed potatoes, cornbread, and sautéed vegetables) for the entrée; and either lemon meringue pie or a rocky road brownie for dessert.

POMPIE’S PLACE AT DON’T TELL MAMA

Remaining performances are on Sunday May 10 at 1:00 p.m., Monday May 11 at 7:00 p.m., and Thursday May 28 at 7:00 p.m. at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues). All tickets are $65.00 and include the three-course meal. Drinks and gratuities are separate with a two-drink minimum. For reservations, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.pompiesplace.com Running time is one hour and forty minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, April 17, 2015

“Hand to God” at the Booth Theatre (On Sale through July 26, 2015)

Michael Oberholtzer, Geneva Carr, Steven Boyer, Marc Kudisch, and Sarah Stiles star in "Hand to God" - Photo by Joan Marcus
“Hand to God” at the Booth Theatre (On Sale through July 26, 2015)
By Robert Askins
Directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires."
Sigmund Freud, from “New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis,” 1932

There are soliloquies. There are asides. These are two dramatic conventions that allow the audience to know what an actor is thinking and feeling without the other actors on stage knowing. And now there is Tyrone the sock puppet who turns out to be the darker side of his puppeteer Jason (Steven Boyer) for whom things have not been going so well since the death of his father. Jason fashioned Tyrone for his weekly participation in his mother Margery’s (Geneva Carr) Christian puppet ministry. In that setting with fellow teens Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer) and Jessica (Sarah Stiles), Tyrone begins to find his own voice – or is it really the voice of Jason’s id slowly gaining the upper hand over his ego and superego? This is the stuff of the brilliant and sometimes shockingly disturbing “Hand to God” currently running at the Booth Theatre.

Jason has not been able to find his voice for most of his childhood and adolescence. He has been the model son, the model Christian teen, the model student; however, no one has ever really bothered to know Jason, the boy attempting to separate and individuate from his parents and attain adulthood. That Jason needs a spokesperson and Tyrone is ready and willing to step up to the challenge potty-mouth and all.

Like truth and honesty, Tyrone has teeth that can rip off and ear or inflict other blood-letting damage. And like truth and honesty, Tyrone can turn the sweetest Sunday School room into the sullied sanctuary scene in “Rosemary’s Baby.” Truth will have out and ultimately the truth sets Jason and his mother free. But not before their conflicts draw Timothy, Jessica, and Pastor Greg (Marc Kudisch) into the maelstrom of their considerable malaise. Both the good pastor and young Timothy are madly in love with Jason’s mom and although Pastor Greg’s advances go unrequited, Timothy and Margery have an unexpected and prolonged tryst. Unresolved fears, unrecognized projection and transference all contribute to the meltdown of this unintentional extended family and “Hand to God” is a brilliant extended metaphor of mythic proportions deftly directed by Moritz Stuelpnagel and performed by the engaging ensemble cast.

Steven Boyer handles his two roles with considerable craft. As he switches between Jason and Jason’s alter ego Tyrone, it is clear his character Jason is trying to find his place in his family, in his community, and in his world. Geneva Carr’s Margery is a tinder box of repressed emotion and Ms. Carr gives her character authenticity and dignity in distress. Marc Kudisch portrays Pastor Greg as a lonely and dedicated church pastor who isn’t quite ready to handle Margery’s refusal of his advances or Tyrone’s devilish assault on his Sunday School. Michael Oberholtzer plays Timothy, a teen remanded to the puppet practice but more interested Jason’s mother than fashioning a sock puppet. And Sarah Stiles as Jessica is Jason’s friend who refuses to give up on him and enables him to reach a cathartic frenzy in one of the most hilarious extended puppet sex scenes imaginable.

At the beginning of the play, Tyrone outlines his “theology” of the fall of humankind. Blaming the one responsible for inventing camping for humans (as opposed to living in a solitary state), the one who invented the categories of right and wrong and the one who introduced the concept of the devil, Tyrone laments the repression of all things “bad.” Tyrone does his best to rattle the cages of Jason’s ego strength and gain the upper hand. This is not unlike Sigmund Freud’s observation. “The poor ego has a still harder time of it; it has to serve three harsh masters, and it has to do its best to reconcile the claims and demands of all three...The three tyrants are the external world, the superego, and the id." Sigmund Freud, from “New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis,” (1932). With his mother’s unconditional love and Jessica’s non-judgmental love, Jason finds his true voice – not Tyrone’s – and embarks on a journey of “figuring out” how to move forward to a place of psychological integration.

“Hand to God” is a psychological thriller easily confused for a bawdy burlesque. Whether the audience chooses to swim unaided by water wings through Jason’s weltanschauung or simply revel in the antics of the prurient puppet shenanigans, the rewards are bountiful and no audience member will look at a sock puppet in quite the same way ever again. Nor will the audience member ever look at the discussion of right and wrong without a healthy dose of moral ambiguity in tow.

HAND TO GOD

Written by Robert Askins and directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel. The creative team for “Hand to God” includes Beowulf Boritt (scenic design), Sydney Maresca (costume design), Jason Lyons (lighting design), Jill BC Du Boff (sound design), Marte johanne Ekhougen (puppet design), Robert Westly (fight direction), Brian Lynch (production supervisor), Telsey + Company/William Cantler, CSA (casting), AKA (advertising), O&M Co. (publicity), and James FitzSimmons (production stage manager). Production photos by Joan Marcus. Presented by Kevin McCollum, Broadway Global Ventures, CMC, Morris Berchard, Mariano V. Tolentino Jr., Stephanie Kramer, LAMS Productions, DeSimone/Winkler, Joan Raffe and Jhett Tolentino, Timothy Laczynski, Lily Fan, Ayal Miodovnik, JAM Theatricals, Ensemble Studio Theater and MCC Theater. At the Booth Theater, 222 West 45th Street, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, handtogodbroadway.com. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.

WITH: Steven Boyer, Geneva Carr, Marc Kudisch, Michael Oberholtzer, and Sarah Stiles.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, April 16, 2015

“Finding Neverland” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday December 20, 2015)

“Finding Neverland” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday December 20, 2015)
Book by James Graham
Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
Directed by Diane Paulus
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“That isn’t me. (at J. M. Barrie) That’s him. He’s Peter Pan. (Barrie – perhaps only realizing this for the first time, too) He just has my name. And it’s the best present any boy was ever given, anywhere in the world.” (Peter Llewelyn Davies in “Finding Neverland”)

For those who have never grown up and still indulge in imaginative child’s play, conjuring up backyard scenes with swashbuckling pirates or configuring protective forts from blankets and sofa cushions to ward off the enemies - perhaps while babysitting - should quickly head to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre where you will certainly recognize a character who might have encouraged such whimsical behavior. “Finding Neverland” the new musical based on the motion picture of the same name and the play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” is a complicated, interesting, and magical theatrical journey. At a stop somewhere between Alice’s Wonderland and Dorothy’s Oz is where we find Peter’s Neverland. It is a place where you go to escape social pressure, expectations and fears, to learn about hope and courage, but more important a place to heal. The moment you hear the soothing vocal of the incredible Matthew Morrison deliver the intriguing lyrics of the opening number “If the World Turned Upside Down” you connect, understand and start emotional gears that transport you into the heart of J.M. Barrie. So hold on tight, something wonderful is about to take flight.

"Finding Neverland" is the second to none prequel to the story of Peter Pan written to date. The new musical gives the definitive motivation for J. M. Barrie’s writing of “Peter Pan” and authentic connections between the characters in “Peter Pan” and the significant relationships in J. M. Barrie’s life. It is a Broadway musical with heart, soul, and sensibility: the remarkable musical not only entertains, it raises significant and enduring questions about finding ones voice and finding places of ultimate healing in unexpected places.

In “Finding Neverland” J. M. Barrie’s (Matthew Morrison) newest play “The Wedding Guest” is a flop and producer Charles Frohman (Kelsey Grammer) closes the show with the assurance his playwright prodigy is diligently working on a new play with fresh ideas and a better hope for audience approval. But Barrie’s life is on a downturn: he has no new ideas; his marriage to Mary Barrie (Teal Wicks) is lifeless and spiritless; and his creative imagination has run dry. Clearly “The World Is Upside Down” and the catalyst for this transformation is the family he meets in Kensington Gardens where he goes daily hoping to find inspiration. Barrie knows he has a unique voice and that he has the ability to “fill all the spaces with imaginary places” (from “Believe,” Act I). It is in his relationship with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Laura Michelle Kelly) and her four boys - played with exquisite charm by Aidan Gemme (Peter), Christopher Paul Richards (Jack), Sawyer Nunes (George), and Alex Dreier (Michael) - that Barrie discovers “We’re all Made of Stars” and celebrates moments when “We Own the Night.”

There is an important story here that perhaps is exactly what theater audiences need today in our sterile, rule laden, isolated, technical society. It does not take much to ignite your imagination, travel to unforgettable places and face unforeseen dangers that entertain and release everyday anxieties without the help of the latest mobile device, even if only for a moment. If you have lost that ability, do not despair, start searching and you might just find it in “Finding Neverland.”

By no means is this a perfect musical but it is inventive, entertaining and at times it does manage to break down some traditional barriers that often obstruct creativity. The music and lyric by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy are both pleasant and interesting but more so lead the path to the incomparable choreography of Mia Michaels. Ms. Michaels’ signature of “movement with meaning” infuses character and emotion into every choreographed musical number and it does not stop there. Quirky, articulated gestures placed on tag lines, entrances and exits clearly punctuate the present behavior. Matthew Morrison is captivating as he consistently unearths his child within and serves up a remarkable vocal performance exhibiting a definable passion. Kelsey Grammer as the petulant producer Charles Frohman is delightful as he contributes his distinctive comic flair and equally adept when substituting his cane for a “Hook.” Laura Michelle Kelly captures the spirit of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies with immaculate vocals and a character that manages to escape pedestrian and maudlin behavior. Carolee Carmello gives a solid, strong, honest, practical portrayal of Mrs. Du Maurier only teasing us with her underused vocal ability.

Ultimately, "Finding Neverland" is about knowing when to tear down and when to build up, when to risk taking ones feel off the ground and when to be grounded. It is about the important choices we make when creating our imaginary places. J. M. Barrie’s ‘neverland’ is an engaging exploration of humankind’s eternal quest to create and maintain “places” where age, death, disappointment and despair are never welcomed guests.

FINDING NEVERLAND

“Finding Neverland” runs at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater (205 West 46th Street). Tickets can be arranged online at www.FindingNeverlandTheMusical.com, by calling Ticketmaster at (877) 250-2929 or in person at the Lunt-Fontanne box office, located at 205 West 46th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenues. For more information, please visit www.FindingNeverlandTheMusical.com.

WITH: A cast led by Matthew Morrison, Kelsey Grammer, Laura Michelle Kelly and Carolee Carmello, with Teal Wicks, Alex Dreier, Aidan Gemme, Jackson Demott Hill, Noah Hinsdale, Sawyer Nunes, Christopher Paul Richards, Hayden Signoretti with Courtney Balan, Dana Costello, Colin Cunliffe, Rory Donovan, Chris Dwan, Kevin Kern, Josh Lamon, Melanie Moore, Mary Page Nance, Fred Odgaard, Emma Pfaeffle, Jonathan Ritter, Tyley Ross, Julius Anthony Rubio, Paul Slade
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, April 15, 2015

“Hamlet” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday May 10, 2015)

Daniel Morgan Shelley and Peter Sarsgaard - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Hamlet” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday May 10, 2015)
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Classic Stage Company’s “Hamlet” might just be the definitive “Hamlet” for the twenty-first century. Staged with shimmering creativity, the iconic Shakespearian tragedy bristles with a contemporary edge firmly rooted in tradition. The castle in Elsinore here is a swanky mansion with a designer dining table, bar, and contemporary seating areas. The platform, the room of state, Polonius’s house, the churchyard, and other rooms in the castle are unadorned playing areas at the fringes of the room of state (the main setting). The action often takes place in minimal light, or a fully lighted theatre, or in delicious pools of light provided by lighting designer Justin Townsend. And the Ghost does not speak in this production: we only know of the Ghost of Hamlet’s father through the eyes and ears of Hamlet.

The characters in “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” their engaging conflicts, and the plot these conflicts drive have, of course, not changed in this production. They have simply all become clearer and even more engaging and transformative. Peter Sarsgaard is a Hamlet firmly planted in the twenty-first century and Mr. Sarsgaard gives his Hamlet more dimensions and more depth than most Hamlets that have preceded his. Hamlet here is beyond brooding, beyond reproach, beyond redemption. Peter Sarsgaard delivers Hamlet’s soliloquies and asides as Shakespeare intended them – not as iconic monologues meant to impress a casting agent, but with the remarkable understanding of iambic pentameter, the rhythm of the heart. “To Be Or Not to Be,” “Alas, Poor Yorick,” and conversations with Ophelia and Gertrude ring more with authenticity and honesty than bravura and bombast.

Harris Yulin and Penelope Allen have successfully portrayed Claudius and Gertrude respectively with the height of perfidy. They are despicable, delusional, and destructive. This is one of the few productions of “Hamlet” that draw the audience into the unspeakable (and unspoken) possibility that Claudius is the birth father of Hamlet. Stephen Spinella is the ultimate Polonius – a dapper Dan who both knows his place and would like to ascend to a place higher and an overachieving father who realizes his children Laertes (Glenn Fitzgerald) and Ophelia (Lisa Joyce) might have drifted far from his paternal influence. Glenn Fitzgerald’s finest moment comes when his Laertes returns to avenge his father Polonius’s death (Act IV).

If there is room for improvement in CSC’s “Hamlet” it would be in striving to bring consistency to the performances. Peter Sarsgaard (Hamlet), Harris Yulin (Claudius), Stephen Spinella (Polonius), Penelope Allen (Gertrude), and Jim Broaddus (Player King/others) set the performance bar quite high in this production and other performances often do not reach the level necessary to maintain that bar. In particular the important character of Horatio (Austin Jones) is not fully developed and his deep relationship with Hamlet is never realized. Unfortunately, this results in a rather flat farewell in the final scene. The character of Ophelia (Lisa Joyce), too, is rather oddly developed and Ms. Joyce’s scenes with Mr. Sarsgaard are not as satisfying as they might be. Perhaps these issues will resolve as the run continues. Additionally, the final scene seems a bit lackluster and needs to be stronger.

That said, under Austin Pendleton’s transformative direction, Classic Stage Company’s “Hamlet” transcends Elizabethan revenge tragedy and with surgical precision cuts deeply into Hamlet’s ennui and his alienation from life. This is a “Hamlet” not to be missed with enduring connections with contemporary social and political arenas.

HAMLET

Written by William Shakespeare and directed by Austin Pendleton. Scenic design for “Hamlet” is by Walt Spangler, costume design by Constance Hoffman, lighting design by Justin Townsend and original music and sound design by Ryan Rumery. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg. Presented by Classic Stage Company (Artistic Director Brian Kulick, Managing Director Jeff Griffin and Executive Director Greg Reiner) at CSC (136 East 13th Street) for a limited engagement through Sunday, May 10. Tickets start at $65.00 and are available at www.classicstage.org or by calling (212) 352-3101 / 866-811-4111 or at the box-office at 136 East 13th Street (between Third and Fourth Avenues). Running time is 3 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.

WITH: Penelope Allen (Gertrude), Jim Broaddus (Player King/others), Glenn Fitzgerald (Laertes), Austin Jones (Horatio), Lisa Joyce (Ophelia), Scott Parkinson (Rosencrantz/others), Peter Sarsgaard (Hamlet), Daniel Morgan Shelley (Guildenstern/others), Stephen Spinella (Polonius) and Harris Yulin (Claudius).
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, April 15, 2015

“Underland” at 59E59 Theaters (through Saturday April 25, 2015)

Angeliea Stark as Violet and Kiley Lotz as Ruth in "Underland" at 59E59 Theaters - Photo by Hunter Canning
“Underland” at 59E59 Theaters (through Saturday April 25, 2015)
By Alexandra Collier
Directed by Mia Rovegno
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Danger! Danger! Warning! Warning!” - Robot in “Lost in Space”

Lost in space, the Robinson family knew they had landed in a dangerous place. But danger is not found only in outer space: indeed, Earth itself is a dangerous place. The danger is sometimes closer than one thinks, lurking in the shadows, rustling in the closet at night, waiting under the bed, or even in the quarry just beyond the chain-link fence in a small dusty town in the middle of Australia – down under as it were. Ruth (Kiley Lotz) and Violet (Angeliea Stark) two high school students know this only too well as they navigate through the danger inherent in their small-minded town in Alexandra Collier’s “Underland” currently running at 59E59 Theaters.

There are alligators in the quarry – among other dangers – ready to consume humans, spit out their teeth and move on to the next victim. No one knows this better than Mrs. Butterfat who lost the Mister to these creatures years back. All of this is an extended metaphor (perhaps even a mixed metaphor) highlighting the need to find oneself and separate and individuate and become a separate and complete adult human being. It is not a new theme and “Underland” adds nothing new to the discussion. Getting out of a rut from one boring job in Tokyo lands Taka (Daniel K. Isaac) in the same – or perhaps even worse – confinement just beyond the quarry. Violet and Ruth want to escape their bland adolescence and find something new but are aware of the dangers of redemption and release.

The talented ensemble cast struggles to bring some life to Ms. Collier’s text but the attempt just does not result in a satisfying experience for the audience. Annie Golden commands the stage when her Mrs. Butterfat enters but even this brilliant actor cannot save the ship from slowly sinking. Mia Rovegno does her best to stage the piece but again with mixed results. The characters are flat and their conflicts not all that engaging. The plot driven from these conflicts is not focused and even less engaging. The whole one hour forty-five minutes – which seemed interminable – could have been summed up nicely in Ruth’s final conversation to Violet as they decide to escape – fall into a rabbit hole – and disappear in the tunnel:

“We have to. C’mon it’s light down there and far away. There’s no use crying. They’ll all disappear. The whole town’ll disappear. And we’ll be in like bright lights Tokyo. C’mon Vi. There’s bigger fish.”

"Underland" is overwrought, overlong and not worth the effort to get to that kernel of truth. Fables are tough to create and sometimes end up being more pretentious than portentous. Unfortunately, such is the case with “Underland.” Depending on one’s taste (and age), one might be better off with a re-read of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” or “To Kill A Mockingbird,” or “The Catcher in the Rye,” or an episode or two of “Divergent.” It might take a bit longer but the reward will be far greater and far more enduring.

UNDERLAND

Written by Alexandra Collier and directed by Mia Rovegno. The creative team for “Underland” includes Gabriel Hainer Evansohn (scenic design), Burke Brown (lighting design), Moria Sine Clinton (costume design), Elisheba Ittoop (sound design), Becca Pickett (production stage manager). Production photos by Hunter Canning. Presented by terraNOVA Collective at 59E59 Theaters, 58 East 59th Street in NYC. The performance schedule is Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:15 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:15 p.m. Tickets are $25.00 (59E59 Members $17.50) and can be purchased at https://www.ticketcentral.com/ Running time is 105 minutes without and intermission.

WITH: Georgia Cohen, Annie Golden, Daniel K. Isaac, Kiley Lotz, Jens Rasmussen, and Angeliea Stark.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Sunday, April 12, 2015

“Soldier X” at the Ma-Yi Theater Company at HERE (through Sunday April 19, 2015)

Carolyn Michelle Smith and Kaliswa Brewster in "Soldier X" - Photo by Web Begole.
“Soldier X” at the Ma-Yi Theater Company at HERE (through Sunday April 19, 2015)
Written by Rehana Lew Mirza
Directed by Lucie Tiberghien
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Don’t worry. That cycle of violence you wannna break so badly? We didn’t enlist into it. We were born into it. Once you accept that, going won’t be so scary.” Lance Corporal Lynn Downey, “Soldier X”)

After seeing Rehana Lew Mirza’s “Soldier X” at the HERE Arts Center, one wonders whether the playwright takes on too much, just enough, or not quite enough in her intriguing new play about how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affect those returning from the battlefields and those welcoming them home. Ms. Mirza’s play tackles PTSD, rape, racism, sexism, cultural and religious conflicts, and the cycle of violence on and off the battlefield. The answer might be the playwright needs to tackle all of these war-related issues because they are all connected in a matrix of madness created by the dynamics of conflict.

Jay Richards (played with an explosive calmness by Jared McNeill) returns from Afghanistan harboring a deep secret and an intense guilt related to that secret. He tracks down Amani Mehmod (played with a distrustful innocence by Turna Mete), the sister of his fallen friend Talib who is central to his secret. Though Jay claims not to be suffering from PTSD, he exhibits many of the symptoms of the post-war disorder. He falls for VA therapist Monica Burnes (played with a tentative confidence by Kaliswa Brewster) whom he meets at the local coffee shop but not as hard as he falls for Talib’s sister whom he seems to pursue with an obsession. Barista Lori (Cleo Gray) is responsible for the meeting between Jay and Monica by giving Jay Monica’s number instead of her friend Amani’s number.

The exact cause for that obsession is discovered over the course of the play as Jay interacts with each character in different settings. It is in these interactions that the audience discovers Jay’s conflicts and the complex subplots these conflicts drive. It is as if the audience sees the psyches of each actor played out on Daniel Conway’s clever multi-purpose set. Whether they meet in the VA therapist’s office, the coffee shop, the bar, or in Amani’s apartment, the characters reveal the precise horrors of war and the horrors of surviving that often predate war and presage the stress experienced in conflict.

The soldiers here are to the military industrial complex dispensable: they are, as Jay points out, simply “soldier, X, Y, Z.” They are raped as was Lance Corporal Lynn Downey (Carolyn Michelle Smith) and bring their true enemy home with them. They die as did Amani’s sister Talib often because their own companies mistake them for the enemy. They return home too often with the same will to dominate and the will to exercise absolute power that they sought to eradicate on the battlefield.

Under Lucie Tiberghien’s careful direction, the ensemble cast of “Soldier X” uniformly delivers authentic performances that challenge the audience to rethink important issues of culture and race and how these issues are exacerbated by conflict and the “cycle of violence” into which – as Lance Corporal Lynn Downey affirms - many marginalized persons are born. Carolyn Michelle Smith’s portrayal of Lynn Downey is nothing short of brilliant. Her Lance Corporal bristles with unrequited anger that sends shockwaves through every encounter the character has including her own deeply wounded self. Lynn Downey is the conscience of the characters in this remarkable play and that conscience is a character in and of itself.

If there is a guiding principle of that superego it might be expressed in Monica’s admonition to Lance Corporal Lynn Downey, “Downey. I know you never took much stock of my advice. But. (to herself) Fight for the life you want. Don’t settle for the life you think you deserve.”

“Soldier X” raises a series of deep, rich, and enduring questions. Are religions somehow inherently violent? Why do women and men go to war? When will Christians and Muslims begin to explore each other’s faiths and begin a healthy dialogue? How can the issue of race get a fair hearing in America? When will Americans understand this conversation might be the determining factor in the country’s ability to survive as a truly free and democratic entity? “Soldier X” is worth the trip to the iconic HERE Arts Center.

SOLDIER X

Written by Rehana Lew Mirza and directed by Lucie Tiberghien. The creative team includes Daniel Conway (set design), Beth Goldenberg (costume design), Peter West (lighting design), Broken Chord (sound design), and Jennifer Delac (production stage manager. Public Relations by Sam Rudy Media Relations. Production photos by Web Begole. Presented by Ma-Yi Theater Company (Suzette Porte) at HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue (enter on Dominick Street, one block south of Spring Street). “Soldier X” runs on the following schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 4:00 p.m. through Sunday April 19, 2015. Tickets are $10.00 through $30.00 and can be obtained at www.here.org or by calling 212-352-3101. The running time is 2 hours including an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, April 07, 2015

“My Name Is Rachel Corrie” at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project (through Sunday April 12, 2015)

Charlotte Hemmings as Rachel Corrie - Photo by Kirsten Shultz Photography
“My Name Is Rachel Corrie” at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project (through Sunday April 12, 2015)
Taken from the Writings of Rachel Corrie
Performed by Charlotte Hemmings
Directed by Jonathan Kane
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; /Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, /The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned; /The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

Rachel Corrie was a remarkable young woman who willingly traded the comfort and privilege of her neo-liberal Olympia, Washington family for her visit to Rafah to live with and advocate for the Palestinians in Gaza whose homes were routinely being destroyed and whose access to employment beyond the Gaza Strip increasingly blocked. Rachel was martyred in Palestine on March 16, 2003 when an Israeli backhoe struck and buried her intentionally. Charlotte Hemmings portrays Rachel and narrates her story from the time of Rachel’s arrival in Rafah until her untimely and brutal death. If ever there was a place where “mere anarchy” was being loosed upon the world and where “the best [lacked] all conviction” it was and it remains the fragile “border” between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East.

Rachel Corrie had a “healthy disrespect for governments,” a disrespect highlighted by the sticker on the lid of her laptop the audience sees upon entering the Lynn Redgrave Theater: “Fox News Get Off the Air.” She also had a profoundly clear understanding of the fragility of life and how the thin line between “being” and “not being” dissolved with a mere “shrug.” She had no fear in entering the Gaza Strip to advocate for the marginalized there struggling to hold onto life and tradition. Rachel understood the difference between what governments do (Israel and the United States) and who people are. Jews outside of Israel and Americans are not equivalent to their respective governments. Nor are the residents of any nation-state or political entity.

Ms. Hemmings’ narration of Rachel’s story from Rachel’s diaries and other writings is both compelling and challenging. The actor portrays Rachel with an unmistakable honesty and authenticity. Listening to Ms. Hemmings describe Rachel’s reaction to being “doted on by people facing doom” is not something to be taken lightly and leaves the audience in the position to decide for themselves weighty matters of guilt and innocence. The exposition given in “My Name is Rachel Corrie” is a bit overlong. Fully half the performance takes place in Olympia. An actor as skilled as Charlotte Hemmings can - with a briefer exposition – portray all the audience needs to know about Rachel Corrie prior to her trip to Rafah.

There are times when Jonathan Kane’s conventional direction drains the energy from the script. Charlotte Hemmings is a gifted actor and can hold her own downstage center riveting the audience with her Rachel rants. Indeed, her performance is most powerful as performance-based poetry (spoken word). And although Linda Hartinian’s set design functions well, it too is restrictive. A better choice might have been a sparse set with more powerful projections onto the back wall of the set.

Despite this, "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" is an important piece of theatre that demands the audience reconsider its conventional understandings of borders and boundaries, reimagine its traditional views on right and wrong, and make rich connections to current conflicts between religions and nation-states. The play also helps to raise enduring questions about culture and race and face the daunting reality that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE

Taken from the writings of Rachel Corrie. Edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner. Performed by Charlotte Hemmings. Directed by Jonathan Kane. The creative team includes Linda Hartinian (set design), Lucrecia Briceno (lighting design), Eamonn Farrell (sound design), and Kate Kenfield (production stage manager). Production photos by Kirsten Shultz Photography. Joe Trentacosta, JTPR is press representative. Presented by Sawtooth Productions LLC at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street. Remaining performances take place on Thursday April 9 at 7:00 p.m.; Friday April 10 at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday April 11 at 2:00 p.m. & 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday April 12 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $25.00 - $70.00 and can be obtained by calling 866-811-4111 or visiting https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/939943 Running time is 80 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Sunday, April 05, 2015

“Macbeth” at the Acting Company at the Pearl Theatre (through April 9, 2015)

Gabriel Lawrence (Center) as Macbeth - Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp
“Macbeth” at the Acting Company at the Pearl Theatre (through April 9, 2015)
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Devin Brain
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The Acting Company in association with The Guthrie Theater has delivered a trimmed and taut reinvention of Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (“The Scottish Play”) to audiences at the Pearl Theatre in Manhattan as part of its current tour paired with Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” This ninety minute “Macbeth” delivers the Bard’s iconic tragedy compressed with explosive energy and is performed to perfection by a resplendent cast. Think “House of Cards” on steroids and the image created begins to match the reality of what the Acting Company has accomplished with this “Macbeth.”

“Macbeth” endures because its themes of the pathology of evil, the seduction of unbridled power, and the psychological burden of misdeeds play out daily in headlines, in political and socioeconomic systems, and in family systems. Its resilience resides in its insight into the human condition and the ambition for power. Under the taut direction of Devin Brain, the ensemble cast brings into sharp focus all of these themes successfully.

“Macbeth" has been performed so often in a multitude of genres and presented from as many settings as one could imagine (real time, contemporary, etc.). This makes it challenging for the actors – even the most proficient in their craft – to settle comfortably into their roles. In the Acting Company production, most accomplished that feat with exceptional results; some were adequate; and a few were not as strong as they should have been.

Gabriel Lawrence brings a powerful and demanding presence to his role as Macbeth. Mr. Lawrence understands the complexity of his character and easily portrays this complexity with authenticity and honesty. His Macbeth is both popular king and marauding madman and his madness encompasses the entire stage as its maximum pitch. This actor’s soliloquies and asides are delivered with brilliance and he makes the words of Macbeth sink deeply into the psyche. The Weird Sister (Suzy Kohane), Malcolm (Torsten Johnson), Banquo (Andy Nogasky), and the Porter (Ian Gould) are all brought to life with distinguished craft by the actors and command the stage at all times. They manage to completely mesmerize an audience of New York City high school students as well as the adults in the audience.

Given that Lady Macbeth (Angela Janas) is often considered to be the central character in the tragedy, it is surprising and somewhat disappointing that in this production she appears rather weak, powerless, and far from the evil monster she needs to be. Lady Macbeth’s complexity is lacking and this often affects the play’s most important scenes.

Neil Patel’s set is stark and brooding and complemented by Micheal Chybowski’s sparse lighting successfully allows the actors to create any scene without the use of a plethora of props. Indeed a tree trunk upstage center is the only permanent property on the set. Valerie Therese Bart’s costumes defy relegation to any specific time period and allow this “Macbeth” to reverberate with authenticity in any age. When the men put on their armor, they simply attach a “mini-breastplate” to their upper arms.

This is an important “Macbeth.” See one of the performances at the Pearl Theatre before it moves on April 9th.

MACBETH

Written by William Shakespeare and directed by Devin Brain. The creative team includes Neil Patel (scenic design), Valerie Therese Bart(costume design), Michael Chybowski (lighting design), Nathan A. Roberts & Charles Coes (music and sound design), Felix Ivanoff (fight direction), Jereme Kyle Lewis (production stage manager), and Sophie Quist (assistant stage manager). Production photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp. “Macbeth” is presented by The Acting Company and the Guthrie Theater at the Pearl Theatre, 555 West 42nd Street through April 9, 2015. “Macbeth” runs on Saturday April 4 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Tuesday April 7 at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday April 8 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Thursday April 9 at 8:00 p.m. All tickets are $60.00 and can be ordered at http://www.pearltheatre.org/tickets/#Visiting Running time is 95 minutes with no intermission.

WITH: Ian Gould, Angela Janas, Torsten Johnson, Suzy Kohane, Gabriel Lawrence, Adam Mondschein, Andy Nogasky, Grant Fletcher Prewitt, Joshua David Robinson, and Susanna Stahlmann.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, April 03, 2015

“The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (through Sunday May 2, 2015)

Lusia Strus and Margo Seibert - Photo by Sandra Coudert
“The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (through Sunday May 2, 2015)
Written by Laura Eason
Directed by Kirsten Kelly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Time it was /And what a time it was, it was/A time of innocence/A time of confidences/Long ago it must be/I have a photograph/Preserve your memories/They're all that's left you.” “Bookends” by Simon & Garfunkel

The insidious sounds of “right now” that threaten to relegate the present to the past creep eerily into Hank’s Bar in Chicago in 1992. Hank (played with a droll, brooding intensity by Jeb Brown) loves his gritty rock club that has launched a good number of performance careers. He loves his daughter Lena (played with a focused intensity by Margo Seibert) even more. And he still has a deep love for his ex-wife Bette (played with a powerful charm by Lusia Strus) who continues to support Hank and Lena with tough doses of advice and admiration. The final member of this intentional family is Toby (played with a wistful, wry, and willing demeanor by Brian Miskell). Toby is bookkeeper, booker, and unrequited lover of Lena.

As with all family systems, it only takes one “intruder” or one family member’s decision to change to wreak havoc on the delicate balance of domesticity. That intruder is DJ Nash (played with a diabolical charm by Daniel Abeles) whom Lena, Toby, and Bette meet at one of Nash’s shows. Nash wants Hank to add spinning to his roster of regulars and it is the conflicts between Nash and Hank and Nash and Lena that drive the engaging plot in “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” currently running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Add to all this the published article that frames Hank and his bar more as nostalgia than the “next thing” and the dynamic plot of Laura Eason’s play explodes.

Hank does not wish to be a memory in a photograph. He believes that rock has a place in the musical world of the late twentieth century and he plans to move forward rather than being bought out as Nash suggests:

NASH: Yeah. Sure. But you’ve had a great run of it and people are getting interested in other kinds of clubs, other kinds of music. I bet someone would buy you out--
HANK: Why would I do that?
NASH: I don’t know. Just... the next thing’s coming.
HANK: So, what? I’m supposed to -- what? Make some room? Step aside?

With no plans to step aside, Hank initially refuses to book any DJs. All that changes when the undeniable “sound” of a rent increase forces Hank to give it a try. The gig proves successful and Hank decides to buy the adjacent space and expand his musical offerings to include popular DJs. This plan gets derailed by the landlord’s son Joey (played with a lush despicable demeanor by Chris Kipiniak) who plans to sell the property including the bar to a higher bidder. Hank must vacate the bar. Under Kirsten Kelly’s taut direction, the ensemble cast delivers authentic performances and brings Hank’s story into a transcendent collision with all that threatens to undo the fabric of stability and success.

Playwright Laura Eason’s women are survivors first and foremost and tough and tenacious as a result. Margo Seibert (Lena) and Lusia Strus (Bette) tackle their characters with a deep and rich understanding and the subplots their conflicts drive support the important themes of playwright Laura Eason’s equally important work. John McDermott’s set design and Joel Moritz’s lighting design are both spot on and capture the spirit and sense of Hank’s bar.

“The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” is about far more than the story about Hank’s resignation to the reality of the shift in musical tastes, the tenuous bonds of loyalty, and the strain gentrification places on long-established communities. The title suggests the deeper connections and the enduring questions the play offers. “Right now” encompasses not only the historical context; the phrase embraces all present contexts – the sounds of being in the moment and in the present. The well-crafted play is a brilliant trope for all that which would relegate the wonder of the present to a well-worn scrapbook.

THE UNDENIABLE SOUND OF RIGHT NOW

The set design for “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now is” by John McDermott (“Dry Land”); costume design is by Sarah Holden (“Bethany”); lighting design is by Joel Moritz (“Scarcity”); sound design is by Lindsay Jones (“Bronx Bombers”); properties design is by Judy Merrick; presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and Women’s Project Theater. Production photos by Sandra Coudert. “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” plays Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:00 PM; Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM; and Sunday at 3:00 PM at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place. The ticket price is $45.00. Student tickets are $15.00; theater artist and under-30 tickets are $20.00. Tickets may be purchased by visiting www.rattlestick.org or by phoning OvationTix at 866.811.4111. Prices and performance schedule are subject to change. Please refer to the Rattlestick website for the most up-to-date information. Running time is 95 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Daniel Abeles (“Where We’re Born”), Jeb Brown (“Beautiful”), Chris Kipniak (“Macbeth”), Brian Miskell (“The Hill Town Plays”), Margo Seibert (“Rocky”), and Lusia Strus (“Elling”).
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, April 02, 2015

“Music Hall” at 59E59 Theater C (through Sunday April 12, 2015)

Jeffrey Binder in "Music Hall" - Photo by Anthony La Penna
“Music Hall” at 59E59 Theater C (through Sunday April 12, 2015)
Written by Jean-Luc Lagarce
Translated by Joseph Long
Directed by Zeljko Djukic
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“With a smirk on their face, they wait now in the silence/and that dark hole/there, in front of me.” - The Artiste in “Music Hall”

Somewhere, someone is waiting backstage – or even on stage – to perform, to dance, to sing, or to tell a story to a gathered few sitting in the dark. Those gathered, for whatever reason, might be attentive, or not so attentive. They might even be eating or drinking or snoozing or chatting amongst themselves. Nevertheless, the one on stage, the performer, the artiste must go on “as cool as you please” and begin her or his act “slow and unconcerned.” Another someone tells the story of that Artiste assisted by two “Boys” in the remarkable and well-crafted “Music Hall” currently running at 59E59 Theater C.

Jean-Luc Lagarce’s script (translated by Joseph Long) is the sophisticated, multi-layered, and sometimes intriguing story of a Music Hall performer and her two supporting dancers/singers and their experience traversing the “circuit,” playing in one “epitome of remote provincialism” or other, dealing with venue managers (the “boss” who often warns, “with a story like that, mustn’t expect much people to come”), the audience (“they interrupt or would like to, and shout things”), and the “colleagues” who promise to come but never show up though promised “free passes and reserved seats.”

As the Artiste, Jeffrey Binder channels the “Madame” of the Music Hall and relates her engaging story with a powerful and aggressive authenticity. His transformation from narrator to Artiste is subtle and transfixing. Mr. Binder transforms 59E59 Theater C’s compact space into a burlesque banquet. He is comfortable on the small stage and seems to relish the opportunity to “get up and close” to his audience – an audience which ever so slowly realizes much of what is happening before them has a deep connection to their own theatergoing experience. As the “Boys,” Michael Doonan and Darren Hill are seductive, salacious, and scintillating as supporting cast, past supporting cast, lovers past and present, and – perhaps – even a husband.

Natasha Djukic’s costume and set designs are both sparse and highly effective as is Keith Parham’s lighting design. The “Boys” wear Title Lo-Top boxing shoes, a wonderful trope for the fight (internal and external) that erupts every time an actor steps on stage and the variety of conflicts inherent in the life of the theatre. Zeljko Djukic’s staging is electric, sometimes like a video game with characters suddenly appearing and requiring a “player’s” (audience member’s) quick response. From tip to tail, “Music Hall” is a brilliant exploration into the life of not just one performer, but an exploration into the very recesses of the magic of memory and remembering.

Because the story is told from multiple points of view and from different settings, it becomes a challenge – a welcomed challenge – to keep track of these complex characters and their conflicts. And hearing the story repeated, even by the same character, adds to the strength of the script. One of the most repeated lines from the story, “And sometimes again, and the most often, as recently as last week and yesterday again, and this evening too,” connects the action of the play to the precise moment of performance. The audience at 59E59 is “waiting in the silence and the dark hole” and that audience’s behavior often parallels the patrons in that “epitome or remote provincialism” mentioned in the script.

“Music Hall” – sometimes gently, sometimes less so – raises a series of rich and enduring questions about that which we call “the theatre.” What is the nature of performance? Who ultimately determines the effectiveness of a performance? Why do individuals choose to become theatre professionals and how do they survive the difficulties acting sometimes proffers? Why did the famous (and not so famous) music halls of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries cease to draw audiences? What is the future of the theatre in urban and ex-urban environments? “Music Hall” also entertains and teases and titillates the senses and demands and, lingering long after the curtain call, beckons for an emotional response nothing short of catharsis.

MUSIC HALL

Written by Jean-Luc Lagarce and directed by Zeljko Djukic. The cast of “Music Hall” features Jeffrey Binder, Michael Doonan, and Darren Hill. The production team includes Wain Parham (music director); Aileen McGroddy (movement director); Natasha Djukic (costume and set designer); Keith Parham (lighting designer); Christian Gero (sound designer); and Allison Raynes (stage manager). Production photos are by Anthony La Penna. “Music Hall” is presented by TUTA Theatre Chicago. “Music Hall” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, April 12. The performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM & 7:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $25 ($17 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Karen Mason: “Mason at Mama’s in March” at Don’t Tell Mama (through Monday March 30, 2015)

Karen Mason: “Mason at Mama’s in March” at Don’t Tell Mama (through Monday March 30, 2015)
Directed by Barry Kleinbort
Musical Direction by Christopher Denny
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

First things first: Karen Mason’s appearance at Don’t Tell Mama in March is an iconic seventy minutes not to be missed. Since opening the main room at Don’t Tell Mama thirty-three years ago with Nancy LaMott, Karen Mason’s career has become iconic with stellar performances on Broadway, in movies, and on cabaret stages around the world. Ms. Mason has always been a force to be reckoned with and her current run at Don’t Tell Mama is no exception. Her voice is as strong and big (her description) as ever. Her ability to interpret a lyric and own it is incomparable and always remarkable and her vocal control is beyond comparison. Her placement of notes is deliberate and the interpretative choices she makes are always impeccable. Accompanied by the incomparable Christopher Denny and directed by Barry Kleinbort, Karen Mason’s “Mason at Mama’s in March” is a tour de force from start to finish.

There are priceless pairings of songs and near miraculous mashups in Ms. Mason’s song list. Additionally, the evening pays tribute to longtime friend and arranger Brian Lasser who died in 1992. The show opens with the same pairing when Ms. Mason opened the main room with Nancy Lamott, both arranged by Mr. Lasser. The memories surrounding the performance of "Something's Coming" (Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim) from “Westside Story” and "Almost Like Being in Love" (Frederick Loewe/Alan Jay Lerner) from “Brigadoon” were palpable and this fitting start to the night captured the attention of the already adoring audience and secured their adulation throughout the performance.

Another pairing – on a lighter and comedic note – was "Murder, He Says" (Jimmy McHugh and Frank Loesser) and "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" (Jule Styne/Leo Robin) both of which were delivered with perfect timing and appropriate comedic flair. A third pairing - "Lorna's Here" and "I Want To Be With You" (Charles Strouse from the 1964 musical, “Golden Boy.”) were audience favorites. Nostalgia and comedy were not the only themes in “Mason at Mama’s.” There were songs of romance, longing, and pure joy celebrating the vicissitudes of the human experience.

Highlights of the “songbook” included "How Long Has This Been Going On" (George Gershwin); "Happy Just To Dance With You" (John Lennon/Paul McCartney); "I Made a New Friend” (Brian Lasser); “He Touched Me” (Ira Levin/Milton Schafer); and "As If We Never Said Goodbye” (Don Black, Christopher Hampton, and Andrew Lloyd Webber) which celebrated Karen /Mason’s performances in “Sunset Boulevard” on Broadway. It was almost chilling to watch the performer transform herself to the character she played over 200 times. For just a moment she was again Norma Desmond and it was as if no matter how long it had been since we last saw Karen Mason it was as if we had never said goodbye.

The second mashup – the Beatles' "Help" into Sondheim's "Being Alive" – was a resounding success and counterpointed the emotional content of both songs with perfection. The last thing the audience wanted to do was say goodbye to friend, mentor, and diva Karen Mason. But the impact of the temporary farewell was lessened with the encore pieces "It's About Time" (honoring marriage equality) written by her husband, Paul Rolnick and Shelley Markham and what Ms. Mason described as her new favorite song “Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen/E. Y. Harburg). Again, Karen owned this iconic song with her own understanding of how fantasy and hope can become blessed reality.

Surely, Nancy and Brian were “eavesdropping” on the performance –perhaps when the “circle of light” appeared during one of Karen’s numbers. The audience was appreciative of their ethereal visit and transformed by the performance of the ever so authentic and present Karen Mason.

KAREN MASON: “MASON AT MAMA’S IN MARCH”

“Mason at Mama's In March” performs on Sunday and Monday March 29th and 30th at 7:00 p.m. at Don't Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street. For reservations, call 212-757-0788 after 4:00 p.m. or go to www.donttellmamanyc.com
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, March 27, 2015

“Every Brilliant Thing” at the Barrow Street Theatre (through Sunday March 29, 2015)

Jonny Donahoe in "Every Brilliant Thing" - Photo by Matthew Murphy
“Every Brilliant Thing” at the Barrow Street Theatre (through Sunday March 29, 2015)
Written by Duncan Macmillan
Performed by Jonny Donahoe and the Audience
Directed by George Perrin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Social isolation — or lacking social connection — and living alone were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely, respectively increasing mortality risk by 29% and 32%.” (Brigham Young University Researchers)

Jonny Donahoe has received rave reviews for his performance in Duncan Macmillan’s “Every Brilliant Thing” since the show opened at the Barrow Street Theater back in December(and before in the U.K.) and the show is getting ready to launch its second U.K. tour after its final performance at the Barrow Street Theatre on March 29, 2015. So there would be no good reason to make any changes in the show, right? If something is working, particularly in theatre, best not mess with it. Were I able to simply pile on another rave review - which I easily could - or one that was more a snapshot rather than a review, I would. But I choose not to and will instead try to share my experience at a recent performance and hope that my thoughts will somehow be helpful, maybe even make the protagonist’s list of brilliant things.

About that protagonist and his list of everything brilliant thing worth living for: comedian Jonny Donahoe assumes the role of an unnamed seven year old boy whose Mum is suicidal. In an attempt to cheer her on through her depression, the boy develops a list of things he hopes will be helpful and life affirming. (“1. Ice cream, 2. Water fights, 5. Things with stripes”) Mr. Donahoe distributes items from this list to the audience as they get seated, chats them up about their “reading,” presumably asking them to come in on his cue of shouting out the number associated with each item on the list. During this time, he is also selecting a few audience members to play the roles of characters in his upcoming narrative: a veterinarian (who puts down the boy’s dog Sherlock bones, the boy’s first experience of death); the boy’s father; a teacher (Mrs. Patterson) and her therapeutic sock puppet; a university lecturer; and a university coed named Sam.

After distributing the list items and recruiting the audience-actors, Mr. Donahoe begins his narration assuming the role of the boy as he advances through public school, university, and marriage to Sam. The narration is all about how the protagonist attempts to deal with his mother’s depression and suicide attempts – and eventually her suicide by self-asphyxiation. Mr. Donahoe is a good-natured performer, a better comedian than actor, but nonetheless skilled at storytelling and engaging his audience. The narration is punctuated by the sharing of the list items by audience members and the “improve skits” with audience members that illustrate important parts of the protagonist’s story of his attempt to cope with his mother’s depression and his attempt to not fall into depression with suicidal tendencies: not to fall prey to the Werther Effect.

During the performance I attended, a few audience members delivered their “lines” (the list items) on cue and with some enthusiasm; most read what had been given them as they might read any text; and some missed their cue and delivered their “lines” in a lackluster manner. Although this conceit of audience participation is a trope for the importance of the community in battling depression and suicide, it did not significantly add to the performance. The vignettes which included the audience members were more successful, especially those that included the narrator’s father. The audience learned a good deal about the father and this character was the most fully developed of all characters. The piece needs strong characters with identifiable and authentic conflicts in order to drive an interesting and engaging plot. This character development needs more attention in “Every Brilliant Thing.” The audience needs to know more about the boy, his mother, and his love interest Sam in order to connect with them and begin to care about them. Those audience members involved in the performance probably got the most out of the evening and were most likely moved by their participation. The remainder of the audience seemed mere onlookers whose engagement was of a vicarious nature.

Suicide is a messy and important problem. Hearing a story about how one young man dealt with his mother’s depression and suicidal tendencies and his efforts to live without falling into depression himself should be a formidable theatrical event. For this reviewer, the audience participation detracted from the potential power of playwright Duncan Macmillan’s text. The distribution of list items and the recruitment of participants before the play started was overlong and left most of the audience “in the dark.” There is an important message in “Every Brilliant Thing.” Perhaps there is a different way to convey that message than the current incarnation, a play with clearly developed characters whose life problems connect in significant ways to the audience and drive a rich plot. The talented Mr. Donahoe and the creative team might choose to continue with the current format - which obviously would not be a bad thing - or they might try something different for the upcoming tour. It seems the message and the messenger need a fresh start.

EVERY BRILLIANT THING

Written by Duncan Macmillan. Performed by Jonny Donahoe and the Audience. Directed by George Perrin. The Paines Plough and Pentabus Theatre Company production of “Every Brilliant Thing” is presented by Scott Morfee, Jean Doumanian, Tom Wirtshafter, and Patrick Daly. Production photos by Matthew Murphy. “Every Brilliant Thing” plays the following performance schedule: Tuesday-Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the production are on sale via www.smarttix.com, on the phone at 212-868-4444, or in person at the Barrow Street Theatre box office (27 Barrow Street at 7th Avenue), open at 1:00 p.m. daily and are priced at $20.00 - $59.00. Student tickets are priced at $20.00 and are available to purchase online in advance. Running time is 65 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, March 20, 2015

“I of the Storm” at the Playroom Theater (through Wednesday April 29, 2015)

Richard Hoehler in "I of the Storm" - Photo by Hunter Canning
“I of the Storm” at the Playroom Theater (through Wednesday April 29, 2015)
Written by RJ Bartholomew
Performed by Richard Hoehler
Directed by Janice L. Goldberg
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

What is a successful money manager to do after serving time in prison for the misappropriation of funds and finding he is bereft of family, friends, and home? The Speaker in Def Poet RJ Bartholomew’s “I of the Storm” faces that precise circumstance and chooses to come to terms with his homelessness by embracing it and “letting go.” This Speaker now lives in the same New York City Park he used to pass through on his way to work when he missed the shuttle or could not get onto the subway. He spends his days sharing his experiences with passersby (in this case, the audience) and encouraging them to focus on not being “programmed” by the world – as he was - but rather seeking opportunities to be thankful and to overcome the world’s negativity.

The Speaker’s “savior” was a thirty-something free spirit Mars who, after hearing his story, befriended him and became part muse, part daughter, part platonic lover, part co-conspirator in a variety of life-affirming escapades. Mars, too, has been “damaged” by society but strives to be “deprogrammed.” She plays an important part in the Speaker’s recovery and redemption and empowers him to not only “let go” but you literally and figuratively “clean up” the clutter of negativity and guilt that prevents him from moving forward. On the day of her funeral, the Speaker honors Mars with the eloquence of a poet, the centeredness of a monk, and the unconditional love of a therapist.

Richard Hoehler is the perfect match for RJ Bartholomew’s expansive spoken word text. Mr. Hoehler mines the depths of this extended “urban poem” and delivers the richness of the text with absolute perfection, giving the words precisely the power needed to convey the poet’s meanings. The text is punctuated with a myriad of cultural and religious imagery which makes it accessible to a broad audience. Listeners might not recognize every reference or allusion; however, there is something everyone can relate to and “tune into” the important themes of the work. Perhaps not many recognized the Shaolin Kung Fu basic movement – perfectly executed by Mr. Hoehler – but those who did instantly connected with the poet’s messages.

Those messages are multifaceted and counterpoint with the complexities and vicissitudes of the human experience and raise a series of deep, rich, and enduring questions. How can the individual be “in the world” without being “of the world?” In a competitive and often abusive work environment, how can the individual keep the “me” from overshadowing the need for justice and equality? How can the “I” (the ego) regain enough strength after almost disintegrating to “clean up” the detritus of emotional meltdown? Is the road to recovery from loss possible without a “helpmate?” The Speaker addresses these important questions in a remarkable riff.

The Speaker’s riff is divided into rants about all those things that have the potential of preventing the individual from “letting go” and preventing the individual from experiencing the “I” as her or his “I” is buffeted about by life’s storms. There are rants about social media, television, religion, family systems, and the workplace. At least one of these rants spirales out of control and lands the Speaker in a seventy-two hour “psych watch” in a mental hospital, an institution “far worse than prison.” The audience sits in near stupefaction at Richard Hoehler’s acumen at “spitting” the spoken word text. It is not possible to escape the intensity, the importance, the veracity of Mr. Hoehler’s character and that Everyman’s struggle for a life driven by integrity and compassion.

Director Janice L. Goldberg keeps the performance as visually interesting as it is emotionally and spiritually significant. Mr. Hoehler’s movements are precise, perfectly timed, and never extraneous. Mark Symczak’s sparse set punctuated by Michael Abrams’ lighting and Craig Lenti’s sound design are the perfect complement to RJ Bartholomew’s challenging and engaging text.

“I of the Storm” is a well structured performance piece with a powerful dramatic arc. Its message is redemptive and savific. This stunning performance piece should be on every serious theatre-goers must see list.

I OF THE STORM

Written by RJ Bartholomew. Performed by Richard Hoehler. Directed by Janice L. Goldberg. The creative team for “I of the Storm” includes Mark Symczak (sets), Michael Abrams (lights), Sean W. Sellers (costumes), and Craig Lenti (sound). Joan Racho-Jansen is Technical Director. Production photos by Hunter Canning. Presented by Deep End Productions (Cecelia Joyce Johnson.) Performances are at The Playroom Theater (151 West 46th Street, 8th Floor – just east of Broadway) and run on the following schedule: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. All tickets are $30.00 and can be purchased online at www.IoftheStormOffBroadway.com or by calling Theatermania at 866-811-4111. Running time is 75 minutes without an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, March 18, 2015

“On the Conditions and Possibilities of Hillary Clinton Taking Me as Her Young Lover” at La MaMa (Final Performance on Sunday March 15, 2015)

“On the Conditions and Possibilities of Hillary Clinton Taking Me as Her Young Lover” at La MaMa (Final Performance on Sunday March 15, 2015)
Written by Arthur Meek and Geoff Pinfield, Adapted from the Book by Richard Meros
Performed by Arthur Meek
Directed by Geoff Pinfield
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In his new two-part lecture “On the Conditions and Possibilities of Hillary Clinton Taking Me as Her Young Lover,” Arthur Meek presents the indisputable and indefatigable premise that probable 2016 Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton requires a virile unsullied young lover and that the only candidate for that role is the lecturer himself. This imaginative and well-constructed riff just completed its run at La MaMa as part of the New Zealand Performance Festival. Despite Mr. Meek’s wish to “get back to New Zealand,” it would be good for America if he stayed around a bit longer and continued to comment on our present political and cultural scene.

Donned in suit and dickey bow, Arthur Meek’s refreshing rant about all things political in America is engaging, intelligent, and provocative. His PowerPoint is punctuated with delicious satire, delectable double entendre, and scintillating allusions, some not easy to spot. In the first part of the lecture, Meek supports that thesis that Ms. Clinton does indeed need a young lover. This iron clad support includes argument and counter argument and provides the opportunity for the playwright to disclose all that is wrong with the contemporary American political landscape. In the second part, Meek supports the thesis that he and only he is that young lover. In less than thirty minutes, he narrows the playing field down from the population of the planet to himself. After this “proof” one wonders why anyone would not want him for their young lover!

It is difficult to comprehend just how quickly Mr. Meek can speak! This indeed is a “nuclear PowerPoint.” Under Geoff Pinfield’s frenetic direction, the actor engages his audience, calls them out on their lack of knowledge of American pop culture, exposes their lack of intellectual acumen, and – in the process - manages to love each and every one present. Meek is a gifted actor and playwright and this new “lecture” is a worthy addition to his ever-expanding canon.

ON THE CONDITIONS AND POSSIBILITIES OF HILLARY CLINTON TAKING ME AS HER YOUNG LOVER

Written by Arthur Meek and Geoff Pinfield. Directed by Geoff Pinfield. Performed by Arthur Meek. At La MaMa First Floor Theatre, 74A East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue). Presented as part of the New Zealand Performance Festival. For more information and the Performance Festival schedule, visit http://lamama.org/ Running time is 60 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, March 16, 2015

“John & Jen” at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (through Saturday April 4, 2015)

Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan in "John & Jen" - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“John & Jen” at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (through Saturday April 4, 2015)
Music by Andrew Lippa
Lyrics by Tom Greenwald
Book by Tom Greenwald and Andrew Lippa
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The charming chamber musical “John & Jen” opened in 1995 at the Lamb’s Theatre and is enjoying its twentieth anniversary revival at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row. It is a musical montage of the lives of Jen Tracy (Kate Baldwin), her brother John (Conor Ryan) and Jen’s son John also played by Mr. Ryan and explores the sometimes complicated dynamics of family and the family system, particularly the relationships between sister and brother and the often tumultuous relationship between mother and son.

The ten songs in Act I rehearse the lives of Jen and her brother John (born when she was six years old) from his birth (“Welcome to the World”) until his enlistment in the Navy and his death in Vietnam. Although Jen promises to protect her kid brother from life’s difficulties as he “finds his way” including keeping him safe from their father’s abusive behavior, she ultimately leaves home after high school, moves to New York City and becomes enmeshed in the anti-war, anti-establishment culture of the 1970s (“Hold Down the Fort”). Without Jen to protect him, John succumbs to his father’s abusive criticism and does what he can to appease his wrath (“It Took Me a While”).

The twelve songs in Act II chronicle Jen’s life as the mother of her newborn son she names John. This naming has as much to do with remembering her brother as it does to formalize her inability to deal with her brother’s death and to project all of her unresolved bereavement on her unsuspecting son. “Old Clothes,” Christmas II,” and “Little League” are songs that resound with the sorrow of unresolved guilt, the tension of transference, and the deleterious effects of an adolescence without a successful separation-individuation process. The chilling “Just Like You” reverberates with these coming of age trials. In a brilliant reprise of “It Took Me a While,” Ms. Baldwin’s Jen realizes what she has done to her son and with “Graduation” and “The Road Ends Here,” releases John and herself from the past. She is able to admit that she has been too possessive and over protective (“That Was My Way”) admitting that her love was “too strong” and she needed her son “too long.” In the final song “Every Goodbye Is Hello” mother and son are able to start new lives as healthy, separate, and individuated adults.

Ms. Baldwin and Mr. Ryan navigate Andrew Lippa’s music and Tom Greenwald’s lyrics with an honesty and authenticity that reveals the richness of the score and the depth of the lyrics and honors the story of siblings whose complicated yet not uncommon family system leads them in disparate paths and the story of a mother and son who eventually understand the meaning of unconditional and non-judgmental love. Under the careful direction of Keen Company Artistic Director Jonathan Silverstein, Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan demonstrate successfully what musical theatre ought to be. Their performances are never caricatures: nor do these performances ever become cartoonish. The audience is always aware of the age difference in the characters they portray. Their onstage chemistry is remarkable and believable. Steven C. Kemps’s scenic design and Josh Bradford’s lighting design cleverly dramatize the rough edges and shadowy corners of the human mind as it attempts to navigate the obstacle course called life.

It is a joy to see all that a Broadway performance ought to be played out on the Off-Broadway stage at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row. Thanks to a brilliant cast and an inventive creative team, the Keen Company has scored a hit worth seeing.

JOHN & JEN

Music by Andrew Lippa. Lyrics by Tom Greenwald. Book by Tom Greenwald and Andrew Lippa. Directed by Jonathan Silverstein. The creative team includes Steven C. Kemp (Scenic Design), Sydney Maresca (Costume Design), John Bradford (Lighting Design), Julian Evans (Sound Design), Ricola Wille and Julia Moreno (Props Design), Kara Kaufman (Production Stage Manager), Jason Robert Brown (Orchestrations), Lily Ling (Music Director), and Christine O’Grady (Musical Staging). Production photos by Carol Rosegg. Presented by the Keen Company (Jonathan Silverstein, Artistic Director and Charlie Whitehead, General Manager). “John & Jen” plays Tuesday–Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Tickets are $69.25 and may be purchased at https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/John-and-Jen/Overview?&aid=ven000193900 Running Time is 2 hours including an intermission.

WITH: Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan.
ORCHESTRA: Lily Ling (Piano) and Melanie Mason (Cello).
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Saturday, March 14, 2015

FINDING NEVERLAND, THE ENCHANTING NEW BROADWAY MUSICAL TALE OF HOW PETER BECAME PAN BEGINS PERFORMANCES THIS SUNDAY, MARCH 15. RUSH POLICY ANNOUNCED.

FINDING NEVERLAND, THE ENCHANTING NEW BROADWAY MUSICAL TALE OF HOW PETER BECAME PAN BEGINS PERFORMANCES THIS SUNDAY, MARCH 15. RUSH POLICY ANNOUNCED.

Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The new Broadway musical “Finding Neverland” will play its first performance this Sunday, March 15 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (205 West 46th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenues).

Also announced today, the rush ticket policy for “Finding Neverland” beginning Tuesday, March 17.
A limited number of rush tickets will be available for purchase in-person at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre box office beginning at 10am (12pm on Sundays) for that day’s performance(s) only. Rush tickets cost $37 with a maximum of one ticket per person, and may be purchased with cash only. Rush tickets are subject to availability and may not be offered at all performances. Rush seating locations will be determined at the discretion of the box office.

Starring Tony Award® nominee Matthew Morrison (“Glee,” “South Pacific”), Emmy® winner Kelsey Grammer (“Frasier,” ‘La Cage aux Folles”), Olivier Award-winner Laura Michelle Kelly (“Mary Poppins”), and based on the Academy Award® winning motion picture by the same name, “Finding Neverland” follows playwright J.M. Barrie as he summons the courage to become the writer – and the man – he yearns to be. Barrie finds the inspiration he’s been missing when he meets the beautiful widow Sylvia and her four young sons: Jack, George, Michael and Peter. Delighted by the boys’ hilarious escapades, Barrie conjures the magical world of Neverland and writes a play unlike any the high-society London theatergoers have ever seen. It’s a tremendous risk, but as Barrie himself has discovered— when you believe, you can fly. Directed by Tony Award® winner Diane Paulus (“Pippin,” “Hair”),with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow (“Take That”) and Grammy® winner Eliot Kennedy, book by Olivier Award nominee James Graham, and choreography by Emmy Award®-winner Mia Michaels (“So You Think You Can Dance,” Cirque du Soleil’s “Delirium”), this new musical, packed with mesmerizing visuals, irresistible songs and plenty of laughs, is a timeless story about the power of imagination… and spectacular proof that you never really have to grow up.

“Finding Neverland” features a magnificent cast led by Matthew Morrison, Kelsey Grammer, Laura Michelle Kelly, and Carolee Carmello, with Teal Wicks, Alex Dreier, Aidan Gemme, Jackson Demott Hill, Noah Hinsdale, Sawyer Nunes, Christopher Paul Richards, Hayden Signoretti with Courtney Balan, Dana Costello, Colin Cunliffe, Rory Donovan, Chris Dwan, Kevin Kern, Josh Lamon, Melanie Moore, Mary Page Nance, Fred Odgaard, Emma Pfaeffle, Jonathan Ritter, Tyley Ross, Julius Anthony Rubio, Paul Slade Smith, Ron Todorowski, Jaime Verazin and Jessica Vosk.

The production features scenic design by Tony Award®-winner Scott Pask (“Pippin,” “Book of Mormon”), lighting design by Tony Award®-winner Kenneth Posner (“The Coast of Utopia,” “Pippin”), costume design by Suttirat Larlarb (“Of Mice and Men”), sound design by Tony Award®-nominee Jonathan Deans (“Pippin,” “La Cage aux Folles”) and the casting is by Telsey + Company.

“Finding Neverland” is produced by Weinstein Live Entertainment, The Madison Square Garden Company, Len Blavatnik, Ron Burkle, Radenko Milakovic and Bryan Cranston in association with Jason Blum, Broadway Across America, Stephen Bronfman, Rodgin Cohen, Michael Cohl, Jean Doumanian, Chad Dubea, Rick Gerson, Jeremiah J. Harris, Sh. Mohammed Y. El Khereiji, Terry Allen Kramer, Howard Milstein, Dalip Pathak, Steve Rattner, Jimmy Sommers, Peter Stavola, Marvin Peart, and The American Repertory Theater. The production is Executive Produced by Alecia Parker, Barry Weissler and Victoria Parker.

Performances for “Finding Neverland” kick-off this Sunday, March 15 at 7pm at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theater (205 West 46th Street). The official opening is set for Wednesday, April 15. The schedule is as follows: Tuesday at 7:30pm, Wednesday at 2pm & 7:30pm, Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, Sunday at 3pm. Please note, the Sunday, March 15 performance will be at 7pm; There will only be one performance (7:30pm) on Wednesday, March 18. Tickets can be arranged online at www.FindingNeverlandTheMusical.com, by calling Ticketmaster at (877) 250-2929 or in person at the Lunt-Fontanne box office, located at 205 West 46th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenues. For more information, please visit www.FindingNeverlandTheMusical.com.

Twitter and Instagram: @NeverlandBway.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, March 13, 2015

“Everything You Touch” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre at the Cherry Lane Theatre (through Sunday March 29, 2015)

Allegra Rose Edwards and Miriam Silverman in Sheila Callaghan's "Everything You Touch" - Photo by Joan Marcus
“Everything You Touch” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre at the Cherry Lane Theatre (through Sunday March 29, 2015)
By Sheila Callaghan
Directed by Jessica Kubzansky
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Everything you touch turns to gold. Everything you touch turns to dust. “Everything you touch surely dies.” (From the song “Let Her Go” by Passenger)

“Everything You Touch” is a time warp and space warp marathon, pushing and pulling at the audience as it takes audience members on a roller-coaster ride through events in real time, through events in the past, and ultimately to that place where all events initiate and resolve: the human mind. Sheila Callaghan’s play, currently running at the Cherry Lane Theatre, explores the important themes of love, longing, and loss in the context of indifference, suffering, and objectification. Her play is at the same time complex and compelling and worth every bit of the effort it takes to connect with the enduring questions it addresses, including the question of how we truly affect those whom we know and those we might not know.

Typically one wonders whether interacting with others results in something positive or constructive (‘gold’) or something negative and destructive (‘dust’). In “Everything You Touch,” 1970s fashion designer Victor has the knack of having everything he touches wither and/or die. But this is really not Victor’s (played with an eerie realism by Christian Coulson) story but the story of protagonist Jess (played with brilliant dreamlike realism by Miriam Silverman) whose memories and fantasies and needs spin the fascinating and intriguing story of the need to belong in an environment of nihilism and neglect.

Jess’s story in the present is intimately connected to past events, events in the 1970s involving Victor, his two muses Esme (Tonya Glanz) and Louella (Lisa Kitchens), her wannabe boyfriend and co-worker Lewis (Robbie Tann) and three Models (Allegra Rose Edwards, Chelsea Nicolle Fryer, and Nina Ordman) who strut the runway for Victor and who appear as delicious props phones, Chipotle servers, bubble gum machines) in scenes with Jess.

It is difficult to review “Everything You Touch” without giving too much away. The relationships between real time characters and characters from the past and the relationships that never were developed in real time are so intricately intertwined that to reveal one “secret” would interfere with the audience experiencing the strength of this brilliantly written script. What can be reviewed are the remarkable performances, the script itself, and the efforts of the creative team.

Under Jessica Kubzansky’s precise and expansive direction, the ensemble cast delivers authentic and deeply honest performances that invite, even cajole the audience to consider several questions. These questions are answered (well, mostly) throughout the course of the play and will leave the audience members engaged in the lives of Ms. Callaghan’s characters for some time after the performance. Who is Jess and how is she related – if she is – to Victor and Esme? Is she related to Louella; if so, how? Why are models serving as props in Jesse’s scenes? Francoise-Pierre Couture’s sets, Jenny Foldenauer’s brilliant costumes, and Jeremy Pivnick’s phantasmal lighting add to the overall charm and mystery of this must-see performance.

Pixels are the key to understanding the dramatic matrix of “Everything You Touch.” Pixels are the key to perception and perception is the key to all of the events that occur in Jesse’s adventures in the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. Perhaps Jesse’s tumultuous journey is a journey to inner peace. At one point Victor says about his new clothing line inspired by his new muse,” Um, well we've been through quite a bit of tumult the past few years as a nation, with the war, and the recession, and et cetera, and I believe it's time to be innocent again and turn our attention to our most basic needs. Comfort. Stability. Simplicity.” Coming to terms with one past, one’s fantasies, one’s present can provide that kind of comfort, stability, and simplicity in the present “bit of tumult” of the first quarter of the twenty-first century. In one of what might be a fantasy/dream sequence, Victor also affirms to Jess, “Death will get in, though.” The enduring question: can comfort, stability, simplicity, innocence, and honesty get in first and circle the wagons?

EVERYTHING YOU TOUCH

By Sheila Callaghan. Directed by Jessica Kubzansky. The set design for “Everything You Touch” is by Francois-Pierre Couture; costume design is by Jenny Foldenauer; lighting design is by Jeremy Pivnick; property design is by John Burton; video design is by Adam Flemming; sound design is by John Zalewski. Production photos are by Joan Marcus. “Everything You Touch” was commissioned by True Love Productions. Presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, True Love Productions, and the Theatre @ Boston Court. “Everything You Touch” plays Tuesday–Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street. Tickets are $55.00; student tickets are $15.00; and theater artist and under-30 tickets are $20.00. Tickets may be purchased at www.rattlestick.org or by phoning OvationTix at 866.811.4111. Please note that prices and performance schedule are subject to change; please visit www.rattlestick.org for the most up-to-date information. Running Time is 2 hours with a 15 minute intermission.

WITH: Christian Coulson, Allegra Rose Edwards, Chelsea Fryer, Tonya Glanz, Lisa Kitchens, Nina Ordman, Miriam Silverman, and Robbie Tann.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, March 12, 2015

“Abundance” at the Beckett Thereat on Theatre Row (through Saturday March 28, 2015)

“Abundance” at the Beckett Thereat on Theatre Row (through Saturday March 28, 2015)
By Beth Henley
Directed by Jenn Thompson
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Referencing the word “Abundance” in the dictionary, several meanings appear, including ‘an extremely plentiful or over sufficient quantity or supply,’ ‘overflowing fullness,’ and affluence or wealth,’ which all diligently support the aptly titled Beth Henley epic play. The current revival of this important work by TACT, now occupying the Beckett Theater, closely examines the plight of two brave, unrelated, young women in the 1860s moving out west to find a new life and conquer dreams of love, wealth and prosperity. It is a tale of survival, human instinct, intelligence and courage that proves there will always be an abundance present, whether it be love or lust, wealth or poverty, happiness or complacency, kindness or cruelty, feast or famine and that it will continually be prevalent. The focus is survival, the means to survive, and what human nature will sacrifice, endure and invent in order to achieve what it imagines will be happiness. The struggle of these two dissimilar women, sometimes friends, sometimes enemies, over the course of 25 years echoes one of the first lines of Macon Hill, played with refined bravura by Kelly McAndrew, delivered to her counterpart Bess Johnson, played coyly by Tracy Middendorf upon meeting: “you’re like me.” While the confident, strong willed Macon is determined and with a plan, the shy, introverted Bess eventually reiterates the phrase she learned from her friend earlier ”I’d rip the wings off an angel if I thought they’d help me fly” as she seeks revenge and gains the upper hand.

These two women are plagued with their mail order husbands, the one eyed Will Curtis, played as a simple soul with integrity by Ted Koch, and Jack Flan, the unintended husband taking the place of his dead brother, played with utter contempt and disdain by Todd Lawson. The cast is rounded out by Jeff Talbott creating Professor Elmore Crome, an unobtrusive character with sincere intention. The cast works well together as an ensemble and works confidently to overcome any stereotypes. It is to their credit that the humorous rhetoric composed by Ms. Henley is delivered in a manner in which it contributes to the honest observation of the human condition and exposes the tragic situation at hand. The humor is candid, the sadness is remorseful but it is the resilience of these two women that continues to drive the plot, overcome the obstacles and create characters that define a feminist voice of this revered American playwright.

Under the astute direction of Jenn Thompson, played on the incredibly inventive set of Wilson Chin with detailed atmospheric lighting by Philip Rosenberg, the audience is given a first rate production of an underserved work. This interpretation is current in its thinking and extremely relevant to the feministic struggle that exists over a century later in today’s society. This production should not be overlooked.

ABUNDANCE

By Beth Henley. Directed by Jenn Thompson. Set design by Wilson Chin; lighting design by Philip Rosenberg; costume design by Tracy Christensen; sound design and original music by Toby Algya; production stage manager, Erin Gioia Albrecht; production manager, Cate Digirolamo; technical direction, Stephen Sury; publicity by Richard Hillman; casting by Kelly Gillespie; marketing/advertising by Agency 212. Presented by TACT, Scott Alan Evans and Jenn Thompson (Co-Artistic Directors). Production photos by Marielle Solan Photography. “Abundance” plays Tuesday–Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street. Tickets are $59.25 and may be purchased at http://www.theatrerow.org/beckettnowplaying Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with one 10 minute intermission.

WITH: Ted Koch, Todd Lawson, Kelly McAndrew, Tracy Middendorf, and Jeff Talbot.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, March 09, 2015

“Woyzeck, FJF” at the New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday March 21, 2015)

Jason Wilson and James Kautz in "Woyzeck, FJF" - Photo by Russ Rowland
“Woyzeck, FJF” at the New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday March 21, 2015)
By Georg Buchner, Adapted by Jeremy Duncan Pape and D. L. Siegel
Directed by Jeremy Duncan Pape
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“When you’re poor like us sir … It’s the money, the money! If you haven’t got the money … I
mean you can’t bring the likes of us into the world on decency. We’re flesh and blood. Our
kind doesn’t get a chance in this world or the next. If we go to heaven they’ll put us to work
on the thunder.” - Woyzeck to the Captain in “Woyzeck, FJF”

What if – instead of drowning while trying to dispose of the knife he used to murder his unfaithful wife – Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck ended up in an insane asylum wondering why he was there and what it was he had done to result in his hospitalization? And what if the things Woyzeck actually wondered, questioned, and imagined were instead surmised, evaluated, and fantasized by his army mate Andres? There is no need to guess any longer for this is what occurs in Jeremy Duncan Pape’s and D. L. Siegel’s clever retelling of Georg Buchner’s unfinished play “Woyzeck” currently running at the New Ohio Theatre. The adapters (really they are playwrights) attempt to finish what Buchner’s death in 1837 left unfinished with their inventive “Woyzeck, FJF.”

Instead of the multiple settings of Buchner’s play, there is only one setting: the “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” insane asylum which brilliantly serves as a trope for Woyzeck’s inner life as he attempts to come to terms with his poverty and his hopelessness. Alfred Schatz has designed a space that serves stunningly as Woyzeck’s inner sanctum of thoughts, fears, memories, and hopes. From this inner world, Woyzeck “plays out” the scenes with Marie (Evangeline Fontaine) at her home, with The Drum Major (Mackenzie Knapp), with The Doctor (Alessandro Colla) who pays Woyzeck to participate in his medical experiments, with Andres (Isreal McKinney Scott), and with The Captain (Jason Wilson) who also pays Woyzeck.

Under Jeremy Duncan Pape’s diligent and exacting direction, the ensemble cast – in an extended dream ballet – splays the contents of Woyzeck’s disheveled and unraveling mind in a series of surreal “paintings” and “videos” that engage the audience in significant ways. Indeed, it is the rich and enduring questions “Woyzeck, FJF” raises that emerge from the performance that linger and await “answers” long after the curtain call. How does the political climate of Woyzeck’s time compare/contrast to the contemporary political climate? How can individuals living in poverty hope to achieve success? Do religions offer hope to the poor or simply expose dysfunction of the culture of wealth?

James Kautz’s well-modulated Woyzeck is the perfect canvas for Everyman to project her or his “troubles” upon. Mr. Kautz skillfully crawls, dances, crouches, and cries to the beat of the tormented Woyzeck whose desperation leads him to destroy rather than follow his creative spirit and lash out rather than embrace his thoughtful nature. Woyzeck is cautioned that to “think too much” is less than ideal since “people die of it.” Mr. Kautz’s portrayal of Woyzeck is stark, authentic, and honest.

In Buchner’s play, Woyzeck is silenced by accidental death. In this adaptation, Woyzeck is silenced by a frontal lobotomy, eyes bleeding from the procedure, doomed to live out his days in a state of stupefaction and emptiness. How like Woyzeck might the contemporary Everyman be? All of the institutions of society - political, religious, and medical - fail Woyzeck miserably. “Woyzeck, FJF” leaves the audience wondering whether much has changed at all. One also wonders if, when in heaven, the poor will still be remanded to “work on thunder.”

WOYZECK, FJF

By Georg Buchner, Adapted by Jeremy Duncan Pape and D. L. Siegel and directed by Jeremy Duncan Pape. The production team includes Alfred Schatz (Set Design), Evan Roby (Lighting Design), Lux Haac (Costume Design), Jeanne Travis (Sound Design) and Kayla Tate (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Russ Rowland. “Woyzeck, FJF” is presented by No-Win Productions in association with Fractured Atlas and the New Ohio Theatre in a limited engagement at the New Ohio Theatre, located at 154 Christopher Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets in New York City. Performances are Wednesdays – Sundays at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at http://NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 1-888-596-1027. The running time is 70 minutes. For more information visit https://www.Facebook.com/NoWinProductions.

WITH: Alessandro Colla (“Richard III” with Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, “Hamlet” with Bryant Park Shakespeare), Evangeline Fontaine (“Twelfth Night” with Shakespeare in the Parking Lot), James Kautz (“The Pied Pipers of The Lower East Side,” “The Bad and the Better”), Mackenzie Knapp, Isreal McKinney Scott, and Jason Wilson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Sunday, March 08, 2015

“Serenade” At Carroll Place (through August 3, 2015)

“Serenade” At Carroll Place (through August 3, 2015)
Music by Phytos Stratis
Book and Lyrics by Ava Lee Scott
Directed by Ava Lee Scott
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited

My, the immersive theatre has come a long way. From its ‘haunted house’ origins, this creepy interactive genre spawned such cult classic as”Sleep No More” and its spooky successor “Then She Fell.” Writer/Director Ava Lee Scott has nudged the form further with ‘Serenade’ a haunting, Gothic musical inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

The audience begins the show in the home of Fortunato, a wealthy young man hell-bent on conducting a séance to contact the late Mr. Poe; he found a love letter to his mother written by the late poet, and now believes himself to Mr. Poe’s last descent. Led into an eerie dining hall with food and a few troubadours, the audience fully takes part in Fortunato’s ghostly ritual, in which he attempts to summon Poe and prove his heritage.

But gasps! Shrieks! Startles! The ritual goes a bit haywire. The ghosts of several famous women, both historical and mythological, emerge from the beyond. They seek to heal their tortured spirits, all the while entreating Fortunato, his family, and guests (i.e. you) to an enrapturing array of song, dance, and spoken word. Like “13 Ghosts” with beautiful people.

Creator Ava Lee Scott is exceedingly inventive; she’s taken the things most bothersome about immersive theatre and banished them from her work. First off, Serenade is a mostly seated affair. Although the revelry allows for some measure of frolicking, you can relax, sip your wine and still get the full force of the show. Second, while in other immersive fare actors only ordain a chosen few with interaction, the intimacy of the space means it’s hard not to get a little theatrical one-on-one, for better or for worse. Fortunato takes it upon himself to greet each audience member personally, toast with them, and fully gain their confidence before the ritual is joined. Depending on the performer’s whimsy, you may end up browbeaten by Lilith, discussing your crush with Cleopatra, or whispering about faith to Joan of Arc. And did I mention the delicious (and complimentary) food and drink?

Those hoping to hear the purring of “The Black Cat,” the thumping of “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Raven’s” cries ‘Nevermore’ will find the engagement a bit Poe-poor. Indeed, the show is rather lacking when it comes to the source material. That said, the world of the play is one in which Poe’s stories and poems are just that, so to have them come to life wouldn’t make sense in context. Still, couldn’t Scott have sprung for just one killer orangutan?

The play’s Poe-inspired poetics make peculiar lyrics, but the ingenious composition of Musical Director Phytos Stratis weaves them effortlessly into his bewitching score. An enchanting musical mélange, the operatic numbers bathe the world of the play in gothic reverberations without ever taking a turn towards the repetitive. Stratis even leaves his keyboard to dance with the audience on occasion, ensuring the guests are as at home with the music as they are with the performers.

As immersive theatre continues its well-deserved surge on the New York scene, this fantastic phantasmal work is a unique and masterful evolution of the form. Haunting and jovial, nightmarish and intimate, you’d be hard pressed to find a more personal piece of magic than “Serenade.”

SERENADE

Direction, Book and Lyrics by Ava Lee Scott. Music by Phytos Stratis. Produced by AJ Bontempo, Sergio Riva and Ava Lee Scott. Drums/Percussion Josh Davis, Violin/Kamancheh Navid Kandelousi. Cello Peter Pearson, Piano Phyto Stratis, Guitar/Bass Steve Wood. Set Design Sergio Riva, Lighting Design Ava Lee Scott, Sound Design, Phyto Stratis, Stage Manager Rosie Kolbo, Production Manager Nate Dobson, Costume Design Elisa Jimenez.

Featuring: Ava Lee Scott, Courtney Bassett, Beatriz Cavalieri, Sharlene Brandt, Christiana Blain, Jess Domain, Mollie King, Bevin Hill, Rachel Hall, Phyto Stratis, Milagros Simon, Ryan Neal Green, Mark Ryan Anderson, and Nate Dobson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, March 06, 2015

“The Events” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 22, 2015)

Clifford Samuel in "The Events" - Photo by Matthew Murphy
“The Events” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 22, 2015)
By David Greig
Directed by Ramin Gray
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I like to imagine him in that night,/A trial berserker/An orphan in the moonlight,/Walking, singing, patrolling the bins by the coastal path,/looking for a tribe to protect.” Claire in “The Events”

Reportedly, Anders Breivik - the rightwing extremist who bombed a government building in Oslo, Norway in 2011 killing eight people then shooting sixty-nine more in a youth camp - smiled at his trial in 2012 when he was declared not to be insane. To have been declared insane would have been “the ultimate insult.” Odd concern for a mass murderer. Breivik claimed to have committed the murders in an effort to “battle multiculturalism” in Europe.

“The Events,” currently running at the New York Theatre Workshop, was inspired by playwright David Greig’s visit to Norway in the fall of 2011 to research this attack and massacre and by his meeting with a female vicar who ran a community choir. Their collaboration – along with other interviews – further inspired the character of The Boy and the overall structure of “The Events.”

In “The Events” Claire (Neve McIntosh) is a clergyperson who embraces and champions multiculturalism. “We’re all a big crazy tribe here,” Claire tells The Boy (Clifford Samuel) when he visits her choir rehearsal. The Boy is both the perpetrator of the shooting of the members of Claire’s choir, including her murdered partner Catriona, and the visitor to whom Claire tells her story. Mr. Samuel also plays Claire’s psychologist, the father, the friend, the journalist, and the politician. These assorted characters all attempt to make sense of the mass shooting that took Catriona’s life and the lives of other members of Claire’s choir.

Under Ramin Gray’s inventive direction, the cast and visiting choir rehearse the events that led up to the shooting and the attempts to understand the motives of the killer, including Claire’s visit to the perpetrator at Peterhead Prison. These events are not examined ad seriatim or on any recognizable timeline which makes “The Events” a thrilling roller-coaster ride into and through the recesses of the human minds of the victim and the victimized.

Ms. McIntosh and Mr. Samuel deliver powerful performances with honesty and authenticity. There are times one wishes for more modulation in tone and volume in their deliveries although Mr. Samuel succeeds in differentiating his characters. Chloe Lamford’s design is sparse and stark and provides the perfect playing space for Mr. Greig’s visually expansive play. Charles Balfour’s lighting design – also minimal – skillfully counterpoints the action of the play. Magnus Gilljam excels as pianist and is the ultimate “church choir director.” The Westchester Choral Society – the visiting choir on Saturday February 28 – fulfilled the role of Greek Chorus with ease and expertise.

At one point, The Boy responds to Claire’s question, “What are you” with the following: “I am a Europe-wide malaise/I am a point on the continuum of contemporary masculinity/I am an expression of failure in eroded working class communities/I am unique/I am typical/I am the way things are going/I am the past./I am the product of the welfare state/I am the end point of capitalism,/I am an orphan/I am a narcissist/I am a psychopath/I am a void into which we are drawn./I am sick, dead, lost and alone./I am a blankness out of which emerges only darkness and a question./The only question it is possible to ask./What is to be done with me?” The Boy rehearses all the possibilities of why he went “berserk” and challenges the audience to contemplate how many other “Boys” are “out there” on the brink of “berserking.”

Director Ramin Gray affirms, “Going to the theatre in ancient Athens was a civic duty. It was here that important issues were collectively considered by the community.” The playwright’s “The Events” is a dramatic model for a contemporary spin on the ancient practice. Perhaps this model should be utilized after every horrific event in the life of a community. Seeing this important play before it closes should be a priority for all serious theatre-goers.

THE EVENTS

“The Events” features music by John Browne, design by Chloe Lamford, lighting design by Charles Balfour, sound design by Alex Caplen, music direction by Magnus Gilljam and music supervision by David Dabbon. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

All performances of “The Events” run at the New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with matinee performances on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $75.00 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.nytw.org/default.asp Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Through Sunday March 22, 2015.

WITH: Neve McIntosh and Clifford Samuel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, March 04, 2015

“Lives of the Saints” at Primary Stages at the Duke on 42nd Street (Through Friday March 27, 2015)

Liv Rooth as the Washing Machine in "Soap Opera" - Photo by James Leynse
“Lives of the Saints” at Primary Stages at the Duke on 42nd Street (Through Friday March 27, 2015)
By David Ives
Directed by John Rando
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Attributed to Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud’s iconic phrase might be an apt descriptor for David Ives’ “Lives of the Saints” currently running at Primary Stages at the Duke on 42nd Street. When Mr. Ives tackles the vicissitudes of the human condition (tackles the lives of the saints) as he does in the satisfying “It’s All Good,” he is at his best. Unfortunately this new collection of Ives’ tales contains mostly physical comedy, repetitious word play (double entendre, innuendo, etc.), and enough sight gags to challenge a “Three Stooges” gig. And that is fine if that is all the audience expects and desires – which seemed to be the case at a recent showing of these six shorts.

The ensemble cast gives its all in each of the six vignettes; however, often the material does not challenge their considered cumulative craft. While one might argue that “The Goodness of Your Heart” raises enduring questions about the meaning of friendship and the title piece “Lives of the Saints” hints at the richness and durability of faith and the faithful, “Soap Opera” is just all fluff and silliness and like “Babel’s in Arms” could have been eliminated from the program.

In “The Goodness of Your Heart,” separated by only six houses neighbors Del (Arnie Burton) and Marsh (Rick Holmes) get bogged down in a discussion of what friendship is and what friends should be able to expect of one another. These are two enduring questions worth exploring; however, Mr. Ives seems not to know when to cease and desist and just let the piece settle into the hearts of the audience. The best line of this vignette might be Marsh’s “Intrapersonal problems can obliterate you.” The second offering in Act I “Soap Opera” is jam packed full of laundry-related double entendre and chronicles the life of the Maypole repairman (Carson Elrod) and his lifelong infatuation with the washing machine (Liv Rooth) that has haunted him from childhood. Although a lightweight trope for issues of transference and projection, this piece leaves the audience wanting more. The final short of Act I is “Enigma Variations” which seems to be a doppelganger for Ives’ earlier “All in the Timing” just not as satisfying. Here two Bills (Arnie Burton and Rick Holmes) and two Bebes (Liv Rooth and Kelly Hutchinson) play and replay (and reply) a scene in a therapist’s office. Carson Elrod as nurse Fifi rescues the piece from attempting to have some hidden meaning.

The collection’s best vignette is Act II’s “It’s All Good.” Here ex-seminarian Stephen (Rick Holmes) has the opportunity to travel “back in time” to explore what he and wife Leah (Kelly Hutchinson) “might have become” if things had turned out differently. On a trip back to his Chicago roots, Stephen meets his “past self” Steve (Carson Elrod) and the “past self” of his wife Amy (Liv Rooth). It is clear that this brilliant band of actors has waited all afternoon for something they could dig into and create a quartet of authentic and honest performances. If only Mr. Ives had provided this level of writing throughout the six shorts that make up “Lives of the Saints” and particularly in the drawing room comedy “Life Signs” and the title short “Lives of the Saints” which round out the second act.

That said, “Lives of the Saints” is an entertaining two hours of exploring the human condition and worth the visit.

LIVES OF THE SAINTS

By David Ives. Directed by John Rando. Set design by Beowulf Boritt; costume design by Anita Yavich; lighting design by Jason Lyons; sound design and original music by John Gromada; wig design by Tom Watson; props supervision by Christine Goldman; production stage manager, Robbie Kyle Peters; casting by Calleri Casting; press representative, Keith Sherman & Associates; production management by Mind the Gap. Presented by Primary Stages (Executive Producer, Casey Childs, Artistic Director, Andrew Leynse, Managing Director, Elliot Fox) in association with Jamie deRoy and Barry Feirstein. Production photos by James Leynse. At Primary Stages at the Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues). “Lives of the Saints” runs for a limited engagement through Friday March 27, 2015. For performance schedule and ticketing information, please visit http://primarystages.org/ The running time is 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.

WITH: Arnie Burton, Carson Elrod, Rick Holmes, Kelly Hutchinson, and Liv Rooth. On March 10 Jeff Biehl joins the company replacing Rick Holmes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, March 04, 2015

“Rasheeda Speaking” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday March 22, 2015)

Tonya Pinkins and Dianne Wiest in "Rasheeda Speaking" - Photo by Monique Carboni
“Rasheeda Speaking” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday March 22, 2015)
By Joel Drake Johnson
Directed by Cynthia Nixon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“But what if I was? What if I was standing in the bathroom with my ear up to the door? What if I heard every word you said, what would you do? How would you feel? Would you be embarrassed?” - Jaclyn

When a play asks rich, deep, and enduring questions – truly rich and deep and enduring questions – there should be “a kind of a hush” over the audience throughout the performance. Indeed, the appropriate response to the curtain call might be that same awe-fulled hushed silence. Joel Drake Johnson’s “Rasheeda Speaking” asks enduring questions that are rich and deep; however, at times, the audience response was not hushed. In fact, after several “black-outs” which were clearly scene changes, the audience applauded thunderously hoping Mr. Johnson’s well developed and rich characters would indeed stop asking any more challenging questions about race and racism in America.

And thunderous applause is deserved overall for the gifted performances in this important new play. But its message is a difficult one and the cast, under Cynthia Nixon’s exacting and inventive direction, explore the macrocosm of racism in the microcosm of a Chicago medical office. Jaclyn (Tonya Pinkins) and Ileen (Dianne Wiest) have at best a “friendly” relationship as co-workers in the office of surgeon Dr. Darren Williams (played with a wound-tight closet liberalism by Darren Goldstein). This relationship – which includes the sharing of stories and humor – is put to the test when Dr. Williams decides he made a mistake in hiring Jaclyn and promotes Ileen to Office Manager to chronicle Jaclyn’s missteps which the good doctor can then forward to Human Relations to speed the relocation (or dismissal) of his new employee.

It does not take long for Jaclyn to discern what is happening in the office and “Rasheeda Speaking” is the ninety-minute wondrous journey of the reversal of power and authority in human dynamics and a riveting exploration into the dynamics of racism and culture. Director Cynthia Nixon steers her actors into the murky waters of racism, always insisting they honor playwright Joel Drake Johnson’s commitment to exposing the underbelly of racism and bringing to the surface every nuance, every excuse, every disclaimer proffered by those who simply refuse “to get along” because of differences in race and culture.

Ms. Pinkins and Ms. Weist deliver remarkably authentic and honest performances both when on stage together and when facing off with their foils Dr. Williams and patient Rose (portrayed with razor sharp naiveté by Patricia Conolly). Ms. Pinkins’ Jaclyn topples Ileen’s and Dr. Williams’ trove of racism and often exposes her own unresolved issues with race and culture. The moral ambiguity here is scintillating and challenging. As she defends herself and her job against blatant racism, Jaclyn shares her own discomfort with her Mexican neighbors and chooses to distance herself from any identification with Muslims (she being a devout bible-reading, Rosary-bead toting Roman Catholic).

Allen Moyer’s set could not be more perfect: the set is so perfect it begs definition of a theatrical set. It is a physician’s office, warped vinyl molding and all. The rest of the creative team counterpoint the set with the level of realism needed to adequately serve the surreal action of the script.

In the end, Jaclyn continues her job with the same proficiency and aplomb she had during her first six months of employment; Dr. Williams is held hostage by Human Resources; and Ileen is reduced to a gun-toting nervous wreck dominated by her family’s fear-driven racist agenda. The only difference: Jaclyn has clearly identified the toxins in the air and those poisons are not emanating from the copier just behind her desk.

What if those whom we have marginalized heard every word we said about them? Would we be embarrassed? That might just be the one of the most enduring questions raised in the brilliant and engaging “Rasheeda Speaking.” And be prepared to discover how the play got its title. Dear reader, you have been forewarned.

RASHEEDA SPEAKING

By Joel Drake Johnson. Directed by Cynthia Nixon. This production features Set Design by Allen Moyer, Costume Design by Toni-Leslie James, Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton and Sound Design and Original Music by David Van Tieghem. Production photos by Monique Carboni. Presented by The New Group (Scott Elliott, Artictic Director and Adam Bernstein, Executive Director). At the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street.

The performance schedule is: Tuesday - Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m., with Wednesday matinee performances at 2:00 p.m. Ticket Prices are $77.00 - $97.00 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.thenewgroup.org/ The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Through Sunday March 22, 2015.

WITH: Patricia Conolly, Darren Goldstein, Tonya Pinkins and Dianne Wiest.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Saturday, February 28, 2015

“The Road to Damascus” at 59E59 Theater A (Through Sunday, March 1, 2015)

Mel Johnson Jr. and Rufus Collins (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
“The Road to Damascus” at 59E59 Theater A (Through Sunday, March 1, 2015)
By Tom Dulack
Directed by Michael Parva
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I’m speaking of the journey of your soul.” Pope Augustine in “The Road to Damascus”

It is easy to get trapped in the seductive Siren-like lure of reality when watching Tom Dulack’s “The Road to Damascus” currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of its innovative and successful 5A Series of plays. The events of the play – a future terrorist bombing of Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the hawkish response of the new third-party President – play out in a powerful albeit predictable way that satisfies the audience and leaves it members thinking deeply and asking rich questions about the dystopian future of the United States in an environment of seemingly escalating global anti-American sentiment. How can the United States successfully combat world-wide terrorism? Will the terrorists ultimately win out? Is anyone safe from the scourge of international terrorism? But it is in the rich layer of metaphor that lies beneath the play’s plot that the magic of “The Road to Damascus” resides and proves Tom Dulack to be a skilled and worthy wordsmith.

The perpetrator of the horrific attack seems to be an Isis mutant self-named the Army of God and The United States is prepared to lay full blame on Syria and plans to obliterate Damascus in retaliation. Hoping to avoid the catastrophic event, the Vatican’s first black Pope (played with calm distinction by the brilliant Mel Johnson Jr.) plans to fly to Damascus and act as a human shield against the planned attack. It should not be left unnoticed that this new Pope is named Augustine (unfortunately mispronounced by everyone throughout the play – the stress is on the second syllable of the name, the way the Saint liked it) and that his journey is – like Saint Paul’s – to Damascus, the journey which resulted in Saul’s conversion to Paul and to following Christ. It should also not be left unnoticed that the there is a parallel between the Isis “Army of God” and Pope Augustine’s “Army of God.”

The real power of Mr. Dulack’s play resides in the ability of what is ultimately deemed good and righteous and lovely to convict protagonist Dexter Hobhouse (played with delicious moral ambivalence by Rufus Collins) that his “soul [is] in conflict, in terrible conflict with itself” and convert the failed diplomat to follow “what is good and what is true in his nature.” It is Hobson’s resignation from the State Department and his decision to follow Pope Augustine into Damascus that is at the heart of this demanding play and the discerning audience member has to carefully dodge the temptation to get caught up in the surface conflicts of the complex and multilayered characters.

The competent and committed ensemble cast - under Michael Parva’s meticulous direction - delivers authentic and believable performances that deftly support the main conflict of the play. Joseph Adams plays the discontented U.S. Undersecretary of State Ted Bowles with palpable physicality, especially in his scenes with NSA affiliate Bree Benson played with irascible charm by Liza Vann. Equally petulant is Benson’s doppelganger Cardinal Mederios played with a holy wickedness (watch that twitching right hand!) by Robert Verlaque. Rooting for the protagonist are his college mate Bishop Roberto Guzman and his longsuffering girl friend news correspondent Nadia Kirlenko. These characters are played by Joris Stuyck and Larisa Polonsky respectfully: both actors bring remarkable definition to their somewhat difficult roles and enliven their characters with charm and endearing depth.

Brittany Vasta’s clean, sleek, and symmetric set belies the asymmetry of the play’s core and serves the action of the play perfectly. Graham Kindred’s lighting is subtle and inventive and Quentin Chiappetta’s original music and sound design weave magic into the dramatic mix. Lux Haac’s costume design is serviceable and appropriately understated.

Perhaps Oscar Wilde was spot on when he wrote that “no good deed goes unpunished.” In the last moments of the play what appears to be the beginning of a new era of understanding between Christians and Muslims becomes catastrophic and incomprehensible. The soul’s journey to redemption is never an easy one and often does end cataclysmically; however, if Bishop Augustine, Dexter, and Roberto are correct, it is the journey itself that is redemptive and enduring. And if Saint Augustine is correct, that journey is in itself the cornerstone of The City of God.

THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS

The design team includes Brittany Vasta (scenic design); Graham Kindred (lighting design); Lux Haac (costume design); and Quentin Chiappetta (original music/sound design). The production stage manager is Rose Riccardi. The stage manager is Katharine S. Fergerson. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

The cast features Rufus Collins as Dexter Hobhouse, Larisa Polonsky as Nadia Kirilenko, and Mel Johnson Jr. as Pope Augustine. They are joined by Robert Verlaque as Cardinal Medeiros, Joris Stuyck as Bishop Guzman, Joseph Adams as Teddy Bowles, and Liza Vann as Bree Benson.

The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 PM; Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM; Sunday at 3:00 PM through Sunday March 1. 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 is 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, February 23, 2015

“Villainous Company” at Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre (Running January 12-31)

“Villainous Company” at Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre (Running January 12-31)
By Victor L. Cahn
Directed by Eric Parness
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is a special kind of merriment in a mystery play, and no, I’m not talking about Medieval liturgical drama. A mystery play lives and dies by the intensifying of suspense, the genius of its plot, and the brilliance of its characters always being ever-so-enjoyably one step ahead (or behind) the rest of us. The theatrical equivalent of Sudoku, it’s a risky enterprise, though, as a bad caper struggles to find any sort of aesthetic whatsoever.

Victor L. Cahn’s “Villainous Company” revolves around Claire, a bourgeois antique enthusiast. Her quiet day is interrupted by Tracy, who returns an ominous package Claire left at the outlet mall. As the play goes on, it’s revealed that Tracy is not all she seems, as she proceeds to investigate Claire for an unspecified crime.

The biggest kink in “Villainous Company” is hardly a mystery. The dialogue is so blatant and clinical, the play cannot accrue a shadow of nuance. While such indelicacies could be forgivable in a play that must move quickly, half the show is spent on Tracy accusing Claire, and Claire in turn responding how comically ridiculous it all sounds. Over. And over. And over again.

Eric Parness has his work cut out for him enlivening the tedious scene work. For the most part he succeeds, in no small part due to Alice Bahlke, who brings vitality and predatory joy to the stage as Tracy. Bahlke demonstrates cunning instincts as a performer. I would be curious to see what she could do with an Ophelia or Thomasina. Lead actress Corey Tazmania is another matter. Her bumblebee bustle and foppish demeanor as Claire are perplexing, unendearing, and robotic. (Not to mention the quasi-British accent she and fellow actress Julia Campanelli insist on employing for no visible purpose)

Though “Villainous Company” is billed as ‘A Caper for Three Women’, it doesn't take a sleuth to deduce the play was penned by a masculine brain with certain neanderthalic tendencies. The attractive investigator is stripped searched to her skivvies for no rational reason other than show off her curves. Though rationality is an unwelcome guest in this world, as there are enough holes in the plot to test even the most forgiving of disbelief-suspenders.

I admit Cahn is capable of entertaining twists. There is a rather delightful one at the very end involving an inconsistency with a pair of pecan salads, but it comes after two rather foreseeable non-twists that have already poisoned the twist reservoir. For all the intriguing turns, “Villainous Company” is a hodgepodge of interesting reveals that forgets to wrap a play around them.

VILLAINOUS COMPANY

Written by Victor L. Cahn, Directed by Eric Parness. Jennifer Varbalow (Set Designer), Brooke Cohen (Costume Designer), Pamela Kupper (Lighting Designer), Nick Simone (Sound Designer), Stephanie Klapper (Casting Consultant), Sean McCain (Stage Manager).

Featuring: Alice Bahlke, Julia Campanelli and Corey Tazmania

“Villainous Company” (www.villainouscompanytheplay.com) runs from January 9 to January 31, playing Thursday-Saturday at 8PM; Sunday Matinee at 3PM; Wednesday, January 28 at 8PM). Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre is located at 410 West 42nd Street.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, January 16, 2015

“Ham: A Musical Memoir” at Theater 511 at Ars Nova (Through Saturday January 24, 2015)

Sam Harris - Photo by Timmy Blupe
“Ham: A Musical Memoir” at Theater 511 at Ars Nova (Through Saturday January 24, 2015)
Written and Performed by Sam Harris
With Todd Schroeder
Directed by Billy Porter
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Despite every possible obstacle – including a dispassionate and disinterested father and growing up in an oppressive and homophobic environment – Sam Harris has maintained an astonishing professional career in music, television, stage, and screen. His recent book “Ham: Slices of a Life” chronicles that story of success and is the subject of Mr. Harris’s current “Ham: A Musical Memoir” running at Theater 511 at Ars Nova through January 25, 2015.

Self-described as “stories interspersed with songs,” “Ham” the liter-usical gives Mr. Harris the opportunity to share his life’s stories and showcase much of his musical canon. Sam Harris has a rich, multi-layered voice which he uses to skillfully interpret the music he chooses to sing. His phrasing is inventive and engaging as is his persona.

Songs that stand out in the performance are “Ham” (Sam Harris and Todd Schroeder). “Colored Town” (Sam Harris and Todd Schroeder), “God Bless the Child” (Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr.), “I Shall Be Released” (Bob Dylan), “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg), and “Broken Wing” (Sam Harris and Todd Schroeder). Musical director and accompanist Todd Schroeder is a performance powerhouse and the synergy between Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Harris is often spellbinding.

Perhaps the more traditional approach, “songs interspersed with stories,” would have served Mr. Harris better. The liter-usical format allows Sam Harris to sing only a part of most of the songs in the show’s list. It might have been more engaging to hear a smaller number of songs sung in full interrupted by Mr. Harris’s story. The journey of a gay man, or in fact of any disenfranchised person, to self-discovery and acceptance and self-empowerment is equally empowering to the audience and the story of Sam Harris from childhood through a challenging adolescence to fatherhood is no exception and deserves a visit before January 24, 2015.

HAM: A MUSUCAL MEMOIR

Written and performed by Sam Harris; with musical director Todd Schroeder; directed by Billy Porter; scenic design by Reid Thompson; lighting and sound design by Matt Berman; costume design by Hunter Kaczorowski; stage manager, Melanie Aponte. HAM is produced by Susan Dietz and Elaine Krauss. The performance schedule is Wednesdays - Monday at 8:00PM at Theater 511 at Ars Nova, 511 West 54th Street in New York City. The final performances will be on Saturday, January 24 at 2:00PM and 8:00PM. Tickets for the production will are available online at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/941046 Running time: 80 minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, January 15, 2015

“Side Show” at the St. James Theatre (Closes on Sunday January 4, 2015)

“Side Show” at the St. James Theatre (Closes on Sunday January 4, 2015)
Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell
Music by Henry Krieger
Additional Book Material by Bill Condon
Directed by Bill Condon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Side Show’s” messages of self-acceptance, unconditional and non-judgmental love, and commitment bring audiences to their feet at the close of the re-imagined musical currently playing at the St. James Theatre and surprisingly scheduled to close on Sunday January 4, 2015. The musical opened to exceptionally positive reviews in November and nightly has elicited (rarely experienced from Broadway audiences) acclamations from the audience during the performance. So with these accolades, new music by Henry Krieger and an outstanding cast, the question remains, why is this musical closing early? Is there something inherent in this story that has challenged two attempts at a successful Broadway run?

The true story of Violet Hilton (played splendidly by Megan McGinnis at this performance) and Daisy Hilton (Emily Padgett) is remarkable: they were legends in their time and the highest paid performers on the vaudeville circuit. “Side Show” is the story of their heartwarming search for first love and acceptance amidst the spectacle of fame and scrutiny under the spotlight. The first act of “Side Show” recounts the details of their story and their internal conflicts with charm and grace. Their external conflicts with Sir (Robert Joy) and their conflicts with society’s dogged disapprobation result in a powerful connection with audience members, each with her or his own story of longing for love and acceptance.

The second act of “Side Show” is not as strong as the first and depends heavily on the endearing “I Will Never Leave You” to anchor its development. The first act ends with “Who Will Love Me As I Am” and when, in the second, Jake (played with remarkable power and innocence by David St. Louis) offers that authentic love to Violet, he is rebuffed for the same reasons Violet and Daisy are denied full acceptance by society.

The facts of the story cannot be changed understandably, but it is difficult to understand how two women victimized by prejudice are not more capable of overcoming issues of race and culture. And in a time when lesbian and gay citizens can finally marry, it is also (again despite its truth) difficult to accept a gay character’s unwillingness to accept himself and deny his right to a loving relationship with another man choosing instead to marry for convenience and profit. Perhaps these conflicts in the musical fail to counterpoint with the power of the protagonists’ victories and in some non-conscious way detract from the catharsis needed by the audience.

None of this speculation detracts from the power of the musical or from its potential for continued success. A London run is in the discussion stage and a live recording was made for the Lincoln Center Library on December 17th. Certainly there is ample interest in “Side Show.” And that interest is generated not only by the story of the conjoined twins but also by the way, under Bill Condon’s imaginative direction, the cast and creative team have chosen to tell that remarkable story. Matthew Hydzik (Buddy Foster), Robert Joy (Sir), Megan McGinnis (Violet on Saturday December 6), Emily Padgett (Daisy), David St. Louis (Jake), and Ryan Silverman (Terry Connor) could not be better in their roles and the supporting cast of freaks and stock characters excel in their respective important roles.

New York audiences have just a few days to witness a stunning musical before it closes prematurely. There is every reason to see “Side Show” and support the actors, the creative team, and the production team in their effort to tell the story of self-discovery and love.

SIDE SHOW

Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell; music by Henry Krieger; additional book material by Bill Condon; directed by Bill Condon; set design by David Rockwell; lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer; costume design by Paul Tazewell; sound design by Peter Hylenski ; hair and wig design by Charles LaPointe; make-up design by, illusions by Paul Kieve ; special make-up effects by Dave Elsy and Lou; musical direction and arrangements by Sam Davis; and orchestrations by Harold Wheeler. Since its inception, Jack Tantleff has served as Creative Supervisor. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For more information about “Side Show” and for show schedule and tickets, visit http://sideshowbroadway.com/

Erin Davie and Emily Padgett returned to Broadway in their respective leading roles as Violet and Daisy Hilton. The cast also includes Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Foster, Robert Joy as Sir, Ryan Silverman as Terry Connor, and David St. Louis as Jake. The ensemble of side show characters include Brandon Bieber as the 3 Legged Man, Matthew Patrick Davis as the Geek, Charity Angel Dawson as the Fortune Teller, Lauren Elder as the Venus di Milo, Javier Ignacio as the Dog Boy, Jordanna James as the World’s Tiniest Cossack (female), Kelvin Moon Loh as the Half-Man Half-Woman, Barrett Martin as the Human Pin Cushion, Don Richard as the Reptile Man, Blair Ross as the Bearded Lady, Hannah Shankman as the Tattoo Girl, Josh Walker as the World’s Tiniest Cossack (male), with Con O’Shea-Creal, Derek Hanson, and DeLaney Westfall.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, December 18, 2014

“The Last Ship” at the Neil Simon Theatre (Tickets Available through March 31, 2015)

“The Last Ship” at the Neil Simon Theatre (Tickets Available through March 31, 2015)
Music and Lyrics by Sting
Book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey
Directed by Joe Mantello
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

[Sting has assumed the role of Jackie White played by Jimmy Nail for the December 7 performance attended by Theatre Reviews Limited. Mr. Nail will continue in the role at the conclusion of Sting’s run on January 24, 2015.]

Everything is just right about “The Last Ship” currently running at the Neil Simon Theatre. With music and lyrics by Sting and a cohesive and engaging book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, this new musical does not disappoint. Indeed, it is a powerful exploration of the dynamics of love and loss and hope and destiny. The new musical is rich with tropes, specifically the extended metaphor of the ship/boat and the river which figure prominently in American literature (“Moby Dick,” “Song of Myself,” “Tom Sawyer” to name a few) and it is appropriate to use that metaphor here and urge readers not to miss the boat and be sure to see “The Last Ship” for a journey that is heartfelt and restorative of hope and spirit.

Threatened by the closure of their shipyard and becoming salvage men working in a scrap yard, the ship builders in Wallsend, Englsnd – inspired by Father O’Brien (played with irascible piety by Fred Applegate) – choose to build and launch their final ship christened with the priest’s name as a testimony to their commitment to their craft, their honor, and their heritage. This story fits neatly and understandably into the framework of Gideon Fletcher’s fifteen year odyssey of self-discovery which leads him from his father Joe and girlfriend Meg out onto the sea of self-discovery and back to his home and his opportunity to mend broken hearts and restore dreams fractured by distance and doubt.

Directed with exquisite facility by Joe Mantello, the principal cast and the supporting cast deliver powerfully authentic performances of the rich and well-rounded characters developed by John Logan and Brian Yorkey. It is impossible not to connect deeply with each character and her or his believable conflicts. Young Gideon (played to late adolescent perfection by Collin Kelly Sordelet) needs to extract himself from the expectations of his father (played with acerbic charm by Jamie Jackson) and the passionate hopes of his girlfriend Meg (played by Dawn Cantwell). Returning after fifteen years, the adult Gideon (played with an exacting conflicted spirit by Michael Esper) longs to reconnect with Meg Dawson (played with just the right indecisiveness by Rachel Tucker) and his son Tom Dawson (brilliantly played by Collin Kelly Sordelet with a character skillfully differentiated from his role as the young Gideon).

Like his biblical namesake, Gideon’s march around the shipyard and the neighborhood bar bring the walls of disappointment, denial, and denigration tumbling down. Meg chooses to stay with Arthur Millburn (played with delicious jealousy by Aaron Lazar) who has helped raise Tom and wants to marry Meg. The men of Wallsend succeed in building their last ship and Gideon manages to reconcile with his father and son and have the chance to bond with his son on the ship’s maiden voyage.

Sting’s songs are charged with emotion, longing, love, and redemption and are among the best on Broadway in the last decade. The title song “The Last Ship,” “Island of Souls,” “Hymn,” “It’s Not the Same Moon,” and “Ghost Story” are among the show’s stand out musical numbers. The choreography is energetic and allows each actor the opportunity to add personality to the well-crafted steps designed by Steven Hoggett. David Zinn’s set design is awe inspiring and filled with intricacy and surprise. There is every reason to see “The Last Ship” on Broadway – the sooner the better.

THE LAST SHIP

Music and lyrics by Sting; book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey; music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements by Rob Mathes; choreography by Steven Hoggett; directed by Joe Mantello; scenic and costume design by David Zinn; lighting design by Christopher Akerlind; sound design by Brian Ronan; music coordinator, Dean Sharenow; associate music director, Dan Lipton, press representative, Sam Rudy Media Relations; production supervisor, Brian Lynch; Presented by Jeffrey Seller, Kathryn Schenker, Kevin McCollum, Sander Jacobs, James L. Nederlander, Roy Furman, Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. Production photos by Joan Marcus and Matthew Murphy. At the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019, 212-757-8646.

Tickets to “The Last Ship” on Broadway are currently available for purchase through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000. Ticket prices range from $55 to $147. To book groups of 15 or more, visit broadway.com/groups or call 1-800-Broadway x2. Through March 31, 2015. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

WITH: Michael Esper, Rachel Tucker, Jimmy Nail, Fred Applegate, Aaron Lazar, Sally Ann Triplett and Collin Kelly-Sordelet.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, December 17, 2014

“White Christmas” at the New Theatre in Cardiff, United Kingdom (Closed Saturday December 6, 2014)

“White Christmas” at the New Theatre in Cardiff, United Kingdom (Closed Saturday December 6, 2014)
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by David Ives and Paul Blake
Reviewed by George Caulton
Theatre Reviews Limited (USA)

Cardiff’s amateur dramatic group, the Orbit Theatre Company, successfully performed their own rendition of Irving Berlin’s spectacular “White Christmas” this December. The stage show, based on the beloved and timeless film, features several memorable songs including “Sisters,” “Blue Skies,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” and the perennial favourite, “White Christmas.” All of the songs were a hit with the audience with feet-tapping and beaming smiles. The finale really anticipated the Christmas feel as the cast invited the audience to join in with old time classic “White Christmas.” With life, exuberance, energy and colour, it cannot be denied that the Orbit Theatre’s production emphasised that heart-warming, Christmas glow.

Nicky Taliesin was outstanding in his characterisation of lead Bob Wallace. One would not consider his performance to be of an amateur level. His advanced vocal ability and outstanding acting allowed Nicky to carry the show alongside his partner, brilliantly played by Phil Davies. Terrific contributions too from Giaccolina Crothers and Hannah Rix as Betty and Judy who provided a fantastic degree of comic timing as well as adopting a great relationship with both Nicky and Phil.

Special mention too goes to young Ffion Elin Griffith who confidently played Susan Waverly. Her rendition of “I’m Happy” and "The Sweetest Thing" were real show stoppers! Undeniably, young Ffion has a bright future ahead in acting if this show is anything to go by.

The dancers and chorus were terrific also, with masses of energy that pervaded the stage to the build-up of the renowned “White Christmas.” Overall, the show was full of energy and life which inevitably lead to the success of the Orbit Theatre’s production of Irving Berlin’s iconic “White Christmas.”

WHITE CHRISTMAS

For more information about the Orbit Theatre Company and the New Theatre in Cardiff, United Kingdom, please visit http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, December 09, 2014

“The Invisible Hand” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through January 4, 2015)

“The Invisible Hand” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through January 4, 2015)
By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Ayad Akhtar’s “The Invisible Hand” currently playing at the New York Theatre Workshop is an intelligent, emotionally charged, and captivating exploration of the complex dynamics of self-interest in a globally codependent environment. Under Ken Rus Schmoll’s electric direction, the ensemble cast leads – sometimes propels – the audience through a series of “ah-ha” moments which culminate in the kind of rare catharsis that allows the audience to not only settle back in their seats but also equips them with a renewed awareness of the fragility of global politics and economics.

The first “ah-ha” moment occurs as American Citibank investment banker Nick Bright (played with a beguiling innocence by Justin Kirk) is being interrogated by Bashir (played with the innocence of a viper by Usman Ally) after being taken hostage “somewhere in Pakistan” and held hostage for a ten million dollar ransom. Despite Nick’s protestations that he is not worth that much to Citibank, Bashir and the Imam Saleem (played with a diabolical intensity by Dariush Kashani) persist in making the demand for ransom without reducing the amount: they see Nick as their most recent “cash cow.” The ceiling of Riccardo Hernandez’s almost claustrophobic Quonset hut First Act set intentionally envelopes the audience drawing them right into the interrogation and the “ah-ha” here is, “Wait, this play is ripped right out of today’s news!”

The second “ah-hah” moment is somewhat more challenging especially to an American audience. In the midst of the interrogation, both sides attempt to gain the upper hand in negotiations and Nick attempts to up his game by getting close to his guard Dar (played with a jagged compassion by Jameal Ali). He convinces Dar to convert his rupees to dollars and start an interest-bearing savings account. Not the best of ideas. When he discovers the ploy, Bashir confronts Nick with, “You and your [expletive] interest eating up the world like cancer. You been teaching [Dar] about cancer then?” The action in this scene of the play is particularly gripping and all four actors deliver remarkably authentic and honest performances. There is not one moment the audience is not convinced they are in the midst of a life-or-death struggle and the “ah-hah” here is the devastating possibility that, “This is why they (Al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc.) absolutely hate the United States.”

The third “ah-hah” moment is the most challenging and even disturbing and will resound in the minds, bodies, and spirits of the audience long after it emerges from the relative safety of theatre into a world it will never quite see the same again. This is transformative theatre of the very best kind and is not for hard of hard or closed of mind. Nick convinces Bashir and the Imam he can raise the needed ransom by practicing his craft as a securities expert, dealing in puts and futures trading. Unable to handle a computer himself, Nick has to teach Bashir all he knows about trading. In this learning process, the balance of power shifts and Bashir needs Nick less and less to amass a fortune. What Bashir initially sees as American-brokered cancer he eventually sees as the “balm in Gilead” for the brokenness of his “corrupt country.” Part of Nick’s information shared with Bashir concerns the concept of “the invisible hand.”

As Nick begins to make millions of dollars, he explains to Bashir during a trade: “Fine. But see how short that window was? It was just a few minutes before the market started correcting by itself. At the end of the day, everybody's self-interest works as a check against everyone else's. That's what they call the invisible hand. The free market is guided by the confluence and conflict of everyone's self-interest, like an invisible hand moving the market.” Bashir’s self-interest becomes paramount and he assumes the power Nick once had. Nick tells Bashir early in his confinement, “Power is what it is. Some have it. Some don't. Those who don't, want it. The best the rest of us can hope for? That those who have it, will use it well. For all its faults, America tries to use it well.” Bashir does not believe that is true of America and learns how to acquire the power America has had but, in his opinion, misused.

The play ends with the shocking release of Nick into the turmoil around him, into a very dangerous environment where he might lose his life. The freedom Nick seeks is finally granted with terms he did not expect. He is not longer needed and has inadvertently given his captor the upper hand. The “ah-hah” is, “This invisible hand” is operative in the everyday lives of the members of the audience: our self interest works against everyone else’s and it is anyone’s guess how the confluence and conflict of everyone’s self interest will play out. Who will be captive and who will be captor is always in the balance.

In addition to Riccardo Hernandez’s remarkable set (which breaks down and expands during the intermission, creating a scene of its own), Tyler Micoleau’s stark and minimal lighting and Leah Gelpe’s eerie and bombastic sound design support the innovative dramatic arc of Mr. Akhtar’s engaging play. In a delightful moment of foreshadowing, Bashir tells Nick, “I know you don’t get it, but sometimes the revolution is violent. And sometimes the peace can only come after the violence.” Bashir exacts violence on both his spiritual leader and his American tutor and one wonders what kind of peace he has ushered in. If there is one play the reader must see before year’s end, “The Invisible Hand” is that play. It will transform life, challenge established points of view, and shatter the most resistant weltanschauung.

THE INVISIBLE HAND

By Ayad Akhtar; directed by Ken Rus Schmoll; scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez; costume design by ESOSA; lighting design by Tyler Micoleau; sound design by Leah Gelpe; dialect coach, Stephen Gabis; fight director, Thomas Schall; stage manager, Megan Schwartz Dickert. Production photos by Joan Macus. Presented by the New York Theatre Workshop with special arrangement with Dasha Theatricals. At the New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, 212-279-4200, http://www.nytw.org/default.asp. Running time, 2 hours with one intermission.

WIT
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, December 08, 2014

“On a Stool at the End of the Bar” at 59E59 Theater B (Through Sunday December 14, 2014)

Zachary Brod, Antoinette Thornes, and Sara Kapner - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“On a Stool at the End of the Bar” at 59E59 Theater B (Through Sunday December 14, 2014)
By Robert Callely
Directed by Michael Parva
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Transgender themed movies far outnumber transgender themed plays: “In a Year of 13 Moons” (1978); “Paris Is Burning” (1990); “Ma vie en rose” (1997); “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999); and “Transamerica” (2005) all have raised the consciousness about transgender women and men who not only struggle with the important issue of sexual status and gender reassignment surgery but also battle fear, rage, and harassment from family, friends, and society at large. So it was with much anticipation this reviewer attended a performance of Robert Callely’s “On a Stool at the End of the Bar” currently playing at 59E59 Theater B. Mr. Callely’s play deals with the inadvertent “outing” of Chris McCullough (Antoinette Thornes) by her brother Michael (John Stanisci).

Michael stops by his sister’s Camden, New Jersey home to drop off a check from their father’s estate, meets Chris’s significant other Tony DeMarco (Timothy John Smith) with whom she lives with his three children Mario (Zachary Brod), Angie (Sara Kapner), and Joey (Luke Slattery). Tony knows nothing about Chris’s family and in his conversation with Michael – who assumes Tony knows everything - learns Chris was Christopher before her gender reassignment surgery. Tony later confronts Chris with Michael’s revelation and, as one would expect, all hell breaks loose and the play itself reels off its already fragile hinges. Playwright Callely simply does not handle the subject well and has his characters misbehave in the worst ways. Although it is understandable that the news a family has been living a deception would be shocking, it is not understandable that family members would only exhibit rage and loathing toward someone who had done nothing but shower them with unconditional love.

Worse, Mr. Callelly leaves unresolved the family’s confusion between transgender, transvestite, and lesbian-gay sexual identities. The cast seems to struggle with Mr. Callely’s disjointed script and does its best to work through awkward and meaningless scenes like those between Tony and Father Conners (admirably played by Robert Hogan) and Chris and Dr. Johns played without an ounce of therapeutic unconditional love by Liza Vann. It is not possible for an urban priest to be as naïve as Mr. Callely’s Father Conners and rare for a therapist to be as erratic in advice as the playwright’s Dr. Johns.

It is difficult to know precisely what Robert Callely’s play is supposed to be about: is it about Chris’s disingenuous behavior or her shame; is it about her family’s reaction to her truth; or is it perhaps about priests behaving badly. Director Michael Parva must assume some of the responsibility here. He allows Ms. Thornes to speak more slowly than any actor on stage ever has giving her important monologues the tempo of somnambulance. And the director moves his actors around like cardboard cut-outs. Overall, this attempt at dealing with a significant and emotionally charged subject falls flat and leaves the audience hoping for more.

ON A STOOL AT THE END OF THE BAR

Written by Robert Callely and directed by Michael Parva. The design team includes Jessica L. Parks (set design), Jill Nagle (lighting design), Amy C. Bradshaw (costume design), and Quentin Chiappetta (sound design). The Production Stage Manager is Rose Riccardi. Production photos by Carol Rosegg. Presented by the Director’s Company.

“On a Stool at the End of the Bar” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, December 14. 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. Please note, there is no performance on Thursday, November 27 (Thanksgiving). Single 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 2 hours including a 10 minute intermission.

WITH: Zachary Brod, Robert Hogan, Sara Kapner, Luke Slattery, Timothy John Smith, John Stanisci, Antoinette Thornes, and Liza Vann.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, December 05, 2014

“Asymmetric” at 59E59 Theater C (Through Saturday December 6, 2014)

Sean Williams as Josh - Photo by Travis McHale
“Asymmetric” at 59E59 Theater C (Through Saturday December 6, 2014)
By Mac Rogers
Directed by Jordana Williams
Reviewed by David Roberts, Theatre Reviews Limited

There has been “Acoustic Kitty” and “Project Pigeon” in the CIA’s arsenal of operations. Marc Rogers’s “Asymmetric” currently running at 59E59 Theater C adds another: the rather oddly named “Icarus Drone” operation. Mr. Rogers’s tasty espionage drama centers on retired agent Josh (Sean Williams) using his interrogation skills to discover to whom the fifth floor mole has been leaking information about the Icarus Drone project. Unfortunately for Josh, this necessitates the interrogation of his former wife and partner Sunny (Kate Middleton) who has the information the CIA needs to stop information from getting into the wrong hands.

Josh left the Agency and retired to a life of drinking. His relationship with Sunny ended. Now he is called back into action because his former boss Zack (Seth Shelden) knows Josh is the only one able to break Sunny down – despite the efforts of Ford (Rob Maitner) who prefers scissors and pliers and dismemberment to standard interrogation.

The espionage genre has gained popularity in the recent past and television seems hard put to keep up with the demand. “NCIS” keeps parenting spin-offs which garner raved reviews and “Bones” seems to be on an award-winning marathon. With all that espionage exposure, one wonders how a ninety minute drama on a tiny stage could succeed. The answer: it does! Under Jordana Williams’s meticulous and generous direction, the ensemble cast delivers powerful and authentic performances. Their distaste for one another and the government they serve is palpable. Reference to the Presidents of the United States as “Daddies” is powerful.

Sean Williams’s Josh is outwardly broken and compliant but is capable of getting what he wants when he wants and needs it. Kate Middleton’s Sunny is hard as nails and knows her love for Josh has not ended and tried to deflect his interrogation so he can survive. Playwright Rogers writes with his characters in mind and gives them wonderful clues to disclose to the audience that result in a plethora of “Ah-Ha” moments. Seth Shelden’s Zack is mousey when he needs to be and strident when necessary and he cannot keep up with Josh or Sunny. Only Rob Maitner’s performance as Ford falters: Mr. Maitner lacks the grit and grime one would expect in a Ford.

There are delicious twists and turns in “Asymmetric” and it would not be fair to reveal them here. It is enough to know that the drama keeps the audience guessing and attentive throughout. Audience members are so engaged with the play they are afraid to miss a clue – either spoken or written on the face of one of the characters. Listen for the intriguing clue when John warns Sunny not to reveal the location of her gardening lover. Enough said: see this gem before it closes on December 6th.

ASYMMETRIC

Written bt Mac Rogers; directed by Jordana Williams. The design team includes Travis McHale (set and lighting), Amanda Jenks (costumes), and Jeanne Travis (sound). The production stage manager is Devan Hibbard. Production photos by Travis McHale.

The cast features Rob Maitner (Frankenstein Upstairs, Urinetown), Kate Middleton (The Late Christopher Bean for TACT), Seth Shelden (Blast Radius), and Sean Williams (Advance Man).

“Asymmetric” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday, December 6. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30PM; Saturday at 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM. Please note: there is an added performance on Saturday, November 29 at 2:30 PM and there is no performance on Thursday, November 27 (Thanksgiving). Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, November 26, 2014

“Wiesenthal” at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday February 22, 2015)

Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Wiesenthal” at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday February 22, 2015)
Written by and Starring Tom Dugan
Directed by Jenny Sullivan
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited

"I have survived them all. If there were any left, they'd be too old and weak to stand trial today. My work is done," said the real Simon Wiesenthal before he retired from his work as a Nazi Hunter in 2003. But the Wiesenthal given to us by writer/performer Tom Dugan is anything but satiated on the day of his retirement. Simon reminisces with the audience (who play the role of a visiting group of American tourists) about the horrors he endured during the holocaust, his life as an agent of justice, and his anxiety of leaving his work unfinished. As he recalls his momentous life, he’s beleaguered by phone calls about his final target, a retired nazi living in Syria who has eluded him up to this point.

Dugan’s “Wiesenthal” opens with a joke, the kind of joke you’d expect a saucy Jewish grandfather to make. Wiesenthal's charm and humor, as well constant reminders from his wife to pick up groceries on his way home, act as beacons of refuge from the grisly tales of a nazi hunter. The atrocities of his targets, and the suffering of their victims gives Wiesenthal his drive, all the stories leading to one final, quintessential question Simon promises will be asked and answered by the end of the show.

Director Jenny Sullivan stages the piece in the long and storied tradition of the one person show. Sound and lights shift dramatically when Simon flashes back to his tumultuous past. Sullivan draws a loveable performance from Dugan as he scuttles about the stage, a hurried old man melancholy to let go of his life’s work. Although the direction of the play is amiable, the script, and the character of Wiesenthal in particular, needs clearer navigation.

What “Wiesenthal” can’t overcome is the fact that this tale has been spun and re-spun a thousand times, and by more skilled hands. This Holocaust remembrance piece is stuck playing the familiar notes. Simon Wiesenthal never comes to any new or revelatory conclusions about his journey, and what’s saddest is the fact that he comes so close.

The play flirts with the idea that perhaps Simon is more akin to his nazi enemies than he cares to realize. “I want to give them the same knock on the door they gave my mother” he quips. Wiesenthal's insistence that the kind of barbaric evil that caused the holocaust is not uniquely German. “The evil is inside of all of us.” The play toys with these darker prospects but never quite embraces them. We’re left with a Simon Wiesenthal intelligent enough to draw such comparisons, but too timid to deal with them. To him, Bin Laden was the new Hitler. In an age where Bill Maher can go on national television and claim Muslims responsible for the world’s ills, the evil may be closer to home than we think.

As a work of remembrance, as a ritual of reverence, “Wiesenthal” succeeds. As a play though, it doesn’t work hard enough. Perhaps freshness is not the play’s intent, but it would have been nice if Simon’s ‘final question’ weren’t such an innocuous letdown. We must always remember the victims of these catastrophic evils. We must always remember the capacity for evil within ourselves. We do not necessarily need to remember “Wiesenthal,” a play that chooses conspicuousness over complexity and nostalgia over nuance.

WIESENTHAL

Written and performed by Tom Dugan. Directed by Jenny Sullivan. Producer: Daryl Roth and Karyl Lynn Burns; Press Agent: Keith Sherman & Associates; Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt; Costume Design: Alex Jaeger; Lighting Design: Joel E. Silver; Sound Design: Shane Rettig. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.
“Wiesenthal” runs at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd Street) on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with matinees Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $69 and are available at Telecharge.com, 212-239-6200. For $49 Group Tickets (10+), or $36 Student Groups (10+: 25 and under), contact Carol Ostrow at (212) 265-8500. Visit www.WiesenthalThePlay.com for additional information.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“Sticks and Bones” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Center (Through Sunday December 14, 2014)

Holly Hunter and Bill Pullman - Photo by Monique Carboni
“Sticks and Bones” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Center (Through Sunday December 14, 2014)
By David Rabe
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts, Theatre Reviews Limited

“You would not see. I can’t get beyond these hands. I jam in the fingers. I break on the bone. I am lonely. I mean, oh, no, not exactly lonely, not really. That’s a little strong, actually.” (Ozzie to David)

As soon as Rick (Raviv Ullman) enters his family’s house in David Rabe’s “Sticks and Bones,” the audience knows it is in for a bumpy ride. After a somewhat serious chat with Father Donald (Richard Chamberlain) during which the good priest attempts to recruit Ozzie (Bill Pullman) to coach the church basketball team, the play’s tone shifts and the sitcom on steroids atmosphere signals the audience to prepare for occasional brain-freeze. This is not a drama for the weak of heart or the closed of mind. David’s return and soldier story paves the way for Ozzie’s story to unlock Pandora ’s Box with little chance for finding hope at its bottom.

Blinded in action in the Vietnam War, David (Ben Schnetzer) returns home (escorted by the heartless Sergeant Major played to perfection by Morocco Omari) to be further blindsided by the disturbing events that occur in his seemingly innocent household. His post-war presence sets off a firestorm of truth-telling that chills to the bone and engages David’s white stick in family (and priestly) battles. Their older son’s experiences in Vietnam, including his relationship with Zung (Nadia Gan) whose presence continues to haunt him in the present, are simply too much for Ozzie and Harriet and David’s younger brother Rick. David’s presence exposes heretofore carefully guarded layers of greed, selfishness, anger, disappointment, regret, and unfulfilled dreams.

Rick is completely self-centered and unable to connect to his family on any emotional level. Harriet (Holly Hunter) has lived an unfulfilling life as wife and mother extraordinaire. Ms. Hunter gives a remarkable performance as a woman who is nothing more than a puppet whose voice is not her own and whose movements have always been controlled by others. Ozzie lives in the past and realizes his present is nothing more than a lie which allows him to survive. Bill Pullman delivers a powerful and often disturbing performance as a man who is less than a shell of a man whose veneer of sanity could crack at any moment. David’s return, his neediness, his honesty, rattle the chains of “the fraud that has kept [his family] sane.” They snap and can only survive if David is gone again – for good.

Under Scott Elliott’s inventive and generous direction, fantasy and reality vie for the audience’s understanding of the action in “Sticks and Bones” and often upstage each other. Despite generous (and glorious) hints given by lighting designer Peter KIaczorowski, it is often quite difficult to sort out what is a present reality, what is a dream sequence, or what just might be a tantalizing dose of magical realism. That action culminates in David’s total rejection of his family’s world view and moral structure. With his “new sight,” David describes the family house: “It’s a coffin. You made it big so you wouldn’t know, but that’s what it is, a coffin, and not all the curtains and pictures and lamps in the world can change it. They threw you off that fast free train, Ozzie.”

“Sticks and Bones” follows the “rules” of the psychopathology of the dysfunctional family: the dysfunctional family (Ozzie, Harriet, Rick and pre-war David) has managed to remain intact (despite underlying pathology) until one member makes a change and refuses to go along with the old rules. David experiences a new vision while in the thick of war, He experiences unconditional love (even under the worst of circumstances) and he will never be the same. His family cannot incorporate this “new” David into their pathology and has to dispose of him or facilitate his disposal of himself. This is shocking. This is real. This is “Sticks and Bones.”

STICKS AND BONES

By David Rabe. Directed by Scott Elliott. This production includes Set Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Susan Hilferty, Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski, Sound Design and Original Music by Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen and Projection and Video Design by Olivia Sebesky. Production photos by Monique Carboni. Presented by The New Group (Scott Elliott, Artictic Director and Adam Bernstein, Executive Director). At the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street.

Subscriptions for The New Group 2014-2015 season available now. For subscriptions and ticket information, please visit www.thenewgroup.org. Subscriptions also available by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12:00 Noon-8pm daily).


WITH: Richard Chamberlain as Father Donald, Nadia Gan as Zung, Holly Hunter as Harriet, Morocco Omari as Sergeant Major, Bill Pullman as Ozzie, Ben Schnetzer as David and Raviv Ullman as Rick.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“Allegro” at the Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday December 14, 2014)

Cast of "Allegro" - Photo by Joan Marcus
“Allegro” at the Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday December 14, 2014)
Music by Richard Rogers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed and Designed by John Doyle
Reviewed by David Roberts, Theatre Reviews Limited

Most of us (at least the Everyman in most of us) get through life by continuing to put one foot in front of the other day in and day out despite life’s often unseemly vicissitudes. This works until we encounter some “road block” and often that road block can be the fast-paced life, one of those “roads not taken” that leads us to the dizzying heights of success. Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1947 “Allegro,” currently running at the Classic Stage Company, is a fitting metaphor for this “brisk tempo” trip from birth to death and all that transpires in between.

“Allegro” is the endearing and sometimes challenging rehearsal of the life of Everyman Joseph Taylor, Jr. (Claybourne Elder), son of small town physician Joseph, Sr. (Malcolm Gets) and his dutiful wife Marjorie (Jessica Tyler Wright). Mr. Elder is convincing in the role of the younger Taylor whose desire to follow in his father’s footsteps (“One foot, other foot”) is challenged by the demands of his relationship with Jenny Brinker (Elizabeth A. Davis) and the demands of success as a “big city” physician and eventually mollified by his ability to escape the samsara of his existence and spin off toward his own nirvana.

Joseph, Jr. and his friends and family “Greek chorus” spin his tale as they move around John Doyle’s sparse set guided firmly but generously by Mr. Doyle’s inspired and inventive direction. John Doyle’s reimagining of the Rogers and Hammerstein 1947 Broadway production of “Allegro” (Agnes de Mille’s “overstuffed” design) is not only sparse by comparison but successfully manages to expose the heart and soul of the musical and proves its intrinsic merit and sustainability. John Doyle’s “signature” convention of having the cast double as orchestra works well in this reimagining of “Allegro.” Here, this convention counterpoints well with the action of the chorus as it surrounds the protagonist with a “friends and family” commentary on his journey.

Joseph Junior’s attempts to “puzzle out for himself” his life’s purpose and direction serves as a scintillating metaphor not only for Oscar Hammerstein’s life and his dealing with the temptations inherent in success but a metaphor for Everyman’s struggle with a world that insists on telling him or her “what to think, what to do, and where to go” rather than equipping them to discover their “home in the heart.”

Notable performances among the universally fine ensemble cast are: Malcolm Gets’s impassioned portrayal of Joseph Taylor, Sr. who wants nothing more than to have his son “come home;” Jessica Tyler Wright’s nurturing yet cautious Marjorie Taylor who cradles her son in unconditional love; Elizabeth A. Davis’s crafted interpretation of Jenny Brikner’s fine line walk between supportiveness and selfishness; George Abud’s cello-toting performance as Charlie Townsend; and Alma Cuervo’s performance as the grandmother who always believes her grandson Joseph, Jr. will, despite her initial misgivings, grow up “to be a man.” Each ensemble member plays a variety of instruments; some like Ms. Wright have remarkable voices. Her “My Fellow Needs A Girl” and “Come Home” display her remarkable vocal range and her gift of interpretation.

Humanity’s soulful heartbeat is sustained throughout the ninety minute performance. Enlightenment comes to Joseph, Jr. in his recurrent visits to the upstage wall (a great metaphor!) and his Everyman’s victory in getting back to “where there’s work to do” and “where there’s love for [him]” becomes the victory of those in the audience whose brains are sometimes “cleared by the sudden light on one word.” This is a fresh and poignant reimagining of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Allegro” At their curtain call, the ensemble makes it quite clear:

NOW YOU CAN DO/WHATEVER YOU WANT/WHATEVER YOU WANT TO DO!/ONE FOOT OUT/AND THE OTHER FOOT OUT,/ONE FOOT OUT/AND THE OTHER FOOT OUT/ONE FOOT OUT/AND THE OTHER FOOT OUT/AND THE WORLD BELONGS TO YOU!

ALLEGRO

Music by Richard Rogers; book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; directed and designed by John Doyle; musical direction and orchestrations by Mary-Mitchell Campbell; costumes by Ann Hould-Ward; lighting by Jane Cox; sound by Dan Moses Schreier; hair, wig, and make-up design by Rob Greene and J. Jared Janas; casting by Calleri Casting; press representative, The Publicity Office; production supervisor, Production Core; general manager, John C. Hume. Presented by Classic Stage Company. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Allegro” performs Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets start at $70.00 and are available at www.classicstage.org or by calling 212-352-3101 / 866-811-4111 or at the box-office at 136 East 13th Street (between Third and Fourth Avenues). Through Sunday December 14, 2014. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

WITH: George Abud, Alma Cuervo, Elizabeth A. Davis, Claybourne Elder, David Finch, Malcolm Gets, Maggie Lakis, Paul Lincoln, Megan Loomis, Kara Mikula, Jane Pfitsch, Randy Redd, Ed Romanoff, and Jessica Tyler Wright.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, November 21, 2014

“A Delicate Balance” at the John Golden Theatre (Through February 22, 2014)

Jogn Lithgow and Glenn Close - Ptoto by Brigitte Lacombe/Press Art
“A Delicate Balance” at the John Golden Theatre (Through February 22, 2014)
Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Pam Mackinnon
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited

(A second review of "A Delicate Balance" by David Roberts will be posted next week.)

There might come a day when Edward Albee is treated like Shakespeare. A familiar foreign language with rhythmic underpinnings, Albee’s angst over the unattainability of human connection could be tantamount to The Bard’s dread of the Great Chain of Being. Artists and academics of the age will try to make a name for themselves with his canon: ‘Albee our Contemporary’ could very well be penned. Yes, that day might come. But if Pam Mackinnon’s stale production of “A Delicate Balance” is any indication, it won’t be arriving anytime soon.

Even with Glenn Close and John Lithgow in the driver’s seats, Albee’s (arguably) greatest work is antique China, plucked from the shelf and dusted off for company. For those unfamiliar, the play concerns aging couple Tobias (Lithgow) and Agnes (Close) lodging Claire (Lindsay Duncan), Agnes’ indiscreet alcoholic sister. Their home is unsurreptitiously invaded by their newly-separated daughter (Martha Plimpton) and a neighborly couple (Clare Higgins and Bob Balaban) who are so frightened of their empty house they’ve decided to board with Agnes and Tobias indefinitely. Lithgow and Duncan do best with injecting vigor into Albee’s slow-moving verse. The cast capitalizes on Albee’s aphoristic wit at every opportunity, but the play is drab, bordering on lifeless, as Albee’s script has passed its shelf-life. Even with the daughter waving a gun around in the second act, it’s simply the precursor to yet another sluggish, turgid monologue.

Lithgow’s explosion in the final scene, as he begs the boarding couple to stay for fear of total alienation, is the only vivid moment of the show. Despite Mackinnon’s best efforts, the play stays a museum piece, unable to pick up steam. Swallowed by an overly-engulfing set, Glenn Close is immovable and statuesque as Agnes, unable to sink her teeth into the long-winded role. The rest of the cast lose their fight with stodginess almost as frequently.

A show so studded with star power rarely stands on its own two feet, and this antiquated remounting is no exception. Watching the aged rich drink themselves into aimless revelation after aimless revelation tries the patience, and with a lengthy three-act running time, the play is sure to exceed even the most seraph theatergoer’s tolerance. A gorgeous set, an A-list cast, a mini-bar and not much else, “A Delicate Balance” never finds the joy of ruggedness or the pleasure of extremes.

A DELICATE BALANCE

Written by Edward Albee; directed by Pam Mackinnon; scenic design by Santo Loquasto; costume design by Ann Roth; lighting design by Brian Macdevitt; sound design by Scott Lehrer. Production photos by Mary Lloyd Estrin. At the John Golden Theatre. http://www.adelicatebalancebroadway.com/tickets.

Featuring John Lithgow, Glenn Close, Lindsay Duncan, Martha Plimpton, Clare Higgins, and Bob Balaban.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, November 21, 2014

“How to Save a World” at Under St. Marks Theatre (Through Wednesday November 26, 2014)

“How to Save a World” at Under St. Marks Theatre (Through Wednesday November 26, 2014)
Written and directed Yael Grinberg
Review By Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited

Under St. Mark’s Theatre looks like a Eurotrash sex dungeon. Not that that’s a particularly bad thing, but I didn’t expect it to house one of the sweetest shows I’ve seen since “Peter and The Starcatcher.” In the first scene, a gruff, drunk (and preposterously attractive) homeless man gives a frantic dancer his jar of coins so she can make it to a competition on time. From this small act of kindness, a ripple effect touches a whole host of characters, from a Cabbie, to a Guverian Bank Robber (Marlies B. Bell), to a pair of anxious actors auditioning for a Lars Von Trier movie.

Written, directed, and (somewhat) starring Yael Grinberg, she’s crafted a play that speaks to her natural talent for comedy and the angels of our better natures. With a cast as diverse as the city itself, Grinberg’s work is fresh and vivifying; not to mention a funky snapshot of millennial hope, delusion, and neuroticism.

It’s far from a perfect show. There’s an unrehearsed quality to the production, actors fumbling with lines and little nuance to speak of. Also, the script has several detours from logic (why the hell did a Bank Robber capture and drag a guy outside the bank?) But “How To Save a World” succeeds in what it sets out to do. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be fun.

Follow your dreams. Be good to each other. A lovely sentiment and one I wouldn’t expect in a theatre scene that only serves hope with an equal dose of nihilism. Such a simple message, it’s a shame we haven’t learned it yet. Grinberg has, and I look forward to seeing what she accomplishes in the future.

HOW TO SAVE A WORLD

Written and directed by Yael Grinberg; produced by Yael Grinberg; associate director, John Gabriel; stage manager, Yarden Shoval; lighting and sound design by Carol Loan. Production photos by Luran Amar. All shows are at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15.00. For tickets go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/91006 3 or call 1-800-838-3006.

Featuring: Yael Grinberg, Meurice Singletary, James Venable, Hemang Mistry, and Yarden Shoval.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, November 19, 2014

“Awake and Sing” at John DeSotelle Studio (Through Saturday November 22, 2014)

“Awake and Sing” at John DeSotelle Studio (Through Saturday November 22, 2014)
Presented by Nu*ance Theatre
Written by Clifford Odets
Directed by John DeSotelle
Reviewed By Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited

It is a shock to the senses, entering the turn-of-the-century transformation underway at John DeSotelle Studio. A wooden jungle of beams and antique furniture consumes the black box space, a testament to the low-budget ingenuity of set designer Brian McManimon. The 1920’s tenement replica is immersive to say the least, a clever imagining of Clifford Odets’ masterpiece about a poor Jewish family dealing with their lovesick children and fiery Marxist grandfather in the wake of World War II. Imagine my surprise when, like the sounding of funeral bells, a ‘please forgive us’ curtain speech is delivered by director John DeSotelle himself.

It is painful irony: a ten-minute curtain speech that assures you the play won’t take as long as it seems. DeSotelle presents his intentions of the play, slamming Lincoln Center’s production in 2006, and sermonizing about the authenticity of his set, and the proper way to enjoy his production (for example - surprise, surprise) peering through the skeletal walls the characters alone in their rooms) Then it began, and the curtain speech proved a honest harbinger.

The show stumbles into every pit trap associated with period revival. The actors are rigid and austere. The witty charm of Odets’ classic is entirely smothered; every scene, the performers teeter on the brink of tears, unable to excavate Odets’ nuanced brilliance. Sullen looks, yelling, and incessant table-pounding but no comedy or joy in sight. It is more akin to watching a Thanksgiving gone south than one of the best family dramas in American history.

What is most lamentable is the cast tries so very hard. There’s no shortage of energy, it’s a wonder they kept the claws out for two and a half hours, rarely going offstage due to the invisible walls aesthetic. (and by the way, watching the characters mope in their bedrooms after fights wears out its welcome rather quickly) Annie R. Such, who plays the enceinte daughter Hennie, is the brightest element of the production. Ms. Such has a masterful command of the unspoken. Her Hennie is the picture of bridled passion and crippling restraint. Even when she does boil over it’s a long time in the coming, visibly building up in her like a nuclear reactor. A Hebrew Blanche DuBois, if you will.

But she can’t salvage the production. It’s a kerfuffle; playing fast and loose with the script in a way that hamstrings its most endearing qualities. An interesting side note; the Jewish food they served after the show was mouth watering. I feel like a monster for devouring their kenish.

AWAKE AND SING

Written by Clifford Odets; directed by John DeSotelle; assistant director, Judith Feingold; 2nd AD Emily DeSotelle; set design by Brian McManimon; costume design by Jude Hinojosa; stage manager, John Schanck; dialect, Page Clements; sound, Annie R. Such. Production photos by Shashwat Gupta. At Nuance Theatre, 300 West 43rd Street; http://desotellestudio.ticketleap.com/awakeandsing/.

Featuring: Margo Singaliese, Eric Kuenehmann, Charles Dinstuhl, Michael Citriniti, Brian Poteat, Bobby Kruger, Spencer Carter, and Annie R. Such.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, November 18, 2014

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