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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A STRANGE LOOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENTER LAUGHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOMAD MOTEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DYING CITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCTET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LITTLE WOMEN

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

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

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

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

Broadway Review: “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” at the Broadhurst Theatre (Through Sunday, August 25, 2019)

Broadway Review: “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” at the Broadhurst Theatre (Through Sunday, August 25, 2019)
By Terrence McNally
Directed by Arin Arbus
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Pretend that we’re the only two people in the entire world, that’s what I’m doing, and it all falls into place.” – Johnny to Frankie

Moonlight – the kind of light that shines into Frankie’s (Audra McDonald) apartment window at night – provides the best light for pretending. The kind of pretending that has the chance of making an incursion into the blinding light of reality. Moonlight is more forgiving than sunlight which prefers clarity over moonlight’s ambiguity and judgement over moonlight’s forgiveness. Frankie hosts her coworker Johnny (Michael Shannon) at the apartment for their first date and their first sexual encounter.

Waitress and short order cook respectively, Frankie and Johnny bask in the nude in the moonlight after Johnny’s rather aggressive and noisy lovemaking and what was meant to be a one-night stand becomes a tour-de-force of relationship building. Despite protestations from both – mostly from Frankie – the newly launched “couple” begins to experiment with non-sexual intimacy, neediness, unconditional love, and the basic rhythms of life not usually experienced by coworkers. The moonlight (‘Clair de lune’) magically provides the kind of space and time for the pair to expose brokenness, insecurity, weakness, and a score of self-loathing epithets.

The space is the apartment that appears to be under scrutiny from the low-hanging light grid whose instruments – like glowing eyes – peer deeply into the inhabitants as they crisscross the cluttered place that has protected Frankie from too much exposure and allowed her to understand relationships by looking into two apartments “across the courtyard.” For eight years, ever since she moved in, Frankie watches “an old couple in bathrobes eat in total silence” and a second couple involved in a mutually satisfying masochistic relationship. She wants neither scenario but is too afraid to open herself up to the possibility for a healthier relationship.

Riccardo Hernandez’s set and Natasha Katz’s lighting) create a surreal environment that, like a third and fourth character, broods over Frankie and Johnny’s quest for authenticity and honesty as their relationship is created with rapid fire dialogue and staccato movement.

Under Arin Arbus’s exquisite direction (Broadway debut), Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon play to perfection the EveryMan, EveryWoman, EveryOne seeking to overcome their finitude and fallibility to connect with another person in a meaningful way and establish a non-judgmental relationship against all odds. These two actors are stunning together and support one another as they lay bare the layers of their characters and expose their deep and enduring conflicts. They could not be more comfortable in their skin and in their willingness to be completely transparent. There are no stereotypes here, just an abundance of normalcy that transcends the characters’ occupations or neighborhoods.

This is the best of the Broadway productions of “Frankie and Johnny” and Terrence McNally’s play is more relevant today that perhaps it ever was. At some point, Frankie and Johnny will need to go back to work. Will their emerging love and respect for one another survive in the light of day? Or will it be like the lives of occupants of the two apartments Frankie is able to see from her window. Will any of us survive in the glaring light of judgement and criticism? For Terrence McNally intends his tender play to be for all who are struggling for meaning in relationship and in self. The radio announcer Johnny calls to play a song for Frankie shares at the play’s end, “I’m still thinking about Frankie and Johnny. God, how I wish you two really existed. Maybe I’m crazy but I’d still like to believe in love.” Only time will tell whether Frankie and Johnny or any of us sharing the planet will find love.

FRANKIE AND JOHNNY AT THE CLAIR DE LUNE

The cast of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” features Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon.

The creative team of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” includes Riccardo Hernandez (Sets), Emily Rebholz (Costumes), Natasha Katz (Lighting), Nevin Steinberg (Sound), J. Jared Janas (Hair, Wig and Makeup), Claire Warden (Intimacy and Fight Director), Laurie Goldfeder (Production Stage Manager) and 101 Productions, Ltd. (General Manager).

“Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” runs at the Broadhurst Theatre (235 West 44th Street) through Sunday, August 25, 2019. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit FrankieAndJohnnyBroadway.com. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon in “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune.” Credit: Deen van Meer.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 31, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Something Clean” at the Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday June 30, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Something Clean” at the Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday June 30, 2019)
By Selina Fillinger
Directed by Margot Bordelon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Charlotte and Doug Walker’s son Kai will be home from prison in three months to begin his court remanded probation. Kai is a white university student athlete who was convicted of raping a black female student behind a dumpster at the school and is half-way through his six-month sentence. Kai’s transgression has shaken the Walker’s world and rent any sense of normally asunder. Choosing not to focus on the survivor but rather on the family of the criminal, playwright Selina Fillinger walks a fine line between redemption and reclamation.

Kai’s mother Charlotte (a passionate and searing Kathryn Erbe) decides to escape from her “clean, lonely house in upper-middle class suburbia” and volunteer “undercover” at “an overstuffed, inner-city Center for Sexual Assault” to somehow assuage her guilt and discover her own path – and a path for her family – toward recovery. Charlotte begins to bind with the center’s director Joey (an intense and gentle Christopher Livingston) a twenty-something young black man who is a victim of rape.

Ms. Fillinger spins a tale of parallel lives – those of Charlotte and her estranged husband Doug (a listless and compliant Daniel Jenkins) and Joey and his boyfriend Tim – that often skirts the significant themes of systemic racism and white privilege that only occasionally find their way into the script’s conversation. The central theme here is “scrubbing” the reality of racism and privilege clean with spray bottles and wipes drenched in fantasy and fiction. The playwright wants the audience to somehow accept alternative facts – sexual predators and their families are more important than survivors and their trauma.

So, Charlotte “just call me Charlie” dons yellow rubber gloves and is determined to make “something clean” of the mess made by her son Kai. She scrubs so hard on the dumpster she fails to come clean herself. She is dishonest with Joey, with her husband, and with her own superego. Kathryn Erbe and Christopher Livingston bring authenticity and grit to their performances of Charlotte and Joey. Their craft manages to transcend the holes in the script and the audience leans into their portrayals of brokenness (Joey) and arrogance (Charlotte).

The script is problematic on many counts. Although Kathryn Erbe and Christopher Livingston attempt to flesh out their characters – Charlotte/Charlie and Joey respectively – those characters lack consistent authenticity and believability as does Daniel Jenkins’s Doug – the weakest of the characters and therefore the least compelling of the performances. Perhaps most problematic is believing that Joey would not immediately see through Charlotte’s insincerity and arrogance.

Margot Bordelon directs “Something Clean” with the briskness of a broom that sweeps across Reid Thompson’s relatively expansive set in the Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. She cleverly divides the spaces between the Center and the Walker homestead with carpet tiles of differing subdued colors and provides three exits for the actors to accommodate the play’s rapid-firing short scenes. The scene of the sexual assault, the dumpster on the university campus, is revealed behind sliding panels that comprise the wall of the Center.

Although all’s well that ends well for the play’s on-stage characters, the offstage nameless survivor and her rapist have miles to go before either will be restive of body, mind, or spirit. Kai will hopefully examine his life and his actions with care and the nameless survivor will spend the rest of her life wondering who next will pull her behind a dumpster and violate her body and soul. Unfortunately, “Something Clean” does not deal with these important issues choosing instead to whitewash trauma with the white picket fence that surrounds the Walkers and protects them from the incursion of grief and confession.

SOMETHING CLEAN

“Something Clean” features Kathryn Erbe as “Charlotte,” Daniel Jenkins as “Doug” and Christopher Livingston as “Joey.”

The creative team for “Something Clean” includes Reid Thompson (Sets), Valérie Thérèse Bart (Costumes), Jiyoun Chang (Lighting) and Palmer Hefferan (Original Compositions and Sound).

“Something Clean” runs at the Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
(111 West 46th Street) through Sunday June 30, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Sunday evenings at 7:00 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 1:30P p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. All tickets for Something Clean are $30 General Admission tickets. Call 212-719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org for more information. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Christopher Livingston and Kathryn Erbe in “Something Clean.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, May 30, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “The Pink Unicorn” at the Episcopal Actors’ Guild (Through Saturday June 2, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “The Pink Unicorn” at the Episcopal Actors’ Guild (Through Saturday June 2, 2019)
By Elise Forier Edie
Directed by Amy E. Jones
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I am gender queer, Ma. Look it up.” – Jolene Lee to Her Mother Trisha

The LGBTQ+ communities have undergone significant and healthy upheaval since Elise Forier Edie developed “The Pink Unicorn” in 2011 at The Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. Although the playwright has attempted to update the script, its present incarnation currently running at the Episcopal Actors’ Guild falls short of reflecting the rich complexities of gender identity and gender expression, choosing instead a barrage of stereotypes and sometimes offensive diction. This despite an impressive performance by Alice Ripley as a conservative Texas mom who daughter announces she is ‘gender queer.’

When Trisha Lee’s (Alice Ripley) daughter Jolene comes out as gender queer, her announcement shakes Trisha’s world to its core. However, she accepts Jolene’s challenge, and does her homework, depending opon her “research” in Wikipedia to begin her journey to understanding and acceptance. Unconditional and non-judgmental love serve as this devoted mother’s shield and her rear guard as she traverses the bumpy road toward embracing Jolene’s identity and status.

Trisha Decides to seek advice and guidance from her pastor – Pastor Dick. But before she can meet with him, he delivers a homophobic diatribe at Sunday worship concluding that, “We’re not going to let
no LGBTQ into this church and we’re not gonna let them lead this church.” In response, Trisha delivers her own “sermon” in the form of a testimony to her daughter Jolene’s right to be gender queer. After making her escape from the church (and her disapproving mother who is in attendance), Trisha is followed by Enid McDonald the “only lesbian [she] knew at the time. Enid here is laden with stereotypes.

This encounter leads to the “planning party for the protest at [Trisha’s] house, with the Gay Straight Alliance brain trust and the Lesbian Underground Railroad in attendance. St. Peter in a sidecar!” The balance of “The Pink Unicorn” chronicles the protest and the aftermath. The audience discovers what victories are won and how they were won and how Jolene and Trisha become “heroes.”

Because the playwright chooses to include a compendium of LGBTQ history, the script becomes didactic and cumbersome. Elise Forier Edie would have been better off allowing Trisha to take center stage and rehearse her journey from naivete to a profound and believable realization that, “The world is a dark place, and we are all dumb and confused in it” and all she has to offer is her hand in solidarity. Alice Ripley is a formidable actor and the audience would benefit from her revealing Trisha’s growth, peeling back the layers of Trisha’s fears, hopes, and dreams as she struggles to place Jolene’s best interests above her doubts and misconceptions.

These misconceptions include two disturbing affirmations. Trisha reveals, “I had to look up LGBTQ. I did not know it stood for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer.” Trisha concludes, “They’re all different, evidently, like Chicanos, Latinos and Hispanics.” And her observation that “Gender is on a scale, just like autism, only at one end is Marilyn Monroe, and on the other end is Charles Bronson, and everyone else in the world just lands somewhere in between those two” offends the very heart of all those members of the LGBTQ communities struggling for justice and survival. One needs to accept “The Pink Unicorn” for what it is: the beginning of conversation and not the conclusion of the quest.

THE PINK UNICORN

“The Pink Unicorn” stars Alice Ripley. The production team for “The Pink Unicorn” includes Frank Hartley (production and lighting design), Hunter Dowell (costumes), Carrie Greenberg (wardrobe supervisor), Gaby Garcia (graphic design), Maggie Snyder (general manager), Cara Feuer (assistant general manager) and Ethan Paulini associate artistic director). Theresa S. Carroll serves as production stage manager.

“The Pink Unicorn” runs through Saturday June 2, 2019 at The Episcopal Actors’ Guild (1 East 29th Street between Madison and 5th Avenues). Tickets are $99.00 general admission, $29.50 partial view, or $159.00 for premium ticketing that includes complimentary beverages and reserved seating. For tickets and info visit available at www.ootbtheatrics.com. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Alice Ripley as Trisha Lee in “The Pink Unicorn.” Credit: Jazelle Artistry.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Original Sound” at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre (Through Saturday June 8, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Original Sound” at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre (Through Saturday June 8, 2019)
By Adam Seidel
Directed by Elena Araoz
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

What a pleasant surprise to walk into the Studio space at Cherry Lane Theatre and see a fresh, new look developed for the exciting new production “Original Sound” by Adam Seidel. Scenic designer,
Justin Townsend has transformed the space into a multi-purpose set used for several different locations but always having the lingering aura of a contemporary, professional recording studio. Lighting by Kate McGee supports specific locations and has created a multi-colored neon tube installation as a focal point that pulsates during scene changes adding to the highly charged production and sleek design.

The plot revolves around young DJ Danny Solis (a convincing Sabastian Chacon) who is an aspiring songwriter posting his beats on the internet and Ryan Reed an established rock star on the brink of super stardom who is experiencing a creative block. Ryan is under pressure to write a hit single for her new album. She googles herself and finds the diss track that Danny posted but also listens to his latest post. Not difficult to see where this is going. Ryan steals the composition and it becomes a hit single which Danny hears on the radio and recognizes the similarity. So, let the games begin. It seems like a simple story, but it gets a bit complicated with some twists and turns that can keep you intrigued throughout the ninety minutes. Bring in Ryan’s unscrupulous manager Jake Colburn (a solid but transparent Anthony Arkin), Danny’s roommate (a coy Lio Mehiel), his sister Felicia (an honest and angry Cynthia Bastidas) and his estranged musician, father Tommy (an intense Wilson Jermaine Heredia) and the plot naturally unfolds and thickens before your eyes.

The question that Mr. Seidel can delineate seems to ask what is original or to extrapolate, is anything one hundred percent unprecedented. In recent years it seems that the music industry has had its share of high-profile cases of plagiarism that inherently make this a valid argument. What pushes this work beyond the familiar story are the layers and slow exposition that lends to the intrigue, the struggle for acceptance and notoriety and the compromises needed for success. It is truly ironic to create totally believable and likeable characters who all end up losing, never really getting what they want but understanding why. The dialogue is easy and natural giving a nice fluidity to each scene. It is not a perfect script and a bit more stage time and exposition for the sister and father would add some backstory and depth to the already fine interpretations.

The entire cast does a remarkable job juggling the small space and emphasizing the ever-changing locations under the meticulous direction of Elena Araoz. The production is clean, lean, and smart, drawing the audience into the story with words and music supported by raw emotion and transpicuous vulnerability. Take yourself to the Cherry Lane Theatre for an entertaining evening of theater. You will not be disappointed.

ORIGINAL SOUND

“Original Sound” features Anthony Arkin, Cynthia Bastidas, Jane Bruce, Sebastian Chacon, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, and Lio Mehiel.

The show features set design by Justin Townsend, lighting design by Kate McGee, costume design by Sarita Fellows, sound design by Nathan Leigh, with casting by McCorkle Casting, Ltd./ Pat McCorkle, CSA and Katja Zarolinski, CSA. The production stage manager is Christine Lemme and the general manager/producer is Julie Crosby.

“Original Sound” runs at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre (38 Commerce Street in Manhattan) through Saturday June 8, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Monday – Friday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. There are no performances on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27 and there are added shows on Friday, May 31 at 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Tickets are available by visiting www.CherryLaneTheatre.org, by calling 866-811-4111, or by visiting the Cherry Lane Theatre Box Office. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jane Bruce and Sebastian Chacon in Adam Seidel's “Original Sound” at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre. Credit: Russ Rowland.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, May 19, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Happy Talk” at the New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Sunday June 16, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Happy Talk” at the New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Sunday June 16, 2019)
By Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Happy talk – the type of verbal communication, replete with counterfeit smiles, that too often serves as a replacement for authentic connection between individuals – cascades across the stage at the New Group’s world premiere of Jesse Eisenberg’s “Happy Talk” at the New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre.

Lorraine (a broken and dangerous Susan Sarandon) is an actor whose career spans the performance spaces in Jewish Community Centers – currently playing Bloody Mary in “South Pacific” at one such venue. Lorraine has not only missed her chance to perform on Broadway: Lorraine has missed her chance to be an effective daughter, mother, and spouse. Her estranged daughter Jenny (a believable and enraged Tedra Millan) “hates her.” Her husband Bill (a sad and lonely Daniel Oreskes) has become debilitated by both the ravages of Multiple Sclerosis and Lorraine’s indifference. This same familial indifference is reserved for Lorraine’s offstage mother who is bed ridden and – hopes Lorraine – not long for this world.

Into this miasma of despair comes the undocumented Ljuba (an energetic and wizened Marin Ireland) who has come to the United States from Serbia to find a better life and bring her daughter to live with her. In Serbia, Ljuba was a pharmacy student whose studies were cut short when her daughter was born and her now ex-husband left her “for a hooker.” Lorraine has engaged Ljuba to care for her mother, her husband and herself. When Lorraine learns that Lubja has stashed away fifteen thousand dollars for an arranged marriage, the plot of “Happy Talk” changes course. What happens to Lubja’s proposed marriage to Lorraine’s acting partner Ronny (Nico Santos) and where Lubja’s money disappears to is at the center of the storyline spun by the play’s characters and their often less than believable conflicts.

Susan Sarandon delivers an authentic and believable performance as the narcissistic, self-centered, and selfish Lorraine who navigates through her disappointing life by ensnaring other in her poisonous web of self-absorption. One wishes for a more layered performance and it is not clear why that nuance is missing here. Will Jenny make it to Manuel Antonio in the western region of Costa Rica? Will Ljuba marry Ronny and reunite with her daughter? Will Bill and Lorraine’s mother be able to survive Lorraine’s destructive matrix of self-loathing? And what will happen to Lorraine: will there be catharsis, redemption, and release? The audience will find answers to these questions – and others – in Jesse Eisenberg’s somewhat thin “Happy Talk.”

Derek McLane’s appropriately sterile living room set serves as the backdrop for the more seditious shenanigans acted out between Lorraine and the victims of her narcissistic onslaught. Clint Ramos’s costumes successfully counterpoint the personalities of the play’s characters as do Jeff Croiter’s character specific costumes.

HAPPY TALK

“Happy Talk features” Marin Ireland (Ljuba), Tedra Millan (Jenny), Daniel Oreskes (Bill), Nico Santos (Ronny), and Susan Sarandon (Lorraine). The production includes Scenic Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Clint Ramos, Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter and Sound Design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen.

“Happy Talk” runs through Sunday June 16, 2019 at The Pershing Square Signature Center (The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street). For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://thenewgroup.org/production/happytalk/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.

Photo (L-R): Marin Ireland, Susan Sarandon and Tedra Millan in Jesse Eisenberg’s “Happy Talk.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 17, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “BLKS” in the Newman Mills Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (Through Sunday May 26, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “BLKS” in the Newman Mills Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (Through Sunday May 26, 2019)
Written by Aziza Barnes
Directed by Robert O’Hara
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Poet-playwright Aziza Barnes puts many ingredients into their script blender to whip up a “comedic look” at the lives of Octavia (Paige Gilbert), Imani (Alfie Fuller), and June (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, three twenty something black women living in New York City – a city where black lives seem not to matter and where, for that reason, it has become difficult for the trio to navigate the bumpy road to finding intimacy and purpose. The ingredients blended into Aziaza Barnes’s “coming to terms” tragicomedy include belonging; police mistreatment; sexual violence; interracial communication; white privilege; self-loathing; systemic racism; and genital moles. Unfortunately, because these items have been blended using the “SCREAM button, their importance is difficult to discern, and Aziza Barnes’s new and important voice is muffled considerably.

These discontents are exposed in a series of scenes that define the three main characters and their authentic conflicts. Octavia has a “partner” Ry (Coral Peòa) with whom she is making a movie and experiencing satisfying and frequent sex. Unfortunately, Ry is less concerned about Octavia’s genital mole and proves to be less than “committed” to their relationship. June is at the top of her game professionally but has a boyfriend who is a serial cheater. She explores “connecting” with Justin (Chris Myers) who appears at her bedroom window after a whispered profession of “love” at a local club. Imani struggles for recognition as a standup comic and wrestles to relate meaningfully with “that [white] bitch on the couch” (Marié Botha) she meets at the same club and who fails to understand the “rules” of interracial communication.

After it’s critically acclaimed runs at Steppenwolf in 2017 and 2018 and at the Wooly Mammoth earlier this year, “BLKS” has landed rather weakly on the stage of the Newman Mills Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space. The scenes play out in the “wedges” of a turntable that reveal confined sets of a living room, bathroom, and one bedroom. There are scenes beyond the apartment; however, like the apartment itself, the play’s latent but important themes appear cramped beyond recognition. With the expansive stage at the Mills, it is puzzling why Clint Ramos decides to design the set in such a restrictive manner.

The playwright’s message needs to land heavily and uncomfortably on the audience but much of what faces Octavia, Imani, and June and the black community for whom Aziza Barnes wrote BLKS, is subtle and insidious and does not lend itself to the ravages of heightened decibels. There are moments when director Robert O’Hara tones down the volume and allows the dialogue to take center stage; however, these moments are not frequent enough and the actors are relegated to shouting their worries rather than allowing them to move more quietly and more “seriously” over the minds and hearts of the audience. The members of the cast do what they can to expose their ennui and their pain. Unfortunately, the set and the direction often get in the way of Aziza Barnes’s seditious script.

This current iteration of “BLKS” – thirty minutes have been shaved off the current intermission less ninety-minute production – plays more like a sitcom than perhaps it should and the seriousness, the somberness of the play’s message becomes lost. The audience, for example, is coerced to know more about Octavia’s genital mole than about June’s facial bruise. Perhaps, because of the emphasis placed on the mole, Octavia’s medical crisis is meant to be a trope (here an extended metaphor) for the sense of hopelessness, rage, and exclusion felt by the roommates. If that is the intent, it fails to deliver the pathos and ethos necessary to ignite the needed catharsis.

BLKS

The cast features Marié Botha, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Alfie Fuller, Paige Gilbert, Chris Myers and Coral Peòa. The creative team for “BLKS” includes scenic design by Clint Ramos, costume design by Dede Ayite, lighting design by Alex Jainchill, and sound design by Palmer Hefferan.

“BLKS” runs in the Newman Mills Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (511 West 52nd Street-between 10th and 11th Avenues) through Sunday My 26, 2019. For performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://mcctheater.org/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Alfie Fuller, Paige Gilbert in “BLKS.” Credit: Deen van Meer.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 10, 2019

Broadway Review: “Tootsie” at the Marquis Theatre (Currently On)

Broadway Review: “Tootsie” at the Marquis Theatre (Currently On)
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek
Book by Robert Horn
Choreographed by Denis Jones
Directed by Scott Ellis
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Tootsie” has arrived and the lights on Broadway, especially those the Marquis theater where the musical is in residence, are shining much brighter because of the energy generated by the incredible cast that delights the audience and sparks uproarious laughter and spontaneous applause at every turn. This new production based on the 1982 movie starring Dustin Hoffman has transferred to the stage with intelligence and style that allows the updated version to enter the 21st century graciously. The revised storyline, with a book by Robert Horn, employs ingenious changes for the stage adaption and is effective in its ability to address gender issues and the current women’s movement, while also being pleasantly vulgar without insult. The signature score by David Yazbek is slightly reminiscent of earlier works but that’s fine since it provides that big Broadway sound associated with good old-fashioned musical comedy. Director Scott Ellis keeps the show moving at a fast, fluid pace, but enables his cast to take advantage of every opportunity to cash in on the constant one liners, showcasing their impeccable comic timing. Denis Jones uses his lively choreography to add a powerful charge and sometimes is the connective current that keeps the electricity flowing, covering for certain costume changes without breaking the circuit.

Now for those who do not know the story. Michael Dorsey (an awesome Santino Fontana) is a talented, arrogant, and narcissistic out of work actor in New York City. He lives with his roommate Jeff Slater (a priceless Andy Grotelueschen) who is a playwright who has not been able to finish a play or to elaborate, even start one. Along comes Sandy Lester (a perfectly neurotic Sarah Stiles) who is also a struggling actor going nowhere and Michael’s ex but now a good friend, with hopes of rekindling their relationship. As a last resort Michael decides he will pose as a woman (Dorothy Michaels) and audition for the same part as Sandy, in a new Broadway musical. He wins the role and the fun begins. He falls in love with the star of the show Julie Nichols (a strong-willed Lilli Cooper), who quickly befriends Dorothy as they plot to change the storyline of the play to a more feminist view. Of course, the show will be a success and Dorothy will become a star. Michael should be happy, but he decides to expose himself in hopes of beginning a relationship with Julie, regardless of the consequences. It is not so much the plot but the manner and skill in which it is executed that make this a seamless, hilarious, thrilling, joyride that never stops until the curtain falls. Even the curtain call is full of surprises!

It is difficult to describe the talent has been assembled on the stage of the Marquis Theater without sounding partisan. So, to keep it simple, the cast and creative team have nailed it. Mr. Fontana is lovable as the forlorn Michael and captivating as the indomitable Dorothy. He is indefatigable with hardly any downtime (except for insane costume changes), with an incredible baritone and impressive falsetto that deliver every song with strength and clarity. He gives a powerhouse performance. Lilli Cooper gives a strong, intelligent, interpretation of Julie, supported by a wide vocal range that captures her character. Sarah Stiles redefines neurotic, inventing a hilarious Sandy and stopping the show with her quick patter musical number “What’s Gonna Happen.” Andy Grotelueschen has the deadpan Jeff down to a science, never missing an opportunity to use silence as a tool for comedy. John Behlmann occupies the vacant mind of the inane Max Van Horn with charming ignorance and loving ineptitude. Reg Rogers fills Director Ron Carlisle with animated self-indulgence and despicable behavior that goes beyond stereotype. Julie Halston gives producer Rita Marshall panache and delivers her one liners with impeccable comic timing. Michael McGrath makes his mark as theatrical agent Stan Fields creating one of the most hilarious door-opening scenes in theater history without saying a word.

Kudos to the entire cast and creative team for bringing back that good old fashioned, blockbuster Broadway musical comedy that has graced the theaters of the great white way for decades. Treat yourself to a retreat from hectic schedules, the present chaotic, socio-political environment and disturbing news, to sit back, relax, laugh till your sides hurt and leave the theater feeling good. This is a show with remarkable performances that should not be missed.

TOOTSIE

“Tootsie” stars Santino Fontana, Lilli Cooper, Sarah Stiles, John Behlmann, Andy Grotelueschen, Julie Halston, Michael McGrath and Reg Rogers

The design team for “Tootsie” includes scenic designer David Rockwell, costume designer William Ivey Long, lighting designer Donald Holder, sound designer Brian Ronan, hair and wig design by Paul Huntley, and make-up design by Angelina Avallone.

“Tootsie” is currently on at the Marquis Theatre (210 West 46th Street). For information on performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://tootsiemusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Santino Fontana (right) and the Company of “Tootsie.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 3, 2019

Broadway Review: “Be More Chill” at the Lyceum Theatre (Open Run)

Broadway Review: “Be More Chill” at the Lyceum Theatre (Open Run)
Music and Lyrics by Joe Iconis
Book by Joe Tracz
Based on the Novel by Ned Vizzini
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is difficult to separate “Be More Chill,” currently running at the Lyceum Theatre, from the hype surrounding what has become a teenage cult musical since its 2015 run at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey and its recent off-Broadway run at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center in 2018. This hype has been heightened by a cast recording and an extensive marketing campaign. What is this musical about and how successful is its current Broadway incarnation?

High school junior Jeremy Heere (an awkward and amiable Will Rowland) would like his chill factor to be higher. He does not want to be “special,” but he just wants “to survive.” From his opening number “More Than Survive” it is difficult to diagnose the suburban New Jersey teen’s precise source of anxiety. Is it missing his mother, the slow-loading porn on his laptop, his dad’s (Jason SweetTooth Williams) agoraphobia and disrespect for Jeremy’s privacy, his fear of arriving at school “reeking?” His generalized anxiety seems no different than that of any teenager navigating their way through high school’s pitfalls. What is it Jeremy is dreads so much?

There is some bullying by classmates Rich Goranski (a menacing but broken Gerard Canonico) and Jake Dillinger (a high school awesomeness personified Britton Smith) but Jeremy has a solid friend in Michael Mell (a balanced and authentic George Salazar) with whom he shares an interest in video games and music. What Jeremy does not have, besides more chill, is his love interest Christine Canigula (a sweetly dorky Stephanie Hsu). There is also the “noise” created by the most popular girl in school Chloe Valentine (a crass and confident Katlyn Carlson), the second most popular Brooke Lohst (an insecure Lauren Marcus), and sidekick Jenna Rolan (a prying and intrusive Tiffany Mann).

Rather than finding some safe and relatively sane resolution to the angst of adolescence, Jeremy takes the same “gray oblong pill from Japan” that Rich swallowed to up his chill. The pill – the Squip – is a super-computer that tells Rich and Jeremy what to do and say to be cooler. Sci-Fi replaces socializing. The “voice” of the Squip is the aesthetic space-overcoat-clad Jason Tam.

Jeremy’s Squip-fueled journey from sad to glad to “normalcy” is told in scenes accompanied by loud pop-rock, techno-rock beats composed by Joe Iconis (with lyrics also by Iconis) and a serviceable book by Joe Tracz. Few of the songs are memorable. However, “Michael in the Bathroom,” Michael’s existential lament after being ditched by the post-Squip more chill Jeremy, is perhaps the most carefully written and the most sensitively delivered by George Salazar.

The cast is uniformly outstanding and fully committed to their roles. The playwright does not give us enough exposition about the protagonist Jeremy or his best friend Michael. Nor do the creators disclose what motivates Rich, Jake, or the popular female trio; therefore, their characters often struggle to transcend caricatures. Stephen Brackett’s direction and Chase Brock’s choreography move the action along at an appropriate pace and with welcomed energy. Beowulf Boritt’s expansive techno-fueled set, Bobby Frederick Tilley II’s stunning costumes, and Tyler Micoleau’s mood-driven lighting complement the musical’s settings.

Unfortunately, there are no LGBTQ+ characters in “Be More Chill” and the only mentions of the sexual status of this disparate community are negative. When Jeremy decides to sign up to be in the after-school play – a post-apocalyptic zombie infused retelling of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – in order to spend time with his crush Christine – he worries that “it’s a sign-up sheet for getting called gay.” Predictably, and sadly, as soon as Jeremy signs up, Rich calls out “Gay! Hahaha!” Rich taunts Jeremy about being gay, suggesting that he and Michael are “boyfriends.” The fact that Michael has lesbian parents (“mothers”) does not offset the musical’s lack of strong LGBTQ+ characters. Yes, Michael has “two mothers,” but they are not characters in the musical. Rick’s post-Squip recovery bi-awareness does not qualify as redemptive or transformative; rather, it comes off as humorous and unimportant. Mr. Heere’s showing up fully panted garners more cred.

Joe Tracz’s book and Joe Iconis’s lyrics fail to address the depth of teenage angst and the tragic events that often erupt from deep despair and depression. The hype surrounding “Be More Chill,” including its extensive marketing campaign, and the musical itself cannot and should not be a substitute for the real work required to discover who one is and then grapple with how to achieve selfhood and self-acceptance in the midst of discrimination, bullying, and dehumanization. “Be More Chill” hopefully will not itself become the Squip that numbs the intensity of that process.

BE MORE CHILL

The cast of “Be More Chill” features Gerard Canonico, Katlyn Carlson, Stephanie Hsu, Tiffany Mann, Lauren Marcus, Will Roland, George Salazar, Britton Smith, Jason Tam, and Jason SweetTooth Williams.

“Be More Chill” features scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Bobby Frederick Tilley II, lighting design by Tyler Micoleau, sound design by Ryan Rumery, projection design by Alex Basco Koch, musical direction by Emily Marshall, orchestrations by Charlie Rosen, casting by Telsey + Company / Adam Caldwell, CSA and Rebecca Scholl, CSA, and production stage management by Amanda Michaels.

“Be More Chill” runs at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street). Performances are Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $49.00 - $165.00 and are on sale at Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400, and at the Lyceum Theatre box office. For more information, visit www.BeMoreChillMusical.com. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: The Cast of “Be More Chill.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, April 29, 2019

Broadway Review: “Oklahoma!” Fails to Measure Up at Circle in the Square (Through Sunday September 1, 2019)

Broadway Review: “Oklahoma!” Fails to Measure Up at Circle in the Square (Through Sunday September 1, 2019)
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the Play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs
Directed by Daniel Fish
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Buried somewhere beneath the myriad sheets of plywood neatly lining the walls and covering the floors of Circle in the Square is the original sheer splendor, strength, and – yes – the overwhelming darkness of the original production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” Alas, that poor “Oklahoma!” is dead and is unceremoniously buried in Daniel Fish’s pretentious and overwrought “Oklahoma!” – never to be resurrected from the detritus of hanging guns galore, rows of bright red crock pots, and more yodeling than might be found anywhere in the Matterhorn.

In an apparent attempt to create an “Oklahoma!” for the twenty-first century, Daniel Fish not only serves up chili at the interval, but provides the audience a bevy of the kind of theatrical tricks one might expect to find in Ali Hakim’s (Will Brill) traveling salesman’s kit bag of notions and laudanum. These gimmicks include important scenes played out in complete darkness with actors whispering to one another with their “actions” being “exposed” in images projected on the “back” wall of the performance space; two grueling acts with the houselights up most of the time; a “dream ballet” that barely challenges the skills of “Lead Dancer” Gabrielle Hamilton leaving the audience nonplussed; and singing that challenges the very definition of vocal craft.

It is a good thing to attempt to reimagine the classics and many retellings over the decades have been helpful in adding relevance to already relevant plays, musicals, novels, poems, and all other manner of creative expression. This reimagining of “Oklahoma!” adds very little – if anything at all – to the original musical or any of its previous revivals. So, what happened here? Why did what night have worked, not work? There are several important reasons.

Daniel Fish’s revival fails to deliver authentic characters with believable conflicts. Despite the admirable and important diverse casting choices, the characters are not interesting – they come across more as stock characters on the Vaudeville circuit: in fact, the placards of that era might have helped the audience figure out what was going on in this hapless production – especially those not familiar with the original “Oklahoma!” Because the characters and their conflicts are obscured, the plot is thinly developed, and the “darkness” Mr. Fish aims for seems more like “trickery” and sleight of hand. For example, there must be very good reason to give no credence to the importance of the suspension of disbelief. If not dimming the house lights is supposed to draw the audience into some “interactive” experience, that “new” convention had better work – and here it does not. If sitting in the dark is meant to expose the underbelly of characters’ motives, the result must be electrifying and not numbing.

If what was Jud Fry’s (Patrick Vaill) suicide morphs into murder and the murderers Curly McLain (Damon Daunno) and Laurey Williams (Rebecca Naomi Jones) – not the deceased – are sprayed in blood, the cathartic nature of that choice must be clear and not bewildering. It is not that the audience members do not “understand” Daniel Fish’s choices, they just are not sure they are good choices. The audience lives daily with news broadcasts about and personal experiences of systemic racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia (now male cowhands and farmers best not be kissing other male cowhands and farmers), hate crimes against indigenous peoples, injustice in the name of justice, expansionism, gentrification, and white privilege. If a musical is supposed to reverberate with these atrocities, the attempt should tear the plywood from the theater walls with splintering chords: it had better be mighty powerful. This “Oklahoma!” is not and just leaves far too much to be desired and the audience wondering if somehow, they had partaken of the flask Ali Hakim gives to Miss Laurey.

OKLAHOMA!

The cast of “Oklahoma!” includes Will Brill, Anthony Cason, Damon Daunno, James Davis, Gabrielle Hamilton, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Will Mann, Mallory Portnoy, Ali Stroker, Mitch Tebo, Mary Testa, and Patrick Vaill.

The creative team includes Daniel Kluger (Orchestrations, Arrangements and Music Supervision), John Heginbotham (New Choreography), Nathan Koci (Music Direction), Laura Jellinek (Scenic Design), Terese Wadden (Costume Design), Scott Zielinski (Lighting Design), Drew Levy (Sound Design), and Joshua Thorson (Projection Design). Casting by Will Cantler and Adam Caldwell/Telsey & Co.

“Oklahoma!” Is based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs, with original dances by Agnes de Mille and is currently on at Circle in the Square (1633 Broadway at 50th Street). For information about the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://oklahomabroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Damon Daunno and Rebecca Naomi Jones in “Oklahoma!” Credit: Little Fang Photo.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 12, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater (Through Sunday May 5, 2019)

Photo: John Larroquette and Will Swenson in “Nantucket Sleigh Ride.” Credit: T. Charles Erickson.
Off-Broadway Review: “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater (Through Sunday May 5, 2019)
By John Guare
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

In the 18th and 19th centuries, new phrases entered the language of the sailors who took to the sea off the island of Nantucket, one of the whaling capitals of the world during that period. One specific expression “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” describes what happens when a harpooned whale drags the sailors in their long boat across the surface of the water in the wake of waves until it dies. During this treacherous event, which was a fight to the finish, sometimes the sailors also perished. John Guare’s somewhat new play (revised from a previous 2012 production at McCarter Theater) is aptly titled since the audience is only given enough to trawl over the surface of the story and characters without any depth of understanding until the play dies or the audience gives up trying to comprehend it. The switching from reality to the surreal and absurd becomes too confusing and too big a whale of a tale to comprehend the message or purpose of the play. Stopping half way through the farcical memory ride for an intermission seemed unnecessary for a ninety-five-minute play.

It is a somewhat autobiographical play in the sense that the playwright has written about his personal experience and thoughts on creativity, memory, childhood abandonment and capitalism. It would not be beneficial to list the endless plot twists and turns that may lead to just as much confusion as experienced while watching the antics of this rapid-fire farce. Connecting “Jaws,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion,” Roman Polanski, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Jorge Luis Borges, Walt Disney, child porn, adultery, murder, and an electrified lobster to solve the puzzle of two abandoned amnesiac children, that results in a happy ending is no easy task.

What makes this production entertaining is the incredible cast led by veteran John Larroquette whose deadpan delivery and comic timing continue to be part of his legacy. Accompanying him on this bumpy ride is the ever so versatile Douglas Sills adding panache to several different characters. Stacey Sargeant gives a fine comedic turn in dual roles of the secretary and police woman Aubrey Coffin. Director Jerry Zaks moves things along at a very quick pace and an inventive multi- level set design by David Gallo produce a super sleek product for the Lincoln Center Mitzi E. Newhouse stage.

The utmost effort of the cast and creative team cannot overcome the pitch and roll of this tumultuous ride that never dives beneath the surface to discover the meaning of the contrived story. There must be hidden treasures of wit and wisdom buried somewhere in the script but they fail to be discovered in this current production. Mr. Guare will certainly be remembered as one of the great American playwrights but this current example of his unique style and humor in studying the human condition will soon be forgotten.

NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE

The cast of “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” features Clea Alsip, Tina Benko, Adam Chanler-Berat, Jordan Gelber, Germán Jaramillo, John Larroquette, Grace Rex, Stacey Sargeant, Douglas Sills, and Will Swenson.

The production features sets by David Gallo, costumes by Emily Rebholz, lighting by Howell Binkley, and original music and sound by Mark Bennett.

“Nantucket Sleigh Ride” runs in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater through Sunday May 5, 2019. For more information on the production, including the performance schedule and how to purchase tickets, visit https://www.lct.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: John Larroquette and Will Swenson in “Nantucket Sleigh Ride.” Credit: T. Charles Erickson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 25, 2019

Off-Broadway Preview and News:

Photo: Malaika Uwamahoro in "Miracle in Rwanda." Credit: Mario Durane.
Off-Broadway Preview and News: "Miracle in Rwanda" Opens on April 9, 2019 and Will Play through May 11, 2019 at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row
By Leslie Lewis and Edward Vilga
Directed by George Drance
Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

MIRACLE IN RWANDA – the play by Leslie Lewis and Edward Vilga – scheduled to premiere Off Broadway following an acclaimed world tour, with preview performances beginning April 4 prior to an official opening night April 9 at the Lion Theatre on Theater Row (410 W. 42 St.) in Manhattan, will now play through May 11, 2019.

Directed by George Drance, MIRACLE IN RWANDA was previously scheduled through April 21, and extends its run due to popular demand.

“I am so thrilled at the response to our show, and I am so happy to give more people the chance to see Malaika Uwamahoro perform the Miracle. We also have some more shows for our wonderful understudy, Nisarah Lewis, who can show the world her acting chops. This story resonates with anyone who has ever found it hard to forgive. Come and see how Immaculée did it!” – Playwright, Leslie Lewis

MIRACLE IN RWANDA is the uplifting tale depicting the real-life events in Rwanda when Immaculée Ilibagiza survived — along with 7 others—three months in a 3×4 foot bathroom during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Through her story of sheer survival, compassion and the power of faith amidst unbelievable hardship, Immaculée has been referred to as “our generation’s Anne Frank,” yet one who thankfully survived. To those who know her story, the true miracle is Immaculee’s ability to forgive. This solo show stars Rwandan actress Malaika Uwamahoro, playing both killer and hunted; her performance lends redemption to this awful chapter of human history, bringing it full circle.

This engagement of MIRACLE IN RWANDA coincides with the 25th anniversary of the end of the genocide against the Tutsi, known as Kwibuka, which means ‘Remember’ in Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. The United Nations designated April 7 as an International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

MIRACLE IN RWANDA will perform Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m.

Tickets at Theatre Row are available now, with price from $39.00 to $59.00 and can be purchased by calling the Telecharge phone number at 212-239-6200 or online at www.telecharge.com.

Please also check out Theatre Row’s website, www.theatrerow.org and the MIRACLE IN RWANDA website for additional information, www.miracleinrwanda.nyc

Design credits for MIRACLE IN RWANDA include: Schele Williams (Dramaturgy), Donna Lea Ford (Costume Design), Erich Keil and Gina Costagliola (Lighting Design), and Taiwo Heard (Sound Design).

MIRACLE IN RWANDA is produced by Broadview Phoenix, Magis Theatre Company and Allen DeWane of Acuity Productions.

Photo: Malaika Uwamahoro in "Miracle in Rwanda." Credit: Mario Durane.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 25, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “The Mother” in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company (Through Saturday April 13th, 2019)

Photo: Isabelle Huppert and Justice Smith. Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Mother” in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company (Through Saturday April 13th, 2019)
By Florian Zeller and Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Somewhere in France, or perhaps in England in the nineteenth century, a young married woman is standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes after an evening meal. A dish slips from her hand, breaking I pieces as it hits the floor. The young woman begins to cry, sob really. Her husband not understanding any of this “odd behavior,” reaches out to the family physician who makes the diagnosis of hysteria and prescribes laudanum to “sedate” her. If the laudanum isn’t effective over time, this young woman – like many others of this time period – might be institutionalized for having “felt,” or “been sad,” or “not been a dutiful wife.”

Fast forward to the present somewhere in Manhattan, a middle-aged woman – married with two adult children no longer living at home – sits in her expansive living room in her even more expansive house all alone. This woman Anne (Isabelle Huppert) waits for her (probably) philandering husband Peter (Chris Noth) to come home, not to receive comfort from him, but to engage him in an ongoing battle of wits that reflect her desperation, her brokenness, her hope for reconciliation and release from deep depressive pain. But the only thing that could possibly offer surcease is the return to the nest of her son Nicolas (Justice Smith). In the first “act” of French playwright Florian Zeller’s “The Mother” currently playing in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company, Anne thinks she will get her wish when, in the middle of the night, Nicolas returns home after walking out on his current girlfriend Emily (Odessa Young).

As this scene plays repeatedly, just as things play repeatedly in Anne’s tortured psyche, the audience becomes aware of her manic-depressive disorder, her attempts to self-medicate, and her massive lode of rage that has festered in her since Nicolas and Emily have left home. But it is Nicolas’s absence that has caused the greatest pain for Anne. When he comes down for breakfast, shirt open, Anne caresses his bare chest, fondles and cuddles him to an obvious excess. The Oedipal juices are flowing.

As “The Mother” plays out, scene after scene – with scene/act changes indicated in projections on the back wall in French – Anne continues to give evidence of her shattered emotional state. This is not a woman we watch unravel, this is a woman who has already unraveled and the shrapnel from her dissolution has left mounds of detritus that have cluttered not only her life, but the lives around her. This clutter plays out in surreal and nonsensical scenes that mirror not only Anne’s warped weltanschauung, but the dysfunction of her husband, her son, and his girlfriend (or perhaps Emily is Peter’s girlfriend?) and how they have overtime contributed to her stark loneliness and persistent pain.

Unfortunately, Mr. Zeller’s script never even achieves the pathos of the young woman in the nineteenth century whose misdiagnosed “hysteria” plays out against the misogyny of the time. Ms. Huppert’s performance rarely reaches beyond the histrionic and her unbalanced command of the stage does not give the rest of cast opportunities to develop well-rounded characters. In short, while Mr. Zeller’s “The Father” is deeply cathartic, his “The Mother” comes off as pretentious, overstuffed, and devoid of ethos or pathos. The audience needs more substance and less weakly developed magical realism and surrealism.

THE MOTHER

“The Mother” features Isabelle Huppert, Chris Noth, Justice Smith, and Odessa Young.

“The Mother” features scenic design by Mark Wendland, costume design by Anita Yavich, lighting design by Ben Stanton, sound design and original composition by Fitz Patton, projections by Lucy MacKinnon, and casting by Casting by Telsey + Company, William Cantler, CSA; Adam Caldwell, CSA; Karyn Casl, CSA.

“The Mother” runs in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company (336 West 20th Street) through Saturday April 13th, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon performances at 2:00 p.m. on 3/20, 3/27, 4/3, 4/10 and on Monday at 7:00 p.m. on 4/8. Tickets for “The Mother” begin at $70.00. Order online at www.atlantictheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or in person at the Linda Gross Theater box office. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Isabelle Huppert and Justice Smith. Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 18, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka” in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (Through Sunday March 31, 2019

Photo: Mirirai Sithole, Phumzile Sitole, Níkẹ Uche Kadri, Antoinette Crowe Legacy. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka” in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (Through Sunday March 31, 2019)
Written by Tori Sampson
Directed by Leah C. Gardiner
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Once upon a time, in a not so very long time ago there was a beautiful young Nigerian woman named Akim (a self-absorbed yet fragile Níkẹ Uche Kadri) whose Ma (a stern but loving Maechi Aharanwa) and Dad (a somewhat subservient Jason Bowen) project their own flawed conception of what real beauty is (a thoroughly Eurocentric standard of beauty) upon Akim and keep her sheltered in their home. Akim meets Kasim (a delightfully charming Leland Fowler) and begs her parents to allow her to socialize outside their home. Akim’s friends at school Massassi (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), Adama (Mirirai Sithole), and Kaya (Phumzile Sitole) are also beautiful; however, they believe they are not as beautiful as Akim and become jealous of her and plan ways to kill her. All the young women must experience the “refiner’s fire” to fully understand what beauty is.

This is the Nigerian folktale that playwright Tori Sampson bravely and boldly chooses to retell, update, modernize, and make more accessible to a contemporary audience. Ms. Sampson is to be commended for taking on this important project. Several theatrical genres have benefitted from the process of retelling and it is essential to include the African folktale in this process.

Thanks to Tori Sampson’s crisp writing style, it is evident from the start that the audience is being engaged in a retelling of an important Nigerian folktale. This retelling begins with a successful “transfer” to contemporary trans-cultural sensitivities. Louisa Thompson’s sparse, expansive, and “transparent” set allows for the magical realism and fantasy sequences inherent in a folktale. Dede Ayite’s costumes successfully bridge space and time. Matt Frey’s lighting and Ian Scot’s original music and sound design provide the realism-magical realism continuum with transcendence and authenticity.

The storyteller/chorus (a transcendent and spritely Rotimi Agbabiaka) is a persuasive “substitute” for the oral tradition that preserved and shared African folktales. Akim’s Ma and Dad are believable in their roles as enablers of the Eurocentric standard of beauty. And although the “Mime section” is starkly accompanied by Carla R. Stewart (The Voice of the River), it seems to interrupt the flow of Tori Sampson’s script and contributes to the overwrought and overlong nature of the piece. Overall, the new play needs tightening and streamlining as it moves forward in development.

Under Leah C. Gardiner’s direction, the energetic and transformative cast mine Tori Sampson’s script for its buried enduring and essential questions; however, despite their efforts, they come up with less than a treasure trove. What could have been a modern-day African folktale about self-awareness, self-acceptance, and true beauty – full of teachable moments – “If Pretty Hurts” becomes a fractured fairly tale searching for thematic integrity. Perhaps, in the playwright’s attempt to modernize the format of the African folktale, she works too hard to make the experience interactive and participatory.

Despite these concerns, “If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka” in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons is a must see. Audiences need to support new voices like Tori Sampson. Her contributions to the theatre will continue to challenge the ways we have understood what theatre is, how it is expressed, and how its messages can be exposed to audiences.

IF PRETTY HURTS UGLY MUST BE A MUHFUCKA

The cast features Rotimi Agbabiaka, Maechi Aharanwa, Jason Bowen, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Leland Fowler, Níkẹ Uche Kadri, Mirirai Sithole, Phumzile Sitole, and Carla R. Stewart.

The creative team includes Louisa Thompson (Scenic Designer), Dede Ayite (Costume Designer), Matt Frey (Lighting Designer), and Ian Scot (Original Music and Sound Designer), Cookie Jordan (Hair and Wig Designer), Alyssa K. Howard (Production Stage Manager), and Noah Silva (Assistant Stage Manager).

“If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka” in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street) through Sunday March 31, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For more information on the show including cast, creative team, and ticketing information, visit https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Mirirai Sithole, Phumzile Sitole, Níkẹ Uche Kadri, Antoinette Crowe Legacy. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 11, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” at Stage 42 (Through Sunday June 30, 2019)

Photo: (L-R) Raquel Nobile, Rosie Jo Neddy, Rachel Zatcoff, Stephanie Lynne Mason, and Samantha Hahn. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” at Stage 42 (Through Sunday June 30, 2019)
Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Yiddish Translation by Shraga Friedman
Directed by Joel Grey
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

One father longing to be wealthy enough to adequately care for his family – and letting the Creator know he feels overlooked – and three “adult” daughters dodging the craft of the local matchmaker are the grist for an epic challenge to the traditions held dear by the members of Tevye’s Shtetlekh and its “on-the-fence” Der Rov (a confident yet conflicted Adam B. Shapiro) who is often consulted to determine which traditions remain relevant and which might have become obsolete. Tradition. Culture. Politics. Love. Tevye grapples with these four and more in National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” currently running at Stage 42.

There is considerable Jewish culture captured in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” the iconic musical that has won a respectable reputation in theater history. Since it first opened on Broadway in 1964 to win nine TONY awards, “Fiddler” went on to become the longest running Broadway musical. Since that original production, there have been five Broadway revivals. The collaboration of Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) resulted in one of the best musicals of the American Theater. However, the Yiddish version, translated by Shraga Friedman over fifty years ago had never been performed in the United States until its recent premiere, produced by National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, which played last year at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The production is deftly directed by Joel Grey with exciting musical staging and culturally influenced choreography by Stas Kmiec. Oh, what a production it is!

This present revival is as simple as the inhabitants of the fictional Russian shtetl, Anatevka, as powerful as their religious convictions, and shines a bright light on the emotional and poignant struggle of facing a new and sometimes bitter world. Freeing itself from the burden of extravagance, it manifests a certain reality that pulls the audience in, so they become a part of the tightknit community. It is beyond suspension of disbelief, as it creates an actuality that transfers the spectator to another time and place to share in celebration and an onerous plight. Past productions of this work are usually dominated by the musical numbers which have endured a life of their own but in this present incarnation, they are so well integrated that they appear as part of everyday life and the mantra of “tradition.”

Under Joel Grey’s direction, the members of the cast deliver authentic and compelling performances. Steven Skybell brings a solid, reverent and practical Tevye to this production, brimming with conflict, humor and honesty that rings true to the everyman, regardless of race, color or creed. His charming baritone reflects his characters wisdom and vulnerability. These attributes play well off the stern and stoic Golde as portrayed in the rich, layered performance by Jennifer Babiak, who manages to redeem the nearly as impenetrable character with waves of compassion. Jackie Hoffman infuses matchmaker Yente with consistent welcomed humor that purposely disguises a woman who is alone and lonely. Rachel Zatcoff is an assertive Tsaytl devoted to the impoverished tailor Motl Kamzoyl, enacted with a timorous innocence by Ben Liebert. The rebellious Hodl is brought to life with a solid conviction by Stephanie Lynne Mason demonstrating determined energy and a steadfast commitment to an unexpected romance. The curious Khave, is given a thirst for knowledge by the wholesome and fearless Rosie Jo Neddy. She is the most adventuresome daughter, crossing religious and cultural boundaries to elope and marry a Christian, Fyedke, a stalwart and intelligent Cameron Johnson. And the omnipresent Der Fidler (a magical and spritely Lauren Jeanne Thomas) reminds the audience of humanity’s ongoing struggle for meaning in life’s struggle.

At the performance on Saturday March 2, 2019, the role of Yosl/Ensemble (Nick Raynor) was played by dance captain John Giesige.

The entire twenty-nine-member cast is wonderful and works diligently to reach the core of this story in the native Yiddish language which proves to authenticate the time and place. They are supported by a wonderful twelve-piece orchestra conducted by Zalmen Moitek, which fills the space with memorable melodies. This production of “Fiddler on the Roof” is purely a demonstration of the incredible power of theater. Kudos to the entire cast and creative team for collaborating to present a cogent, emotional and entertaining production. Mazel Tov!


FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

The cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” features Jennifer Babiak, Joanne Borts, Michael Einav, Lisa Fishman, Kirk Geritano, John Giesige, Abby Goldfarb, Samantha Hahn, Jackie Hoffman, Cameron Johnson, Ben Liebert, Moshe Lobel, Evan Mayer, Stephanie Lynne Mason, Evan Mayer, Rosie Jo Neddy, Raquel Nobile, Jonathan Quigley, Nick Raynor, Bruce Sabath, Kayleen Seidl, Drew Seigla, Adam B. Shapiro, Steven Skybell, Jodi Snyder, James Monroe Števko, Lauren Jeanne Thomas, Bobby Underwood, Michael Yashinsky, and Rachel Zatcoff.

Joining Joel Grey (director), the creative team for “Fiddler on the Roof” includes Staœ Kmieæ (musical staging and choreography), Beowulf Boritt (set design), Ann Hould-Ward (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Dan Moses Schreier (sound design), Tom Watson (hair and wig design), NYTF Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek (conductor and music director), with casting by Jamibeth Margolis, C.S.A, and, Britni Serrano (production manager). Consulting on the production are Jerome Robbins and Sheldon Harnick. Production photos by Mathew Murphy.

National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” runs at Stage 42 (422 West. 42nd Street) through Sunday June 30, 2019. Tickets are available to purchase through www.Telecharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200 or in person at the Stage 42 Box Office (422 West. 42nd Street). Running time is 3 hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: (L-R) Raquel Nobile, Rosie Jo Neddy, Rachel Zatcoff, Stephanie Lynne Mason, and Samantha Hahn. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, March 9, 2019

Off-Broadway News: "Avenue Q" to Play an Additional Four Weeks at New World Stages by Popular Demand (Through Sunday May 26, 2019)

Photo: Veronica J. Kuehn.
AVENUE Q – winner of three 2004 Tony Awards including Best Musical – is extending its previously announced closing date 4 weeks, due to popular demand, with a new end date set for May 26 at New World Stages (340 W. 50 St.), it has been announced by the show’s producers. In December it was revealed that the 15+ year run of the musical would end on April 28.

Produced by Kevin McCollum, Robyn Goodman, Jeffrey Seller, Vineyard Theatre and The New Group, AVENUE Q will have played a total of 6569 performances upon closing: from its first Broadway preview on July 14, 2003 to its final performance at New World Stages (340 W. 50 St.) on May 26.

Mr. McCollum and Ms. Goodman note, “The little show-that-could is still full of surprises. When audiences clamor for more, we listen!”

Powered by its Tony for Best Musical and additional Tonys for Best Music and Lyrics to Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and Best Book of a Musical to Jeff Whitty, AVENUE Q’s victory at the 2004 Tony Awards was considered an historic upset and effectively redrew the landscape for innovation, originality and success on Broadway. The musical recouped its investment in just 10 months, and with its fresh and funny tale about people and puppets just out of college looking for their purpose in life, AVENUE Q has been groundbreaking in its appeal to young theatergoers who relate to the characters and the challenges they face learning adult life lessons about racism, coming out, unemployment, dating, sex and porn. The show has indeed captivated audiences of all generations with it singular, hilarious take on the traditional story of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses girl, boy tries to win girl back – except in AVENUE Q, the boy and girl just happen to be puppets.

The producers state, “We are incredibly proud of the fact that AVENUE Q transformed the careers of so many people in our company throughout its run. The show gave audiences the opportunity to laugh, escape from the outside world for two hours and have tons of fun. AVENUE Q proved to be timeless and we learned that sometimes it takes a puppet to make us realize how remarkable, complicated and messy it is to be human.”

AVENUE Q has music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty, and is directed by Jason Moore. Based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, with puppets conceived and designed by Rick Lyon, musical supervision by Stephen Oremus, choreography by Ken Roberson, scenic design by Anna Louizos, costume design by Mirena Rada, lighting design by Howell Binkley, and sound design by Acme Sound Partners. Music director is Brian Hertz. Animation design is by Robert Lopez, incidental music is by Gary Adler, and casting is by Cindy Tolan & Adam Caldwell. Christine M. Daly is Production Stage Manager.

After its 6+ year run on Broadway, on the occasion of the musical’s closing night in September 2009, AVENUE Q’s producers made the surprise announcement that the show was, in fact, not closing, but would open again three weeks later at New World Stages, where it has been playing for more than 9 years.

The current cast of AVENUE Q includes Katie Boren, Grace Choi, Matt Dengler, Jamie Glickman, Imari Hardon, Jason Jacoby, Nicholas Kohn, Veronica Kuehn, Lacretta, Michael Liscio, Jr., and Rob Morrison.

AVENUE Q’s unforgettable cast of characters include Princeton, Kate Monster, Rod, Lucy The Slut, Trekkie Monster, Gary Coleman, The Bad Idea Bears, Mrs. Thistletwat, Christmas Eve and Brian.

At New World Stages, AVENUE Q performs Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm. Tickets can be purchased through Telecharge by calling 212-239-6200 or visiting http://www.telecharge.com. A limited number of rush tickets are available at the box office for each performance.

For more information about AVENUE Q, please visit: http://www.AvenueQ.com

Photo: Veronica J. Kuehn.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 7, 2019

Broadway Review and News: “Choir Boy” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Closes on Sunday March 10, 2019

Photo: (back-front) John Clay III and Jeremy Pope in “Choir Boy.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review and News: “Choir Boy” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Closes on Sunday March 10, 2019
By Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Every place I went felt the same. Cept . . . Until I got to Drew. Everybody didn't like me but I had . . . I had space to let me be. Now everybody looking at me like, ‘Blackeye, probation, Yup, that's what you get.’” – Pharus to ‘AJ’

After a successful and extended run at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s important and engaging “Choir Boy” closes on Sunday March 10, 2019. With only six opportunities remaining, theatregoers are urged to see one of the remaining performances.

Following an embarrassing wrestling match in the dorm room they share at The Charles R. Drew Preparatory School for Boys (no spoiler alert), Pharus Jonathan Young (an intense yet fragile Jeremy Pope) and Anthony Justin ‘AJ’ James (a powerful and sensitive John Clay III) have a conversation that is perhaps the turning point in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy” currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Both Pharus and ‘AJ’ are young men of color: Pharus is gay and a junior at the school and ‘AJ’ is straight and a senior. Pharus makes no apologies for his sexual status; in fact, he is quite open with his peers and with the Headmaster. ‘AJ’ is secure in his sexual status and supports Pharus with unconditional and non-judgmental love. But first, more about those ‘peers.’

On the surface, the play seems to address the horrific bullying Pharus experiences at the hands of Bobby Marrow (J. Quinton Johnson) nephew of Headmaster Marrow (Chuck Cooper). This bullying becomes evident in the first scene of the play when, during Pharus’s solo of “Trust and Obey the school’s Song, Bobby directs two homophobic slurs from behind Pharus. Bobby’s toxic masculinity and homophobia seem uncontrollable despite the restraint urged by his fellow students and his Headmaster Uncle.

What Pharus has “gotten” all his life is rejection, verbal and emotional abuse, humiliation, deep hurt, and unchecked bullying. What this young gay man “gets” from ‘AJ’ is acceptance and agapic love. Issues of gender identity and the conflicts that often result therefrom clash and are exacerbated by the pandemic specter of racism. After ‘AJ’ realizes why Pharus has become isolated, he embraces Pharus and demonstrates the true nature of friendship. ‘AJ’ confronts Pharus with, “When I came in 2nd year – you were alone in here. Who was your roommate first year? Who had left before?” Significant relationships require sensitivity and awareness. ‘AJ’ creates for Pharus the safe place he needs as opposed to the hypocrisy of the institution and the disingenuous patter of the seemingly sympathetic headmaster.

Under Trip Cullman’s sensitive and discerning direction, and with the full support of the dynamic cast, Mr. Pope and Mr. Clay III wrestle with the relentless demons of homophobia and racism and deliver engaging performances that are solidly related to their disparate conflicts.

CHOIR BOY

The cast of “Choir Boy” features Nicholas L. Ashe (Junior Blake), Daniel Bellomy (Ensemble), Jonathan Burke (Ensemble), Gerald Caesar (Ensemble), John Clay III (Anthony Justin “AJ” James), Chuck Cooper (Headmaster Marrow), Caleb Eberhardt (David Heard), Marcus Gladney (Ensemble), J. Quinton Johnson (Bobby Marrow), Austin Pendleton (Mr. Pendleton) and Jeremy Pope (Pharus Jonathan Young).

“Choir Boy’s” creative team includes Jason Michael Webb (music direction, arrangements & original music), David Zinn (scenic & costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Fitz Patton
(original music & sound design), Cookie Jordan (hair & make-up design), Thomas Schall (fight director) and Camille A. Brown (choreography).

“Choir Boy” runs at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street) through Sunday March 10, 2019. Tickets for “Choir Boy” are available at www.Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. For more information on “Choir Boy,” including the performance schedule and cast biographies, visit https://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/.

Photo: (back-front) John Clay III and Jeremy Pope in “Choir Boy.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 7, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Hurricane Diane” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 10, 2019)

Photo: Mia Barron in “Hurricane Diane.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Hurricane Diane” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 10, 2019)
By Madeleine George
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Playwright Madeleine George sets her “Hurricane Diane” in an Early Anthropocene Time, the era defined as “the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.” Most, except members of the current Administration, see that influence to have been deleterious at best and are aware of the dire predictions for Planet Earth’s future viability unless this human activity is modified speedily and thoroughly. The effects of climate change are as evident now as they were when Ms. George’s play had its debut at Two River Theatre in New Jersey in 2017. Perhaps even more so. So why does New York Theatre Workshop team up with Women’s Project Theater to resurrect this problematic play?

The answer is not readily evident in this 2019 “re-conceiving” of “Hurricane Diane” currently running at New York Theatre Workshop’s East Village venue. As they did in 2017, Madeleine George and director Leigh Silverman team up to explore Dionysus’ attempt to shake things up in the upscale Jersey Shore cul-de-sac where four housewives will hopefully serve as the beginning of the god’s attempts to save mortals from their incessant penchant for self-destruction. The god of all things bacchanal decides to appear as Diane (a static and dispassionate Becca Blackwell) to “start up a mystery cult” as a landscaper “with a focus on sustainability and small-scale permaculture.”

Diane had been living outside of Burlington, Vermont “living off the grid with a bunch of lesbian separatists” and though she could have stayed there forever, Diane knew she was needed to begin the revolution that would restore the earth. Diane targets four New Jersey housewives in the attempt to convince them to landscape their property in a way that “restores it to a semblance of the lush primeval forest that once stood where [they] stand right now.” Diane first pitches the idea to Carol Fleischer (an aptly named, storm-laden, and resilient Mia Barron). Carol, overcome by Diane’s charms, initially decides to accept the permaculture makeover. When she decides otherwise, Diane then turns to the remaining three they need for her mystery cult.

The remaining thin plot centers around Diane’s pitch to Pam Annunziata (a screechy, loud, although likeable Danielle Skraastad), to Beth Wann (a bland, needy, and wistful Kate Wetherhead), and to Renee Shapiro-Epps (a competitive, classy, and corporate Michelle Beck). After the three hapless housewives capitulate to Diane’s persuasive pitch, the landscaper returns to seduce Carol. In the end, Carol cannot compromise “her story,” the story of getting what she wants despite the impact her greed has on the environment and on the future of the Planet. Carol growls on the countertop, Diane exits, a big storm arrives, and the overwrought play ends with a barely audible chorus of defeat and culpability from Pam, Beth, and Renee.

The characters – all of them – are underdeveloped, mostly static, with less than interesting conflicts. So how could there possibly be an engaging plot? They seem not to care for themselves or for one another; therefore, it is difficult to care for them. All Leigh Silverman can do is move them around in ways they do not collide with one another on Rachel Hauck’s confined and confining set.

Nothing in the play advances an understanding of climate change, global warming, or carbon emissions. Nor is there anything in this exasperating play that advances an understanding of the role of women in general, or the role of women of color, or the important issues of gender identity. The members of the cast do their best; however, their very best cannot rescue this ill-conceived production that is burdened not only with stereotypes, but also with outmoded understandings of human sexuality and sexual practice.

HURRICANE DIANE

The cast for “Hurricane Diane” includes Mia Barron, Michelle Beck, Becca Blackwell, Danielle Skraastad, and Kate Wetherhead.

“Hurricane Diane” features scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costume design by Kaye Voyce, lighting design by Barbara Samuels, sound design by Bray Poor, original music by The Bengsons, and choreography by Raja Feather Kelly. Melanie J. Lisby serves as Stage Manager.

“Hurricane Diane” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street) through Sunday March 10, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday-Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.mm, Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Exceptions: there will be no performances on Sunday, February 24; and no 7:00 p.m. performance on Sunday, March 10. Single tickets for “Hurricane Diane” start at $35 and vary by performance date and time. Visit https://www.nytw.org/ or https://wptheater.org/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Mia Barron in “Hurricane Diane.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, February 24, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: Fiasco Theater’s Production of “Merrily We Roll Along” at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre (Through Sunday April 7, 2019)

Photo: Jessie Austrian, Manu Narayan, Brittany Bradford, and Ben Steinfeld. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: Fiasco Theater’s Production of “Merrily We Roll Along” at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre (Through Sunday April 7, 2019)
Book by George Furth
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Based on the original play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” could prove to become the mantra of the famed Sondheim musical “Merrily We Roll Along” which was a dismal failure when it first opened on Broadway in 1981. There is a new production helmed by the Roundabout’s resident Fiasco Theater Company which falls short of delivering a new efficacious incarnation, becoming yet another casualty in the history of this troublesome and puzzling show. This current endeavor lacks the emotional depth of the characters needed to successfully bring forth the message; additionally, the cast is not vocally capable of delivering most of the brilliant musical numbers. However, the orchestrations and new arrangements for the eight-piece orchestra by Alexander Gemignani allow the audience to wallow in the brilliance of Mr. Sondheim’s captivating score and are the highlight of this production.

It has been suggested that the trouble with the original production had much to do with the twist of a backward timeline running from present to past. This might have been a problem in 1981 but with so many television movies and series now using this familiar technique it is difficult to imagine that would have any negative effect on a solid production today. The plot follows the relationship of three close friends from their midlife, acerbic, and decayed friendships back to their hopeful, innocent youth after college when they set out to conquer the world and aspire to their dreams. In the last musical number “Our Time,” set on a NYC rooftop in 1957, Frank (a rather sedate Ben Steinfeld) and Charley (a convincing but too mellow Manu Narayan) are poised to write the next smash Broadway musical, while Mary (a brash but calculated Jessie Austrian) has her eye on becoming a famous novelist. This is where they first meet to witness a new beginning as Sputnik 1 entered Earth’s orbit, and they launched themselves into the world with self- proclaimed promises and close comradery. Scene one in 1979 exposes a cynical Frank, an alcoholic Mary, a broken, neurotic Charley and a welcomed revival of “Rich and Happy” a song from the original score.

The problem that evolves in this deflated production begins when the audience does not dislike the supposedly now despicable characters enough to then reverse opinion and feel empathy towards them in the optimistic ending. This is a major concern since the focus of this production seems to be strengthening the book and minimizing the emphasis on the songs which tend to be the weakest link. Notable songs such as “Old Friends” and “Not a Day Goes By” are plagued with poor vocals or less than dramatic delivery. The massive theatrical warehouse set crammed with props, costumes and set pieces which are retrieved by the cast to create each appropriate scene, keeps your eyes busy pre-show but serves no other purpose during the performance.

Director Noah Brady moves the action along at a nice pace and makes the reversal of time clear and entertaining with some clever costume changes but fails to dig deep enough into each of these wounded characters whose dreams and relationships are shattered. This new intermission less version is lean and clean but some of what has been stripped and washed away is the dramatic weight, along with the grit and grime of the human condition.

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

The cast of “Merrily We Roll Along” includes Jessie Austrian, Brittany Bradford, Manu Narayan, Ben Steinfeld, and Emily Young.

The creative team for “Merrily We Roll Along” includes Derek McLane (Scenic Design), Paloma Young (Costume Design), Christopher Akerlind (Lighting Design) and Peter Hylenski (Sound Design).

“Merrily We Roll Along” runs at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street) through Sunday April 7, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. with Wednesday, Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.

Tickets for “Merrily We Roll Along” are available by calling 212-719-1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org, in person at any Roundabout box office, or by visiting StubHub. Ticket prices range from $99.00-119.00. Running time is

Photo: Jessie Austrian, Manu Narayan, Brittany Bradford, and Ben Steinfeld. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 21, 2019

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Waiting Game” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 23, 2019)

Photo: Julian Joseph and Marc Sinoway in “The Waiting Game.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Waiting Game” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 23, 2019)
Written by Charles Gershman
Directed by Nathan Wright
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

In the appropriately titled play “The Waiting Game” by Charles Gershman, what quickly becomes apparent to the audience is that everyone in the play is waiting for something. Sam is in a coma from a drug overdose, waiting to wake up, die while in the coma or have someone terminate his life by pulling the plug. His husband Paolo is waiting for Sam to wake up because he thinks he is communicating with him via Gmail chat. Geoff is Sam’s new boyfriend since Sam left Paolo, and he is waiting for Paolo to grant him conservatorship so he can pull the plug and end Sam’s life. Tyler is Paolo’s new tryst and he is waiting for Paolo to give up drugs and commit to a relationship. Everyone knows everyone else and knows each other is waiting for something to happen so life can begin or for that matter end. Add to the plot drugs, sex, AIDS, and four confused, self- loathing homosexuals and the result is evident or at least self- prophesizing.

The set design by Riw Rakkulchon has made clear certain boundaries. A white outlined rectangle denotes the real playing area and a filmy see through fabric that sometimes lets the audience view Sam, separating conscious from unconscious that also doubles as a screen for projections. All the props needed in the production are lined up on the outside of the playing area behind the white outline. Director Nathan Wright has meticulously choreographed each performer to bring the props relevant to the present scene into the playing area when needed and then returned to their proper assigned place afterwards. This combined with some music, some sex and quite a bit of drug related activity extends the languishing script to a slow seventy minutes.

The play is more about the mechanisms that people use to cope with loss whether it be from death or terminated relationships. The problem here is that we never discover how those people feel as they use these superficial methods that merely postpone the grieving process. The characters seem very two-dimensional lacking emotional depth and not fully developed. The actors do their job but there is not enough to grab onto in order to transcend the material. Unfortunately, the characters that emerge in Mr. Gershman’s script are not at all likable, therefore it is difficult for the audience feel much empathy. It may be time to move forward and leave behind the old narrative of sex, drugs, foolish behavior and romantic melodrama associated with the LGBTQ+ community and examine how their relationships have evolved in today’s social climate.

THE WAITING GAME

The cast features Joshua Bouchard, Julian Joseph, Ibsen Santos, and Marc Sinoway.

The design team includes Riw Rakkulchon (set design); Drew Florida (lighting design); Emma Wilk (sound design); and Kat Sullivan (projection design). The Production Stage Manager is Bonnie McHeffey.

“The Waiting Game” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 23rd, 2019. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Single tickets are $25.00 ($20.00 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling the 59E59 Box Office on 646-892-7999 or by visiting www.59e59.org.

Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Julian Joseph and Marc Sinoway in “The Waiting Game.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Mies Julie” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday March 10, 2019)

Photo: James Udom and Elise Kibler in “Mies Julie.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Mies Julie” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday March 10, 2019)
By Yaël Farber – Adapted from the Play “Miss Julie” by August Strindberg
Directed by Shariffa Ali
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

August Strindberg’s naturalism and themes transfer brilliantly from his “Miss Julie” to Yaël Farber’s adaptation of Strindberg’s classic. Farber’s “Mies Julie” is currently running at Classic Stage Company in repertory with the Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Strindberg’s “The Dance of Death.” Like the 1985 stage version of “Miss Julie” at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre, Mr. Farber’s 2012 adaptation takes place in South Africa. Shariffa Ali’s electrifying staging replaces Strindberg’s celebration of Midsummer’s Eve with the “restitutions of body and soul” churned up by the Xhosa Freedom Day celebration.

Afrikaans protagonist Mies Julie (Elise Kibler) and Xhosa antagonist John (James Udom), though childhood friends, are from vastly different social orders. Now in their twenties, they are separated by insurmountable divides of class, race, and social status. Unfortunately, they are also “star-crossed” lovers foreshadowing the breakdown of South Africa’s fragile social order and the equally dangerous breakdown of historical social and sexual distinctions. Their extended cat-and-mouse game of alienation and rapprochement defines the dramatic arc of Yaël Farber’s distinctive adaptation. Each knows they must escape the ghosts of their past and the imprisonment of their present. Escaping Ukhokho the specter of one’s ancestry (Vinie Burrows) proves to be a risky business.

James Udom is a monumental John who, when on stage, commands the intricies of Farber’s text to be exposed as he delivers a layered and persuasive performance. Whether he is shining the farm owner’s boots, comforting his mother Christine (a compliant yet hope-filled Patrice Johnson Chevannes), or jockeying for social prominence with Mies Julie, Mr. Udom wastes no movement, no expression, no word as he pays tribute to his complex character. Elise Kibler delivers her performance as Julie with nuanced layers of dominance, sadness, regret, and nagging self-destructiveness. Although her performance lacks Mr. Udom’s sustained intensity, Ms. Kibler provides a Julie that is a worthwhile adversary for John. Under Shariffa Ali’s direction, James Udom, Elise Kibler, and Patrice Johnson Chevannes deliver authentic and believable performances that richly manifest the enduring conflicts of their characters.

Adaptations of Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” have been set in the Old South, the English countryside, and in Cape Town and presented in the genres of stage, ballet, opera, film, and television. These adaptations highlight Strindberg’s themes of the fragility of social orders and the inevitable failure of sexual and social differences, including the tensions between the Roman Catholic Irish and Anglo-Irish Protestant communities. However, none have been as powerful as the Yaël Farber retelling set on Freedom Day 2012 in the farmhouse kitchen in Eastern Cape – Karoo, South Africa.

Issues of race, gender, power, privilege, and hope cascade across David L. Arsenault’s expansive set and are ultimately consummated on the kitchen farm table set center stage where Julie’s self-destructive personality and John’s deep sadness collide in an explosive scene where raw sexual power serves as a rich metaphor for the reversal of roles between Julie and John forcing both to make decisions about future and the sustainability of life as each has known it. In this final scene, a Pandora’s box of tropes – one more exhaustingly powerful than the next – cascade beyond the borders of the stage sustaining the play’s soul-bending catharsis.

As the 2018-2019 theatre season draws to a close, “Mies Julie” is a play to see: its themes counterpoint the struggles for true freedom that continue to beg for resolution.

MIES JULIE

“Mies Julie” features Elise Kibler as Julie, James Udom as John, Vinie Burrows as Ukhokho, and Patrice Johnson Chevannes as Christine.

The creative team includes David L. Arsenault (Scenic Design), Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene and Andrew
Moerdyk (Costume Design), Stacey Derosier (Lighting Design), Quentin Chiappetta (Sound Design), and Andrew Orkin (Original Music).

Performances of “Mies Julie” will take place at Classic Stage Company (136 East 13th Street) on the following performance schedule: January 13, 14, 24, 27, and 28, and March 10 at 7:00 p.m. It will be performed 16, and 22, and March 2 and 8 at 8:00 p.m. Matinee performances will take place February 17, and 23, and March 3 and 9 at 2:00 p.m. For further information, visit https://www.classicstage.org/.

Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.

Photo: James Udom and Elise Kibler in “Mies Julie.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, February 10, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Eddie and Dave” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday February 10, 2019)

Photo: Amy Staats in “Eddie and Dave.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
Off-Broadway Review: “Eddie and Dave” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday February 10, 2019)
By Amy Staats
Directed by Margot Bordelon
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The present-day social climate in the theater world has fervently addressed non-traditional casting, gender identity, and diversity as part of an effort to be inclusive and accepting. When a production exhibits a little gender bending, there should be a valid explanation or reasoning behind the decision, whether it be historical, social, or dramatic persuasion. In the case of “Eddie and Dave” penned by Amy Staats and running at Atlantic Stage 2, it seems to be purely for fun, adding a bit of desperately needed humor to the banal script.

The plot follows the rise to fame of the music group Van Halen, with the dramatic arc depending on the sole goal of revealing what led to the fall out between Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. The assumption is that it had something to do with what happened on stage during their reunion at the MTV awards show. It is told through the eyes of a narrator (the solid and efficient Vanessa Aspillaga), the MTV VJ who organized for the estranged music group to present best artist award. It is no more than a pedestrian tale of sex, drugs and rock and roll pulled from any number of entertainment tabloids. There is no character development and you learn nothing new about the bands development or the devastating break-up.

What puts a new spin on this version of the story is the addition of gender bending where the male parts are played by women and the female parts are played by men. What this accomplishes is no more than turning the story into a satirical spoof. The problem that arises is that it truly is not a satire and it is not funny enough to be a spoof. It only supplies sporadic laughs from a tired audience who is bored with repetitious pseudo guitar riffs and rampant coke snorting. The wonderful mullets created by Cookie Jordan and appropriate costumes designed by Montana Levi Blanco to achieve the cartoonish gender bending, only entertain for the first thirty minutes or so of the ninety-minute show before losing their impact and charm.

The cast does what it can with the material but at times they even seem to wonder what their job really is and why they are telling this story in this peculiar way. Omer Abbas Salem seems to enjoy flaunting his feminine side as Valerie Bertinelli, changing costumes every chance he gets. Playwright Amy Staats portrays the drug addicted guitarist Eddie with too much stability, lacking the drug addict’s mood swings. Adina Verson turns Al into a rehabilitated force of reason that is a bit conservative. The entire cast seems to be having a good time as they move through the antics provided by director Margot Bordelon. The result is somewhat of an overlong television comedy sketch that does not include any music from the legendary rock and roll band Van Halen.

EDDIE AND DAVE

“Eddie and Dave” features Vanessa Aspillaga, Megan Hill, Amy Saats, Omer Abbas Salem, and Adina Verson.

“Eddie and Dave” features scenic design by Reid Thompson, costume design by Montana Levi Blanco, lighting design by Jiyoun Chang, sound design by Palmer Hefferan, original compositions by Michael Thurber, projections by Shawn Boyle, and casting by Caparelliotis Casting: Lauren Port, CSA.

“Eddie and Dave” runs at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street) through Sunday February 10, 2019. For more information, including performance schedule and ticketing, visit https://atlantictheater.org/.

Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Amy Staats in “Eddie and Dave.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 8, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “I’m Not A Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce” at the Cutting Room (Through Wednesday January 30, 2019

Photo: Ronnie Marmo as Lenny Bruce at the Cutting Room. Credit: Doren Sorell Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “I’m Not A Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce” at the Cutting Room (Through Wednesday January 30, 2019)
Written by and Starring Ronnie Marmo
Directed by Joe Mantegna
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And there it was. My first laugh. It’s like that flash I’ve heard morphine addicts describe. A warm sensual blanket that comes after a cold, sick rejection. I was hooked.” – Lenny Bruce (from “I’m Not A Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce”)

The first image after the lights come up on stage is a slumped over, motionless, naked man sitting on a toilet. What follows is a silence that fills the room and becomes a force that provokes processing this scene. There might be the assumption that this is not a comedy. That would be a good guess, since the subject matter of “I’m Not a Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce,” currently enjoying a successful run at The Cutting Room, is the tragic life of the outrageous, groundbreaking comedian. Yes, there are snippets from his more familiar routines to provide a glimpse into what was considered obscene during his heyday in the turbulent decade of the 1960s. His act complimented a society filled with protests and marches, supporting civil rights and denouncing war, proving Lenny Bruce was a performer that took to the stage intentionally to become a fierce advocate for free speech. He was arrested several times and charged with public obscenity for the shocking language he used in his routines that scoffed race, religion, sex, and politics. This one-man show is testament that his stand-up comedy was more abrasive than funny and reinforces the power of words. Mr. Bruce exposed the hypocrisy of humanity in such an unconventional style that his audience was shocked and humored at the same time.

Playwright and actor Ronnie Marmo bears a slight resemblance to his real-life character, but that is not what captures the essence of the iconic bad-mouthed comedian. Mr. Marmo deftly provides an authenticity to the cadence, posture, and mannerisms of the comic, but what suspends the audience in disbelief is his ability to inhabit the soul of Lenny Bruce immersed in a crusade. The disintegration of this antagonist of morality begins after several arrests, his divorce from the love of his life, stripper Honey Harlow, and his addiction to heroin which eventually killed him from an overdose in 1966. During his downward spiral, Mr. Bruce begins to unravel while appearing in court, when the judge denies him the opportunity to perform his routine in order to prove that his obscene words and actions were taken out of context and not libelous. Mr. Marmo gives an honest performance saturated with a sensitive empathy that reveals the humanity of the comic, which during his short career, was disguised by his controversial and shocking public persona.

Director Joe Mantegna at times uses a heavy hand to extract the emotional content of the piece but fits the pieces of this puzzling life together in a clear and comprehensive manner. As playwright, Mr. Marmo is less successful, not delving deep enough into what drove the comedian to embrace the campaign for free speech. His emotionally charged personal life is evident, what’s missing is the exploration of his acute intellect and shrewd observation. Regardless, this is a show that will please an audience, from avid fans who are familiar with the material, to a new generation who will be introduced to the precursor of some of the greatest comics of their time.

The end of the show brings the audience back to the opening scene. A slumped, motionless, naked man sitting on a toilet. Only this time you understand what led to this disturbing vignette, and when the silence once again permeates the room and coerces you to process, there is a sadness that fills the air when realizing that this brave pioneer died too young.

I’M NOT A COMEDIAN . . . I’M LENNY BRUCE

The creative team for “I’m Not A Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce” includes Matt Richter (set and lighting design), Lauren Winnenberg (costume design), and Hope Bello LaRoux (sound design). Kathryn Loggins serves as production stage manager.

“I’m Not A Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce” runs at the Cutting Room (44 East 32nd Street) through Wednesday January 30, 2019). For more information and to purchase tickets, ranging in price from $50.00-$125.00, please visit www.LennyBruceOnStage.com. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission, explores mature themes and includes strong language and nudity.

Photo: Ronnie Marmo as Lenny Bruce at the Cutting Room. Credit: Doren Sorell Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, January 14, 2019

Off-Broadway Review: “Blue Ridge” at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (Through Saturday January 26th, 2019)

Photo: Chris Stack and Kristolyn Lloyd in “Blue Ridge.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
Off-Broadway Review: “Blue Ridge” at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (Through Saturday January 26th, 2019)
By Abby Rosebrock
Directed by Taibi Magar
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Abby Rosebrock introduces an interesting mélange of broken characters in her new play “Blue Ridge” currently running at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater. She drops these six disparate “recovering” personalities into the vortex of a Christian halfway house in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. Pastor Hern (a cagey but caring Chris Stack) and his partner Grace (a sincere and dedicated Nicole Lewis) run the place and come to the enterprise with their own baggage. Their twelve-step-type program includes daily Bible study, meditation, community service, and help securing required employment.

It is at one of the Bible study sessions that we meet the current residents Cherie (a trusting and dependent Kristolyn Lloyd) and Wade (a sensitive and contemplative Kyle Beltran) as well as newcomers Alison (a fiery and rage-filled Marin Ireland) and Cole (a vulnerable and playful Peter Mark Kendall). As with any family system – and this family is systemically dysfunctional – the addition of Alison and Cole disrupts any sense of equilibrium that had developed at the house prior to their arrival. Alison has been remanded to the halfway house after axing her ex-lover and boss Glenn’s Honda and losing her teaching license (he was her principal). Cole arrives shortly after hoping for an alternate place to recover.

Alison substitutes sharing her bible verse by “comparing diametrically opposed, country Western texts that uh. Not only, resonate powerfully, with the current moment in my life but, also probly, represent the two spiritual poles'uh my entire existence [sic].” She parses Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” to exemplify her willingness to “Let Go and Let God” and to inexplicably justify her axing Glenn’s Honda. Both Cherie and Wade find the references odd and question the wisdom of taking one’s hands off the wheel while driving. Pastor Hern agrees. An important foreshadowing of things to come.

As multidimensional and multileveled as these characters are, the playwright never allows them to develop fully as they interact with their “peers” in the halfway house. For example, Cole – a character who has a rich healing presence – leaves as quickly as he arrived after an uncomfortable albeit important encounter with Alison and the audience never is quite sure how Pastor Hern has managed to carry on the secret relationship with Cherie or what his motivation was for founding the halfway house.

Abby Rosebrock chooses to tackle a myriad of relevant and important themes, including: psychosexual trauma and dysfunction; sexual, cultural, and racial dynamics; dynamics of sexual status; power and the various ways men (specifically) can exercise and misuse that power in relationships and in the workplace (Me Too Movement). Although no one of these themes receives an exhaustive exploration in “Blue Ridge,” an interesting aggregate of these problems is examined in the relationship between Hern (who has a girlfriend) and house resident Cherie (referenced above) with whom he has an inappropriate relationship.

It is here that Ms. Rosebrock makes her most compelling argument and raises the most rich and enduring questions. Everyone in the halfway house has either voluntarily relinquished control of their lives or have been asked to compromise the control they should have over their own lives. As each member comes to terms with those things they have not dealt with, the family dynamic changes and the structure itself begins to dissolve. Taibi Magar directs “Blue Ridge” with acute care allowing each actor to explore their character’s conflicts and the resolution of those conflicts. In the process, the characters experience vulnerability, rage, and pain allowing the audience members to explore their own paths to recovery.

BLUE RIDGE

The cast of “Blue Ridge” features Kyle Beltran, Marin Ireland, Peter Mark Kendall, Nicole Lewis, Kristolyn Lloyd, and Chris Stack.

“Blue Ridge” features scenic design by Adam Rigg, costume design by Sarah Laux, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman, and casting by Telsey + Company: Adam Caldwell, CSA; Will Cantler, CSA; Karyn Casl, CSA.

“Blue Ridge” runs at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues) through Saturday January 26th, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For information on additional performances and to purchase tickets, visit www.atlantictheater.org. Running time is 2 hours with one brief intermission.

Photo: Chris Stack and Kristolyn Lloyd in “Blue Ridge.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Broadway Review: “Network” at the Belasco Theatre (Currently On)

Photo: Tony Goldwyn and Bryan Cranston in “Network.” Credit: Jan Versweyveld.
Broadway Review: “Network” at the Belasco Theatre (Currently On)
Adapted by Lee Hall Based on the Paddy Chayefsky Film
Directed by Ivo Van Hove
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When Howard Beale (a tortured yet determined Bryan Cranston) first admonishes his listeners to get out of their chairs, go their widows, stick out their heads and yell, “I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore,” the audience at the Belasco Theatre erupts with a nostalgia that since the 1976 release of Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network” has morphed into a current state of being: an irrepressible rage about the state of the world, particularly about the current political environment. The satire in Chayefsky’s iconic film transfers well to Lee Hall’s adaptation currently running at the Belasco.

Sitting at a bar after being fired as UBS-TV Network’s News Hour news anchor by Max Schumacher (a duplicitous and frightened Tony Goldwyn) his friend of twenty-five years, Howard tells Max he is going to kill himself by blowing his “brains out right on the air, right in the middle of the six-o’clock news.” Howard makes the same announcement during his evening broadcast which sets in motion the dramatic arc of “Network’s” brilliantly executed narrative about the vicissitudes of Howard Beale’s life, death, and life beyond death. This narrative involves the executive staffs of UBS-TV, its parent company CCA, and members of their families.

The broadcast’s associate producer Harry Hunter (Julian Elijah Martinez), director (Bill Timony), floor manager (Jason Babinsky) and station executive Frank Hackett (a determined and charismatic Joshua Boone) want to replace Howard; however, the ratings for the news broadcast reach its highest share after Howard’s rant and decisions whether to keep Howard on as anchor drive the play’s tension-driven rising action. Howard’s rants morph from curmudgeonly to leveling harsh criticism of the whole business of gathering and broadcasting news. He loses the support of his secretary (a seductive and self-willed Camila Cano-Flavia) and oddly garners support from CCA’s Arthur Jensen (a wily and villainous Nick Wyman).

Howard’s downward spiral and Jensen’s lack of desire to reign him in leaves the network executives in a quandary, particularly after Howard says, “Well, if there’s anyone out there who can look around this demented slaughterhouse of a world we live in and tell me man is a noble creature, believe me, that man is full of [expletive deleted].” Whether Howard Beale remains, or leaves has untenable consequences for the network, leaving Hackett to affirm, “I am going to kill Howard Beale. I’m going to impale the son of a bitch with a sharp stick through the heart.” The irony here is that despite Howard’s warning not to believe the “illusion” the networks are spinning, almost everything of significance the audience knows about Howard is learned through his broadcasts.

“Network” addresses important themes and raises equally significant enduring questions. “Network” parses the word ‘network’ in a variety of ways, adding richness and layered depth to the important narrative. Not only a term for a broadcasting entity, ‘network” also has the positive connotation of the important connection between individuals and communities. It also has the added more nuanced meaning of the type of networks developed and exploited by bots and trolls on the various social media platforms. So what meaning does the living, dying, and living beyond dying Howard Beale espouse?


Ivo Van Hove’s innovative direction successfully places the outstanding cast as well as the audience in the “live set” of a typical news broadcast. The ability to see Howard at the news desk as well as on screen and be able to hear all conversations is a magnificent feat. There is even a bit of legerdemain at the end of the play. Tal Yarden’s set is full of nooks and crannies that tantalize the audience’s interest in the normal and the nefarious “off-set” activities.

[Postscript: This reviewer found the onstage seating and eating extremely disruptive and annoying. The constant clanking of flatware on ceramic dinnerware is just as intrusive as an errant cell phone. Also, waiters moving around the tables distracted from the integrity of the performance. And why are the onstage patrons allowed to stroll around the stage and freely take photos while “regular” audience members are scolded when they wish to take a photo prior to performance? Hopefully, this style of elitism in stage seating and pay-for-privileges will not become de rigueur on Broadway.]

NETWORK

“Network” stars Bryan Cranston, Tony Goldwyn, Tatiana Maslany, Joshua Boone, Alyssa Bresnahan, Ron Canada, Julian Elijah Martinez, Frank Wood, Nick Wyman, Barzin Akhavan, Jason Babinsky, Camila Cano-Flavia, Eric Chayefsky, Gina Daniels, Nicholas Guest, Joe Paulik, Susannah Perkins, Victoria Sendra, Henry Stram, Bill Timoney, Joseph Varca, Nicole Villamil and Jeena Yi.

“Network” features scenic and lighting design by Jan Versweyveld, video design by Tal Yarden, costume design by An D’Huys and music and sound by Eric Sleichim.

Tickets are available at www.Telecharge.com (212-239-6200) or at the Belasco Theatre box office (111 W 44th Street) and range from $49.00 – $189.00 (including the $2 facility fee). Onstage FOODWORK tickets are available from $299.00 Ticket price includes a series of small plates and cocktails. For more information visit www.NetworkBroadway.com. Running time is 2 hours without intermission.

Photo: Tony Goldwyn and Bryan Cranston in “Network.” Credit: Jan Versweyveld.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 21, 2018

Broadway Review: “The Ferryman” at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (Through Sunday July 7, 2019)

Photo: Paddy Considine (Quinn Carney – center, standing) and the company of “The Ferryman.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “The Ferryman” at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (Through Sunday July 7, 2019)
By Jez Butterworth
Directed by Sam Mendes
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

If you are a fan of Irish plays you will most likely recognize the characters and may recall hearing similar stories as you listen and watch the epic family drama “The Ferryman” by Jez Butterworth now playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. That is where the familiarity stops, allowing the brilliant dialogue of Mr. Butterworth and the sagacious, meticulous direction of Sam Mendes to take you on a three hour and fifteen-minute journey through the hearts and minds of the expansive Carney family. The plot is thick with the burdens of politics and religion that are complicated by love, loss and tradition. Except for the prologue, all the action takes place in the expansive kitchen and living area of the Carney family in rural County Armagh, Northern Ireland, late summer in 1981. This punctilious set designed by Rob Howell is authentic, dominated by a soaring staircase that members of this unsettled family might climb, in order to retreat from the agitated activities of everyday life. Mr. Howell’s costumes are never intrusive, only fortifying the ambience of time and place, while also placing another layer on top of the already genuine characters. Punctuate each scene with the atmospheric lighting design of Peter Mumford and you are transported into the suspension of disbelief.

This is a theatrical event that is riveting, filled with monologues that coax laughter from your gut, tease tears from your eyes and reveal secrets that bring the plot closer to the explosive climax. The enormous cast of twenty-one, not counting the infant, the goose and the rabbit, is impeccable as they expose themselves, dissecting their characters until there is nothing more to learn. It is difficult to single out special performances but there are some worthy of mention. Paddy Considine creates a perplexed Quinn Carney with a tapestry of emotions that paint a vivid picture of his psyche. Laura Donnelly brings strength, intelligence and vulnerability to the presence of Caitlin Carney. Wisdom is brought to the dimwitted Tom Kettle by Justin Edwards, who is full of surprises and generosity that comes forth with every beat of his gracious heart. The wise cracking, ornery, and opinionated Aunt Pat is brought to life by Dearbhla Molloy with strong conviction and steadfast persona. Fionnula Flanagan turns Aunt Maggie into a skillful raconteur, as she sporadically awakens to spout stories from the past that entertain the children. Each member of the entire ensemble is remarkable as they stand alone and become even better as they complement each other. Under the fluid direction of Mr. Mendes, the actor’s movements are choreographed in perfect harmony capturing the bucolic life of a rural Irish family.

This is a monumental piece of theater that will stand up to the test of time. It is a thrilling drama of crime and passion that infects a peculiar family which is navigating a contentious, political landscape and struggling to survive. The humor is dark, the sentiment is light, and the suffering runs deep within the characters souls but they never waiver, standing proud and persevering anything that threatens their existence. It is one of the must-see productions of season.

THE FERRYMAN

“The Ferryman’s “cast includes Paddy Considine, Laura Donnelly, Genevieve O’Reilly, Dean Ashton, Glynis Bell, Peter Bradbury, Trevor Harrison Braun, Sean Frank Coffey, Will Coombs, Gina Costigan, Charles Dale, Theo Ward Dunsmore, Justin Edwards, Fra Fee, Fionnula Flanagan, Tom Glynn-Carney, Carly Gold, Cooper Gomes, Holly Gould, Stuart Graham, Mark Lambert, Carla Langley, Matilda Lawler, Conor MacNeill, Michael McArthur, Willow McCarthy, Colin McPhillamy, Rob Malone, Dearbhla Molloy, Bella May Mordus, Griffin Osborne, Brooklyn Shuck, Glenn Speers, Rafael West Vallés, and Niall Wright.

“The Ferryman’s” creative team is Rob Howell (scenic and costume design), Peter Mumford (lighting design), Nick Powell (sound design and original music), Amy Ball CDG (UK Casting), Jim Carnahan, C.S.A and Jillian Cimini C.S.A. (US Casting), Scarlett Mackmin (choreography), Tim Hoare (associate director), Benjamin Endsley Klein (resident director), Campbell Young Associates (hair, wigs and makeup design), William Berloni (animal trainer), Terry King (UK fight director), Thomas Schall (US fight director), Majella Hurley (UK dialect coach), and Deborah Hecht (US dialect coach).

Tickets are available at www.telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400, or in-person at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre box office (242 W. 45th Street). For “The Ferryman’s” complete performance schedule, please visit www.theferrymanbroadway.com. Running time is 3 hours and 15 minutes. (There is one 15-minute intermission following Act 1 and a brief 3 minute pause following Act 2.)

Photo: Paddy Considine (Quinn Carney – center, standing) and the company of “The Ferryman.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 14, 2018

Broadway Review: “The Cher Show” at the Neil Simon Theatre (Currently On)

Photo: Jarrod Spector as Sonny Bono and Micaela Diamond as Cher. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “The Cher Show” at the Neil Simon Theatre (Currently On)
Book by Rick Elice
Directed by Jason Moore
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Anyone who is or was a fan of Cher during the past six decades will find it difficult to resist the urge to see the new Broadway musical based on her fascinating life and intriguing career that is now playing at Neil Simon Theatre. It would be wise to follow that urge and see for yourself how the beat still goes on. “The Cher Show” follows the same format as a similar musical currently running on Broadway – that show scheduled to close at the end of the year after its successful nine month run. Three actors portray the musical icon at different stages of her life: Babe (an incredible Micaela Diamond in her Broadway debut); Lady (a convincing Teal Wicks); and Star (the incomparable Stephanie J. Block). This reliable convention becomes even more entertaining when in theory, it follows the adage “if I knew then what I know now,” and the characters give each other (themselves) advice. It may seem a bit confusing but the book by Rick Elice, although a bit campy at times, is crystal clear and informative in depicting the highs and lows of a fascinating life and career.

The story begins during Cher’s early childhood and adolescence as Cherilyn Sarkisian is being raised by her single mother Georgia Holt (the always superb Emily Skinner) after her Armenian father left when she was only ten months old. Moving on to her teenage years when she meets Sonny Bono (a solid Jarrod Spector) who was working for Phil Specter, she moves in with him, marries him and they form their infamous dynamic musical duo with the breakout hit “I Got You Babe.” Th musical then moves on to the very successful television variety show and an unpleasant breakup and divorce. Then a transition to Cher’s career as a solo artist and self- determined female in a male dominated industry – after some sound advice from none other than Lucille Ball. Next comes Cher’s Broadway stage and film career, winning an Oscar for the film “Moonstruck” keeping company only with her Grammy and Emmy awards. Along the way, she gives birth to two children, enters another failed marriage to Greg Allman, a farewell tour and residency in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace.

“The Cher Show” might be billed as a jukebox musical; however, after viewing the production, one learns that Cher often sung about what she had experienced in life, making her songs fit perfectly into her life story. The supporting cast is more than competent playing several characters that were influential in the star’s life. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli gives his indefatigable ensemble a workout with his energetic production numbers, which they execute with acute precision. Director Jason Moore moves the evening along at a fast pace, never wasting a minute on nostalgia or dwelling on melancholic situations, but always moving forward. Then there are the costumes, and the costumes and the costumes, by Bob Mackie. An endless parade of astonishing, revealing outfits, embellished with fringe and sequins that became Cher’s trademark.

There is nothing groundbreaking about this show, but it is good solid entertainment with performances that would be hard to beat. It sheds some light on the journey of a musical icon but also on a strong, compassionate woman that took responsibility for her mistakes and triumphs. What set her apart was her fearless determination, unsurpassed originality and incessant self-respect and dignity.

THE CHER SHOW

“The Cher Show” stars Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks, and Micaela Diamond. They are joined by Jarrod Spector, Michael Berresse, Michael Campayno, Matthew Hydzik, Emily Skinner, and Dee Roscioli. The full company also features Marija Juliette Abney, Carleigh Bettiol, Taurean Everett, Michael Fatica, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Michael Graceffa, Blaine Alden Krauss, Sam Lips, Tiana Okoye, Amy Quanbeck, Angel Reda, Jennifer Rias, Michael Tacconi, Tory Trowbridge, Christopher Vo, Aléna Watters, Charlie Williams, and Ryan Worsing.

“The Cher Show” features choreography by Christopher Gattelli; music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Daryl Waters; music direction by Andrew Resnick, and dance music arrangements by Zane Mark and Daryl Waters. Rounding out the creative team are costume designer Bob Mackie, set designer Christine Jones, set designer Brett J. Banakis, lighting designer Kevin Adams, sound designer Nevin Steinberg, video and projection designer Darrel Maloney, hair and wig designer Charles G. LaPointe, and makeup designer Cookie Jordan. Casting is by Telsey + Company/Patrick Goodwin, CSA. General Management is by Baseline Theatrical.

Tickets for “The Cher Show are currently available at www.TheCherShowBroadway.com or www.Ticketmaster.com 877-250-2929). Ticket prices range from $59.00 - $169.00 Premium tickets range from $199.00 - $299.00. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Jarrod Spector as Sonny Bono and Micaela Diamond as Cher. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Lewiston/Clarkston” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday December 16, 2018)

Photo: Noah Robbins (in front) and Edmund Donovan in “Clarkston,” part two of “Lewiston/Clarkston.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Off-Broadway Review: “Lewiston/Clarkston” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday December 16, 2018)
Written by Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by Davis McCallum
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is quite an intriguing theatrical event occurring at the Rattlestick Theater, where two ninety-minute plays separated by a thirty-minute communal dinner break takes the stage to engage an audience of fifty, in two compelling dramas. The playhouse is stripped down to its original walls discovering weathered multi paned windows and worn wainscoting, wearing years of neglect, with some sections beyond repair. This is the performance space, perhaps a foreshadowing of a shared theme of discovery, as two brave young people make a journey following the steps of their ancestors only to reveal the ugly past and face the troubled and turbulent present.

The first play deals with Marnie (a fiesty, determined and fearless Leah Karpel) who is a direct descendant of Merriweather Lewis. She makes an unexpected visit to her estranged grandmother Alice (a solid and stoic Kristin Griffith), on what is left of the family farm. Alice has been selling off parcels of the family legacy to developers, who are devouring the small rural town and spitting out hundreds of new luxury condominiums. Alice has a roommate Connor (a calm and sensitive Arnie Burton) who is not only a friend but a caretaker, since Alice had to fight to survive cancer. There are more than enough confrontations between the three characters as secrets surface when layers are slowly peeled away from the protective façade they have built up over the years. Marnie exposes Connor as a closeted homosexual, delves into the depths of her mother’s suicide, challenges the sale of her heritage and in protest, she pitches her tent on the front lawn, refusing to leave. Ms. Griffith captures the pain, strength and fortitude of a crusty Midwest grandmother with perfection, but it is the piercing honesty in her eyes that conveys her compassion. Mr. Burton packs his character with fervent dignity, profound insight and tactful humility. Although Ms. Karpel gives a strong performance it lacks nuance and depth, but this may be the fault of the script or direction.

After the dinner break the audience visits Clarkston on the other side of the river from Lewiston where Jake, (a frail but determined Noah Robbins), is found following the trail of his distant relative William Clark. This is merely a pit stop on his way to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, but to support his trek and bide his time, he takes a job at the Cosco across the street from the hotel. It is here that he meets co-worker Chris (a pragmatic and sensitive Edmund Donovan) and once again secrets penetrate the present causing torment and disruption. As the lives of these two young men collide, their diffidence and insecurity explode, as shrapnel of anger, pain and longing is hurled at their dreams. Enter Chris’ single mother Trisha, (a robust yet fragile Heidi Armbruster), a recovering drug addict who is desperately trying to reestablish a peaceful relationship with her son. All shed their exterior skins and bleed the truths of their existence until they collapse and need some sort of infusion of hope.

Jake is an open homosexual, has a neurological disease which will kill him before he is thirty and is a spoiled child from a wealthy Connecticut family from which he has fled. Chris is closeted and living the life of poverty in this small Midwest town. He is trying to save his broken mother, has dreams of finishing college and has yet had the opportunity to really love and be loved. Strange bedfellows that are a perfect match for exploring and discovery. This is a ninety minute emotionally brutal dance that remarkably is beautiful, tender and a joy to watch. Ms. Armbruster allows the smooth, hard shell of Trisha to crack, allowing a river of weakness to flow from within. Mr. Robbins is the epitome of confusion, changing like a chameleon, from a confident adventurer to a phlegmatic realist to a forlorn child instinctively choosing the correct passionate reaction to match the activity. Then there is Mr. Dononan who gives a compelling performance as Chris, coaxing every morsel of emotion from his damaged soul like a wounded soldier returning from a battle. His precise, skillful acting is only surpassed by his brilliant reacting which captures every human fiber and feeling of his character. He is a harbinger of a new generation of significant American actors.

Hopefully there will be another extension to the current run in its present state. Playwright Samuel D. Hunter has written a new classic American play, not quite a tragedy, but that being said, there are no resolutions to the inauspicious events. It is a valid commentary on the current social divide and the state of the country’s moral integrity, littering our small rural towns with big box stores and replacing farms with cubical condominiums to satisfy the greed and need of the wealthy. Even though the two works are complimentary, Clarkston, the latter of the pair could easily stand on its own and please future audiences. This is one of the best plays of the season and without doubt some of the finest performances. Give yourself a holiday gift and find a ticket to one of the remaining shows.

LEWISTON/CLARKSTON

The cast of “Lewiston” includes Arnie Burton, Kristin Griffith, and Leah Karpel.

“Lewiston/Clarkston” will feature set design by Dane Laffrey, costume design by Jessica Wegener Shay, lighting design by Stacey DeRosier, and sound design by Fitz Patton. The Dramaturg is John Baker, the Stage Manager is Katie Young, the Production Manager is Jenny Beth Snyder, the Technical Director is Aaron Gonzalez, and the Associate Directors are Shadi Ghaheri and Lillian Meredith.

“Lewiston/Clarkston” runs at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater through Sunday December 16, 2018. For more information, including the complete performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.rattlestick.org/20182019-season/2018/10/10/lewiston-and-clarkston. Running time is 3 hours and 30 minutes, including a dinner break.

Photo: Noah Robbins (in front) and Edmund Donovan in “Clarkston,” part two of “Lewiston/Clarkston.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The Hello Girls” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday December 22, 2018)

Photo: Lili Thomas, Skyler Volpe, Chanel Karimkhani, Ellie Fishman and Cathryn Wake in Prospect Theater Company’s “The Hello Girls.” Credit: Richard Termine.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Hello Girls” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday December 22, 2018)
Music and Lyrics by Peter Mills
Book by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel
Directed by Cara Reichel
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is no doubt that the so called “Hello Girls,” the bilingual operators that were sent to the front line to operate secured switchboards, were invaluable to the Signal Corps units in World War I. It is unfortunate that they needed to fight for sixty years to be recognized as veterans of that war in order to receive appropriate benefits. It was just one more example of the historic and ongoing women’s crusade for equal rights. So, it is fitting that there be an acknowledgement of their service in any form, including the documentary and the current stage musical by the same name now running at 59E59 Theaters. This recent tribute is produced by Prospect Theater Company and features a remarkable cast of performers who do triple duty as actors, vocalists and musicians playing multiple instruments.

If their story is unfamiliar, they are a group of American Bell telephone operators, fluent in French, who were recruited to serve overseas, finding themselves at A.E.F. Headquarters on in Chaumont, France and ultimately on the front line as the war ended. Their story is one of struggle at every turn, to prove themselves equally qualified, if not superior to the men serving in the same capacity and to adapt themselves to the hardships and cruelty of war. Comradery, bravery, loyalty and resilience would describe their characters, but determination and patriotism provided their strength. In no uncertain terms they were an integral part of conquering the enemy.

Lt. Joseph W. Riser (a domineering Arlo Hill) is Captain of the unit and conveys the understated message of malaise and resentment with subtle charm. Mr. Hill’s powerful vocals reflect his character’s variety of intellectual sentiment. Grace Banker (an efficient and intuitive Ellie Fishman) is Chief Operator who bathes her persona with tenacity and commitment. Ms. Fishman infuses her role with strong vocals that always discover the evolving emotion obscured by the action. Lili Thomas creates a no-nonsense Bertha Hunt, the only married woman in the unit. Ms. Thomas competently covers Brass and Piano when necessary. A plain and solid Helen Hill is portrayed by Chanel Karimkhani with honesty, as she handles her cello with ease. Louise LeBreton is the spirit of the troupe, always inventing a reason to party and played with a devilish charm by Cathryn Wake, who intermittently wails on the clarinet. Skyler Volpe plays a fearless Suzanne Prevot with a zeal for adventure. Ms. Volpe lends her guitar to the musical arrangements as well. The remainder of the skilled actors and musicians in the supporting cast are proficient in all their duties.

This is an enjoyable evening of significant theater shedding some light on the history of World War I. It is difficult to create any tension or element of surprise which affects the dramatic arc since so much of what happens is predictable especially in the first act. If the women were not recruited and were not a notable contribution to winning the war what would be the point? Considering that analogy, the play is too long at nearly two hours and thirty-five minutes, with most of the unnecessary content contained in Act I. Hopefully the creative team will continue to hone the piece to produce a more concentrated story eliminating any irrelevant or repetitious material. It is still worth a visit to see this current production performed by an extremely talented cast.

THE HELLO GIRLS

The cast features Ellie Fishman, Arlo Hill, Chanel Karimkhani, Andrew Mayer, Matthew McGloin, Ben Moss, Lili Thomas, Skyler Volpe, Cathryn Wake, and Scott Wakefield. Elena Bonomo is percussionist.

The design team includes Lianne Arnold (scenic and projection design); Isabella Byrd (lighting design); Whitney Locher (costume design); and Kevin Heard (sound design). Madeline Smith is the music consultant. The Production Stage Manager is Emily Ballou.

“The Hello Girls” runs at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) through Saturday December 22, 2018. The single ticket price is $25.00 - $70.00 ($25.00 - $49.00 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or by visiting www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including intermission.

Photo: Lili Thomas, Skyler Volpe, Chanel Karimkhani, Ellie Fishman and Cathryn Wake in Prospect Theater Company’s “The Hello Girls.” Credit: Richard Termine.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, December 6, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The Other Josh Cohen” at the Westside Theatre/Downstairs (Through Sunday February 24, 2019)

Photo: Louis Tucci, Kate Wetherhead, Luke Darnell, and Hannah Elless in “The Other Josh Cohen.” Credit: Caitlin McNaney.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Other Josh Cohen” at the Westside Theatre/Downstairs (Through Sunday February 24, 2019)
Book, Music and Lyrics by David Rossmer and Steve Rosen
Directed by Hunter Foster
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The Other Josh Cohen,” currently running at the Westside Theatre/Downstairs, has been bemoaning the hapless and lackluster life of Josh Cohen (Steve Rosen) through his Doppelganger narrator Josh (David Rossmer) since October 2012. That’s a long time to celebrate having one’s apartment robbed of everything, rehearsing one’s dysfunctional family, recounting a string of failed romantic relationships, and resolving the mystery of a letter and check for a substantial sum of money – yet, audiences continue to cheer Josh on, apparently identifying with this fictional character’s “hard luck life” and his ability to overcome misfortune and re-create himself and his future.

Josh Cohen’s year long (Valentine’s Day to Valentine’s Day) struggle with the vicissitudes of life is chronicled in eleven musical numbers by an energetic and talented cast that not only sing but play a variety of instruments with consummate skill. The musical has an interesting book and relatable lyrics; however, the music seems very much the same except for a couple of numbers which thankfully vary in tempo and style. Director Hunter Foster moves the action along at breakneck speed despite some scenes seeming overlong and overwrought. There are only so many times one can reimagine scenes with a Neil Diamond CD (other than a daily cat calendar, one of the few things left by the robber) and an empty porn CD case.

The convention of the two Josh Cohens works well and the repartee between the two and emergence of one from the other also sustains interest. The musical’s themes of the need to “Hang On” and to embrace change are important and always timely. It just takes a bit too long to get to that resolution after an oft-repeated exposition about Josh’s life.

That said, “The Other Josh Cohen” continues to entertain and celebrate hope in uncertain and challenging times.

THE OTHER JOSH COHEN

Joining Steve Rosen and David Rossmer in the cast are Kate Wetherhead, Hannah Elless, Elizabeth Nestlerode, Luke Darnell, Louis Tucci, and Zach Spound.

The design team for “The Other Josh Cohen” includes Scenic Designer Carolyn Mraz (Beardo, Lighting Designer Jeff Croiter, Sound Designer Bart Fasbender, and Costume Designer Nicole V. Moody.

“The Other Josh Cohen” runs at the Westside Theatre/Downstairs (407 West 43rd Street) through Sunday February 24, 2019. For further information about “The Other Josh Cohen” and to purchase tickets, visit http://otherjoshcohen.com/#home. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Louis Tucci, Kate Wetherhead, Luke Darnell, and Hannah Elless in “The Other Josh Cohen.” Credit: Caitlin McNaney.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, December 3, 2018

Broadway Review: “The New One” at the Cort Theatre (Through Sunday January 20, 2019)

Photo: Mike Birbiglia in “The New One” on Broadway. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “The New One” at the Cort Theatre (Through Sunday January 20, 2019)
Written and Performed by Mike Birbiglia
Directed by Seth Barrish
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

When he walks onto stage to applause at the Cort Theatre to begin his show “The New One,” It is evident that Mike Birbiglia has a huge following and some dedicated fans. The one-man show recently transferred to Broadway after a successful off-Broadway run at The Cherry Lane Theater. Mike Birbiglia is casual, an everyman, as he proceeds to mic himself as though he is just getting ready for another day at the office. This action sets the audience on par, making them feel comfortable. This is a great introduction to his observational humor that relies mostly on the audience being able to relate to the situations he is about to expound upon. He speaks softly, in an unassuming tone, projecting a demure character, without a mean bone in his body so when his thoughts drift over to a negative perspective, there is absolution. He immediately attempts to win over his audience, to assure smooth sailing for the 90-minute show.

This works for about the first half of the standup comedy routine, which is embellished by the pseudo bare stage set design of Beowulf Boritt that is full of surprises. Mr. Birbiglia starts with a conversation about his couch, then moves onto lunch at his brother’s house where his nephew smacks him in the face with foam bat. From there he ventures into medical problems, testicular references and urologist jokes, which seem all too familiar to the males in the audience, but still seem to please the entire audience since the laughter continues. The whole concept of defending the reasons why you should not have children is where the trouble begins, and this is about the entire second half of the show. It basically runs out of steam, especially after his wife becomes pregnant and gives birth to their daughter. This is where the theatrics come to the rescue which I must say are needed but not enough to revive the rest of the evening.

Most of the humor during this section is heteronormative, almost bordering on self-pity and inclusive only of birthing parents. There is nothing wrong with this choice except for the fact that it will appeal more to a certain demographic. The humor at some point digresses not turning dark but rather almost becoming a mockery. It is no longer a story but more a routine.

Mr. Birbiglia is a very funny man. He is as normal as an abnormal person can be. He has a nice smile, a soothing voice, someone you would like to have as a best friend or a next-door neighbor, but much of the humor in this show tends not to be all inclusive. Even though it is his story, addressing what he experienced, he should look a bit further and observe what others may have encountered. A little heterogeneity would possibly reach a broader audience.

THE NEW ONE

Written by Mike Birbiglia, with additional writing by Jennifer Hope Stein, “The New One” is directed by Seth Barrish with set design for Broadway by Beowulf Boritt, lighting design by Aaron Copp, and sound design by Leon Rothenberg.

“The New One” runs at the Cort Theatre (138 West 48th Street) through Sunday January 20, 2019. Tickets are on sale through www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200. For “The New One’s” full performance schedule, please visit www.thenewone.com.

Photo: Mike Birbiglia in “The New One” on Broadway. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, December 3, 2018

Broadway Review: “The Prom” at the Longacre Theatre (Currently On)

Photo: Isabelle McCalla and Caitlin Kinnunen in “The Prom.” Credit: Deen van Meer.
Broadway Review: “The Prom” at the Longacre Theatre (Currently On)
Book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin
Music by Matthew Sklar
Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

If anyone is looking for a fun night out, grab your significant other, or for that matter just pick yourself up, get dressed and go to “The Prom” where everyone is welcomed, and you are almost guaranteed to have a good time. The good old fashioned musical has returned to Broadway and just like those legendary shows from an era gone by, this new musical confection with a book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Mr. Beguelin, is big, broad and brassy. It is full of stereotypes, theatre references, production numbers and a lot of laughs from characters you learn to love. What sets this show apart, is that it takes a chance, betting against the odds, that an important subject matter can be addressed and resolved, even if heavily sugar coated with humor, song and dance, as long as real, honest human beings emerge in the process. The ingenuity used here is that the characters are not transformed, they are revealed as their layers of protective armor are shed by the force of integrity.

The story is largely based on the original concept by Jack Viertel which was inspired by actual events, one of which happened as early as 2010 in Mississippi. Two lesbians want to attend their high school prom together as a couple but the school refuses to let this happen and cancels the prom. Add four downtrodden, narcissistic musical theatre stars that feel they need to find a cause to support, in order to gain some good press and “bingo!” the lesbian who is not allowed to attend her prom in Edgewater Indiana suddenly pops up on the internet. The four actors make their way to the very small conservative town and the mayhem begins. Hysterical antics begin as this motley crew of actors meet the conservative Christian head of the PTA who happens to be the mother of the closeted Lesbian, the star struck principal of the school and the nebulous but sincere out and proud lesbian they have come to save. No need to go into detail but of course just like those beloved musicals of yesteryear, all’s well that ends well.

There is an incredible cast led by four great Broadway veterans that literally chew up the scenery, leaving no opportunity to make you howl with laughter, or belt out a song that will lift you out of your seat with applause. Beth Leavel gives a powerhouse performance as the despicable diva Dee Dee Allen. Christopher Sieber fills the desperate actor Trent Oliver with unfeigned hope and humor that matches his spirited vocal. Angie Schworer portrays the relentless and perpetual chorus girl looking for that big break with charm and insight. Then there is Brooks Ashmanskas who infuses Barry Glickman with infectious energy in a tour de force performance that is over the top and packed with heartfelt emotion. These talented performers are exhilarating and a joy to watch.

Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw coaxes laughs and candor out of every scene but knows when to turn the tide to profound passion. As always he fills the stage with powerful, high octane choreography that is precisely executed by a tireless ensemble. In this current political climate, that is experiencing a monumental moral schism, it might be said that this is not a Broadway musical for everyone and that it may offend a certain audience. On the other hand, it could be said that this should be a Broadway show that everyone should see, not to preach a certain rhetoric, but to use the power of theatre not to transform but reveal, and to affirm that there are always two sides to every story.

THE PROM

“The Prom” stars Brooks Ashmanskas, Beth Leavel, Christopher Sieber, Caitlin Kinnunen, Isabelle McCalla, Michael Potts, Angie Schworer, Courtenay Collins and Josh Lamon and an ensemble that includes Mary Antonini, Courtney Balan, Gabi Campo, Jerusha Cavazos, Shelby Finnie, Josh Franklin, Fernell Hogan, Joomin Hwang, Sheldon Henry, David Josefsberg, Becca Lee, Wayne Mackins, Kate Marilley, Vasthy Mompoint, Anthony Norman, Drew Redington, Jack Sippel, Teddy Toye, Kalyn West, and Brittany Zeinstra.

“The Prom” features scenic design by Scott Pask, costume design by Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman, lighting design by Natasha Katz, sound design by Brian Ronan, wig and hair design by Josh Marquette, make-up design by Milagros Medina-Cerdeira, orchestrations by Larry Hochman, music direction by Meg Zervoulis, music supervision by Mary-Mitchell Campbell and casting by Telsey + Co./Bethany Knox. The Prom is based on an original concept by Jack Viertel.

“The Prom” has an open run at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. To purchase tickets and for more information about “The Prom,” visit https://theprommusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including intermission.

Photo: Isabelle McCalla and Caitlin Kinnunen in “The Prom.” Credit: Deen van Meer.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, December 2, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through Sunday December 9, 2018)

Photo: Michael C. Hall in “Thom Pain (based on nothing).” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through Sunday December 9, 2018)
By Will Eno
Directed by Oliver Butler
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In this revival of “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage, Will Eno steps over, under, and in between the resting places – and the writing desks – of the literary canon’s most prominent surrealist writers of the past and present. Eno seems to stop there to chat, listen, tremble (who wouldn’t), and laugh with these greats, echoes of whom cascade across the stage in a stunning performance by Michael C. Hall.

As Mr. Hall plumbs the depths of his character Thom Pain’s subconscious mind in a brilliantly dissociative narrative about civilization and its discontents (Sigmund Freud), a series of random noises and the occasional bit of fog reveal what might be the phantasmas and whispers of James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Dorothea Tanning, Samuel Beckett, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Jorge Luis Borges, and scores of others. Mr. Hall’s Thom channels these voices as he narrates – in a fashion – two stories drenched in ethos, pathos, and logos.

Both stories are autobiographical: one chronicling Thom Pain’s horrific childhood; the other Pain’s attempts at finding a meaningful connection with a woman. The details of these narratives are not shared in a linear fashion. Bits of each intertwine with offers of raffles, perambulations through the audience, and threats of eliciting audience participation. Just as the stage has been “deconstructed” by set designer Amy Rubin, Michael C. Hall surgically deconstructs Thom Pain’s life of seeming desperation and abuse with charismatic and winsome charm that alternately embraces then shuns the members of the audience.

Director Oliver Butler allows Mr. Hall to explore every corner of the massive bare Irene Diamond Stage. Mr. Hall wanders around, disappears from, sits upon, “grooms,” and wrestles with the space just as one would explore the depth of one’s unconscious and subconscious minds. Will Eno, however, does not leave his character in the mire of humanity’s vicissitudes. Michael C. Hall pulls a chair from a storage closet, invites an audience member onto the stage, stands that member next to the chair, invites him to close his eyes, then wanders off like some J. Alfred Prufrock rehearsing “a hundred indecisions/And a hundred visions and revisions” of Thom Pain’s story.

Anita Yavich’s costume design, Jen Schriever’s lighting design, and Lee Kinney’s sound design contribute to the surreal setting of “Thom Pain (based on nothing) and counterpoint well with Will Eno’s script.

Ultimately, like “Angels in America’s” Prior Walter, Thom Pain chooses life. He urges his onstage guest and his audience to disavow disappearance and not to acquiesce to life’s fragile trove of failed dramatic arcs, stories, or lapses of moral centering. Though touted as “based on nothing,” Thom Pain’s story is one of hopefulness and surcease from suffering. The gathered “ghosts” might approve having struggled with the existential question “Do I dare” (T. S. Eliot) and made a difference in our ability to survive.

THOM PAIN (BASED ON NOTHING)

“Thom Pain (based on nothing)” stars Michael C. Hall. The creative team includes Amy Rubin (Scenic Design), Anita Yavich (Costume Design), Jen Schriever (Lighting Design), Lee Kinney (Sound Design). Charles M. Turner III is the Production Stage Manager. Casting by Caparelliotis Casting.

“Thom Pain (based on nothing)” plays at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues) through Sunday December 9, 2018. To purchase tickets for all Signature productions, call Ticket Services at 212-244-7529 (Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.) or visit http://www.signaturetheatre.org/. Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Michael C. Hall in “Thom Pain (based on nothing).” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, November 30, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Gloria: A Life” at the Daryl Roth Theatre on Union Square (Through Sunday March 31, 2019)

Photo: Christine Lahti, left, plays political activist and women's rights organizer Gloria Steinem, and Joanna Glushak portrays Congresswoman Bella Abzug, in "Gloria: A Life." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Gloria: A Life” at the Daryl Roth Theatre on Union Square (Through Sunday March 31, 2019)
Written by Emily Mann
Directed by Diane Paulus
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is not such a common occurrence that a playwright attempts to pay tribute to a living legend unless the work of that inspirational personality continues in the present as well as already being a pivotal part of history. That is why it is easy to understand the decision of Emily Mann to bring to the stage the life of the feminist activist Gloria Steinem. Under the astute direction of Diane Paulus, the two-hour multimedia piece fuses docudrama, theatre and talking circle, to review the life of Ms. Steinem but more importantly to remind the audience that in such uncertain times, the work she started is not yet done. It is not meant to preach, but to arouse and stimulate, so we may gather, communicate and understand the need for equality. It is not a resurgence but more like a recharge, taking power from one source and passing it on to another, who may then empower another, until all become enlightened, ready and able to fight until the battle is won. More so, it is steeped in reality.

We learn from the past, and when hearing and seeing what this incredible woman has accomplished, we believe and comprehend that one person can make a difference. All the highlights of her successful achievements are covered, most of what many already know from books, film and the news of the past several decades. Her undercover story as a Playboy Bunny in 1963 titled “A Bunny’s Tale” and the founder of National Woman’s Political Caucus in 1971 which subsequently led to publication of MS. Magazine are remembered. Stories about working with determined women activists such as Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation are informative and interesting. The script does not delve too far into Steinem’s personal life except for her early years, time at Smith College and her caregiving relationship with her mother, who suffered a nervous breakdown before she was born.

Christine Lahti who fashionably portrays the activist in trademark aviator glasses and hip hugging flared jeans is a remarkable resemblance and is a personal friend. She captures Steinem’s strength, passion, intelligence and sensitivity with ease, always truthful. She is powerful without being overbearing which brings a consciousness to the amazing ability of a humble leader. The six women in the supporting cast are totally competent, all playing multiple roles of both sexes. Projection design by Elaine J. McCarthy are pictures that bring the past to life and enhance the informative action that is happing on stage.

This is not an ordinary piece of theater but is certainly a relevant dramatic presentation, considering the power of the current Me Too movement. It is not the start of something new but rather a jumpstart to remind everyone they cannot stop fighting for equality for all, regardless of race, color or sexual orientation. Go spend a couple of hours with this inspirational revisionist, who knows it may just ignite the activist you never knew was inside you, and if that radical fire is already burning, join your brothers and sisters in celebration.

GLORIA: A LIFE

Christine Lahti stars as Gloria Steinem, along with Joanna Glushak, Fedna Jacquet, Francesca Fernandez McKenzie, Patrena Murray, DeLanna Studi, Liz Wisan, and Brittany K. Allen.

The creative team features scenic design by Amy Rubin, costume design by Jessica Jahn, lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, sound design by Rob Kaplowitz and Andrea Allmond, projection design by Elaine J. McCarthy, casting by Tara Rubin, CSA, production supervision by Mary Duffe, and production stage management by Ana M. Garcia. Act 2 Coordinator is Laura Fischer. Creative Consultants are Amy Richards and Kathy Najimy.

“Gloria: A Life” plays at the Daryl Roth Theatre on Union Square (101 East 15th Street at Park Avenue South) through Sunday March 31, 2019. Tickets are on sale at http://gloriatheplay.com/. Performances are Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Running time is 2 hours without intermission.

Photo: Christine Lahti, left, plays political activist and women's rights organizer Gloria Steinem, and Joanna Glushak portrays Congresswoman Bella Abzug, in "Gloria: A Life." Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, November 30, 2018

Broadway Review: “King Kong” at the Broadway Theatre (Currently On)

Photo: Christiani Pitts as “Ann Darrow” and “King Kong.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “King Kong” at the Broadway Theatre (Currently On)
Book by Jack Thorne
Score by Marius de Vries
Songs by Eddie Perfect
Directed and Choreographed by Drew McOnie
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is difficult to imagine that anyone would not know the story of “King Kong” since the first film release was in 1933 and many new versions being released with the most recent in 2017, as well as being broadcast on television for the first time in 1956. In 1998, The American Film Institute ranked it as #43 on the list of 100 greatest movies of all time. So now the latest incarnation is a musical with a score composed by Marius de Vries, songs by Eddie Perfect and a book by Jack Thorne, that is now on stage at the Broadway Theatre. Mr. Thorne has written the weakest part of the collaboration, but with all due respect it truly does not diminish the effort put forth since nothing new has been exposed since the original story and at its worst, some sequences are just frivolous and unnecessary. The lyrics by Mr. Perfect are a qualified effort to move the plot along in an informative way but do not sustain the dramatic arc of the piece. Mr. de Vries has composed music that captures the drama and excitement of the story but is less successful when attempting to enhance the emotional content of the character. After these three factors are considered, the realization occurs that regardless of the stature of these elements, they all pale in comparison to the enormous feat accomplished by the design, creation and operation of megaprimatus Kong.

In the words of W.C. Fields “never work with children or animals”, and in this case a puppet of a silverback gorilla that is 20 ft. tall and weighs in at over a ton. The King’s company (operators) aren’t just the visual levers of Kong; they are emotionally attached to his movement, so the audience experiences the duality of puppet and human puppeteer, keeping in sync with the ancient Japanese Bunraku principle. All the movement produced by their extremely athletic and meticulous handling must be perfectly synchronized to produce the correct emotion that matches each precise gesture. It is not a negative comment to admit that this incredible creature really does steal the show, thanks to puppet designer Jonny Tilders and movement director Gavin Robins. This is an unprecedented spectacular event that is worthy of a Broadway stage and equally supported by the scenic and projection design of Peter England, sound designer Peter Hylenski and lighting designer Peter Mumford, all of which add to the suspension of disbelief.

The actors who have taken the challenge of sharing the stage with this powerful and emotionally beautiful creature do their very best with the material they are given and end up being a great supporting cast for the gargantuan star. Eric William Morris succeeds in capturing the evil entrepreneur, (Carl Denham) being sly and cunning while exhibiting an infectious baritone. Erik Lochtefeld brings a sensibility to his character (Lumpy), without stereotype or histrionic behavior, relying more on the intellectual. Stepping into the legendary role of the Ann Darrow is a fierce Christiani Pitts, with powerful vocals, emotional dexterity and choices that elevate her relationship with Kong to a new level of understanding the complications of beauty and the beast. The entire cast is competent and executes the sometimes-frenetic choreography of director Drew McOnie with enthusiasm as the show moves along at a comfortable pace.

The question will remain in many theatergoers’ minds; is this a good Broadway musical? After much dissection the answer will probably be no. What it proves to be is a wonderful artistic achievement that surpasses expectations. One definition of “theatre” is “a presentation considered in terms of its dramatic quality”; therefore, it may be concluded that this is an acceptable and enjoyable piece of theatre. By no means is it perfect but the audience will not even care, as they are swept up by the amazing creature, who is brought to life by the hearts and souls of eleven human handlers, who enable him to speak with his fluid eyes, love with a gentle touch, show anger with powerful movement and a forceful roar and finally succumb to his hostile adversaries, only to die. Quite dramatic!

KING KONG

The cast of “King Kong” is led by Christiani Pitts as Ann Darrow, Eric William Morris as Carl Denham, and Erik Lochtefeld as Lumpy. The “King Kong” ensemble includes Ashley Andrews, Mike Baerga, Rhaamell Burke-Missouri, Chloë Campbell, Leroy Church, Peter Chursin, Jōvan Dansberry, Kayla Davion, Rory Donovan, Casey Garvin, Christopher Hampton Grant, Jon Hoche, Gabriel Hyman, Harley Jay, James T. Lane, Marty Lawson, Jonathan Christopher MacMillan, Danny Miller, Brittany Marcell Monachino, Jennifer Noble, Kristen Faith Oei, Eliza Ohman, Roberto Olvera, Jaquez André Sims, Khadija Tariyan, Jena VanElslander, Scott Austin Weber, Jacob Williams, Lauren Yalango-Grant, Warren Yang, and David Yijae.

“King Kong’s” design team for Broadway includes Sonny Tilders (Kong Developer), Peter England (Scenic and Projection Design), Roger Kirk (Costume Design), Peter Mumford (Lighting Design), Peter Hylenski (Sound Design), Gavin Robins (Aerial and King Kong Movement Director) and Tom Watson (Hair Design). David Caddick is Music Supervisor and Eldad Guetta is Associate Music Arranger.

Tickets to “King Kong” are now on sale through Telecharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200 and online at www.Telecharge.com. Tickets for groups of ten or more are available by calling 866-302-0995 or by email at info@broadwayinbound.com. For complete pricing and performance schedule, please visit https://kingkongbroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Photo: Christiani Pitts as “Ann Darrow” and “King Kong.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, November 26, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “India Pale Ale” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I (Through Sunday November 18, 2018)

Photo: Purva Bedi as Deepa Batra, Shazi Raja as Basminder “Boz” Batra, and Angel Desai as Simran Rayat. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “India Pale Ale” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I (Through Sunday November 18, 2018)
Written by Jaclyn Backhaus
Directed by Will Davis
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Jaclyn Backhaus’s “India Pale Ale” currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I has a collection of “teachable moments.” Some of the lessons are rather unimportant though interesting. The audience learns the history of IPA (India Pale Ale), the hops and alcohol content of the iconic enhanced pale ale, and how at least one white hipster Tim (a lumbering and naïve Nate Miller) does not know what the “I” in “IPA” stands for. Other lessons are significantly more important. The audience learns the migratory history of Basminder “Boz” Batra (an energetic and spirited Shazi Raja) and her Punjabi family to the United States and their new home in Raymond, Wisconsin. Boz and her brother Iggy (a deeply sensitive and ebullient Sathya Sridharan) are second-generation American citizens. And the audience learns that Boz wants to leave Raymond and open a bar in nearby Madison, Wisconsin.

Boz’s wanderlust is apparently inspired by the Batra family’s mythological ancestor Brown Beard who, according to Boz’s father Sunny (an unconditionally loving and non-judgmental Alok Tewari) risked life and limb to sail beer ships back and forth between India and the United Kingdom. The theme of separation and individuation counterpoints Ms. Backhaus’s exploration of xenophobia and racism.

The most profound “teachable moment” occurs in Boz’s new bar in Madison. Tim who is white (one of two characters without a last name in the play – Lovi is the other) visits the bar and asks Boz: “What are you? Where are you from?” Failing to understand his questions not only dehumanize Boz but exemplify the worst aspects of racism, Tim continues to blunder through his introduction with alarming vacuity. Boz’s willingness to “teach” Tim is remarkable and represents the playwright’s wish that more white Americans become and stay woke.

It is unfortunate that the significant themes of “India Pale Ale” are overshadowed by the daily onslaught of disingenuous messages from what should be the source of the moral compass of a nation; namely; the current political posturing and dividedness that has fueled xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and homophobia in America whose citizenry is becoming more and more numbed by hate crime after hate crime. When her former fiancée Vishal Singh (a charming and warmhearted Nik Sadhnani) arrives in Madison to call Boz back to Raymond to respond to a family tragedy, the audience at the performance I attended had experienced within seventy-two hours three horrific hate crimes in the United States.

The play itself also bears responsibility for disengagement from its thematic development. The “pirate” trope is overused: the scene with the cast clad in Arnulfo Maldonado’s splendid pirate costumes seems overlong and overwrought and provides little payoff. Additionally, the intra-family dysfunction (engagements, the breaking of engagements, inter-personal disrepair) distract from the primary dramatic arc.

Under Will Davis’s direction, the cast fiercely inhabits their characters with sublime believability. In addition to those already mentioned, Angel Desai (Simran Rayat), Purva Bedi (Deepa Batra), Sophia Mahmud), and Lipica Shah (Lovi) complete the extraordinary ensemble cast.

That said, “India Pale Ale” remains a stalwart attempt to “see” and “understand” and to stay woke to the social injustices extant just outside (and most likely within) the doors of the theater. The cast “breaks bread” with the audience in a special way at the play’s end. This sharing befits catharsis and emulation.

INDIA PALE ALE

“India Pale Ale” stars Purva Bedi, Angel Desai, Sophia Mahmud, Nate Miller, Shazi Raja, Nik Sadhnani, Lipica Shah, Sathya Sridharan, and Alok Tewari. Previews begin October 2 ahead of an October 23 opening at New York City Center – Stage I.

The design team includes Neil Patel (Scenic Design), Arnulfo Maldonado (Costume Design), Ben Stanton (Lighting Design), Elisheba Ittoop (Original Music and Sound Design), Dave Bova (Hair and Makeup Design), and Will Davis (Choreography).

“India Pale Ale” runs at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I (131 West 55th Street) through Sunday November 18, 2018. Tickets for “India Pale Ale” can be purchased online at www.nycitycenter.org, by calling CityTix at 212-581-1212, or by visiting the New York City Center box office (131 West 55th Street). For more information, please visit www.manhattantheatreclub.com. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.

Photo: Purva Bedi as Deepa Batra, Shazi Raja as Basminder “Boz” Batra, and Angel Desai as Simran Rayat. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, November 2, 2018

Broadway Review: “Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song” at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater (Currently On

Photo: Michael Urie and Jack DiFalco in the revival of “Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song,” directed by Moisés Kaufman, at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: “Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song” at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater (Currently On)
By Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Moisés Kaufman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Loneliness, the quest for authentic and meaningful love, the fear of rejection, the need for respect, and the excruciating separation from situations of abuse are not unique to members of the LGBTQ+ community of any decade or location, and perhaps that is why audiences have responded positively to Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” since its Broadway production in 1982 at New York’s Little Theatre (the Helen Hayes). Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation currently running at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater is titled “Torch Song:” it is staged in two acts with Arnold’s (an emotive and transparent Michael Urie) soliloquy and the original act names intact. Four hours have been trimmed down to two hours and forty-five minutes.

The characters and their conflicts are familiar – even more familiar than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. And the plots and subplots driven by their conflicts are even more recognizable. Scenes in The International Stud (Act I), Fugue in a Nursery (Act II), and Widows and Children First (Act III) chronicle Arnold’s yearning for love (and family), his falling in love with Ed (a vulnerable and unnerved Ward Horton), the “straight” man who is dating Arnold and Laurel (an astute and strong Roxanna Hope Radja) concurrently, his significant relationship with Alan (an ebullient and confident Michael Hsu Rosen), his adopted son David (a deeply sensitive and trusting Jack DiFalco), and his confrontation with his possessive mother Mrs. Beckoff (a possessive and disquieting Mercedes Ruehl). Michael Urie tenderly and authentically portrays these stages in Arnold’s quest for acceptance and meaningful relationships.

The action of the truncated trilogy spans Arnold’s years in New York City from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. In Act I, the extended phone conversation between Arnold and Ed is awkward: the dialogue seems worn and overwrought. Conversely, Mr. Horton delivers a compelling account of his suicide dream/attempt. Act II, Fugue in a Nursery, is energetic and well-directed by Moisés Kaufman. Reminiscent of a scene in Sondheim’s “Company,” the act moves briskly and allows the actors to explore their formidable comedic skills. Sadly, the act also highlights all sorts of infidelity and chicanery too often associated with the LGBTQ+ community and raises an enduring and rich questions: Why do members of the LGBTQ+ family respond so positively (standing ovations) to theatre that portrays its members in less than affirmative qualities? Are we simply grateful to have plays that deal with LGBTQ+ themes or should we expect more?

Act III, Widows and Children First is uneven. Ms. Ruehl delivers a robust Mrs. Beckoff; unfortunately, Arnold’s mother is a despicable and selfish character that Arnold should not need to include in his new understanding of elective family. The highlights of this Act are the deeply moving and authentically performed scenes between Arnold and David and Jack. Michael Urie, Jack DiFalco, and Ward Horton bring exuberant hopefulness and genuine affection to their characters and successfully define Harvey Fierstein’s vision of the “new American family.” The ending of the play, despite Arnold’s pressing all that sustains (and challenges) him against his chest, provides less than a satisfying catharsis.

Under Mr. Kaufman’s careful direction, the members of cast deliver believable performances despite the stereotypical traits of each character. David Zinn’s sparse, elevated, and movable set is functional and appropriate. Clint Ramos’s costumes are period perfect. David Lander’s lighting adds significantly to the mood of the piece and does John Gromada’s sound design.

There are times when the characters border on situation comedy stock figures. This occurs predominantly in Act III after Mrs. Beckoff arrives on the scene. The conversations – mostly the arguments – between Mrs. Beckoff and Arnold reek of situation comedy. This is unfortunate, because it is in these encounters that Mr. Fierstein’s argument for Arnold’s independence and separation and individuation from his abusive mother are meant to be resolved. It is difficult to discern whether this misfortune is the result of Mr. Kaufman’s direction or Mr. Fierstein’s writing although the latter would be the most likely choice. The tone here is transparently Fierstein and perhaps the autobiographical nature of the piece unburdens here.

The journey to achieving Arnold’s commendable goals is a universal one as are the hopes and dreams of the characters in “Torch Song.” One wishes for even more relevant themes for the LGBTQ+ community in the first half of the twenty-first century.

TORCH SONG

“Torch Song” features Michael Urie as Arnold Beckoff and Mercedes Ruehl as Mrs. Beckoff, as well as Jack DiFalco as David, Ward Horton as Ed, Roxanna Hope Radja as Laurel, and Michael Hsu Rosen as Alan.

“Torch Song” features scenic design by David Zinn; costume design by Clint Ramos; lighting design by David Lander; sound design by John Gromada; hair design by Charles G. LaPointe; make-up design by Joe Dulude II; and casting by Telsey + Company. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Torch Song” plays at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater (240 West 44th Street) on the following schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. For further information and to purchase tickets, please visit https://torchsongbroadway.com/ or call 212-239-6200. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Michael Urie and Jack DiFalco in the revival of “Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song,” directed by Moisés Kaufman, at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, November 2, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Days of Rage” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre (Through Sunday, November 25, 2018)

Photo: Lauren Patten and J. Alphonse Nicholson in "Days of Rage." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Days of Rage” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre (Through Sunday, November 25, 2018)
Written by Steven Levenson
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Rooms full of missed opportunities sprawl across Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre where Steven Levenson’s new play “Days of Rage” is running through November 2018. Mr. Levenson, the award-winning book-writer of “Dear Evan Hansen, tackles the important issues of nationalism, xenophobia, and racism against the backdrop of a radical collective of three friends protesting the “atrocities” of the Vietnam War. The time is October 1969 and Spence (an intense yet vulnerable Mike Faist), Jenny (a devoted and lonesome Lauren Patten), and Quinn (an unbridled and combative Odessa Young) share a ramshackle old house in upstate New York where they espouse the tenets of Lenin, Marx, and Engels and are engaged in recruiting other anti-war advocates to join them in a road trip to Chicago where an estimated twenty-five thousand will gather to rage against the war, the President, and the establishment.

The collective’s fragile matrix of relationships – a trio of fractured and dysfunctional open pairings – is further threatened by the arrival of Hal (a sensitive and compelling J. Alphonse Nicholson) and Peggy (an eccentric and intrusive Tavi Gevinson). Hal meets Jenny outside of the Sears store where he works and where Jenny is distributing leaflets for the Chicago “rally.” Hal’s boss has given him ten minutes to convince Jenny to leave before the police arrive. Peggy meets Spence in a coffee shop and convinces him to welcome her into the collective – her two thousand dollars is badly needed for rent, utilities, and the cause. Hal’s connection with Jenny is believable and provides an interesting subplot. Peggy’s initial connection with Spence is not believable and provides a predictable and uninteresting subplot.

Like any family system, the strength of the collective dissolves with the addition of the new members. Hal’s “baby brother” is serving in the Army in Vietnam and his romantic friendship with Jenny and his challenges to the collective’s racism and apparent loyalty to the Vietcong shatters the crackled veneer of loyalty and commitment that presume to exist in the collective. Peggy is deceitful, dishonest, and carrying a secret that eventually disarms the collective and separates its members and dissolves the integrity of its mission. Peggy and the mystery of the toothpaste heiress cannot be further parsed without a spoiler alert.

The parallels between the Vietnam era and the current political tribulations in America are compelling though obvious in nature. The three stories within the main narrative are related in twenty short scenes with blackouts in between. Unfortunately, the subplots do more to dilute the impact of “Days of Rage” than to strengthen it. Under Trip Cullman’s direction and with the support of the talented creative team, the cast is uniformly excellent. They develop their characters and their characters’ conflicts with authenticity. Mr. Levenson’s themes succeed in challenging the audience’s complacency; however, the Vietnam tropes (napalm, bombs, political chicanery, etc.) could have been more fully developed.

Perhaps Quinn’s closing “prediction” to Spence in Chicago is the most impressive and alarming: “The world gets bad. And then it gets worse. The Vietnam War doesn’t end for another six years. Nixon gets reelected in a landslide. The Left loses power all over the world for the next fifty years.” Living at the expiration of those fifty-some years is not comfortable and hope wanes. If “Days of Rage” makes that clear, then it is a success. All other goings on in the ramshackle house can be forgiven.

DAYS OF RAGE

“Days of Rage” features Mike Faist, Tavi Gevinson, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Lauren Patten, and Odessa Young.

The creative team for “Days of Rage” includes settings by Louisa Thompson, costumes by Paloma Young, lighting by Tyler Micoleau, and sound by Darron L. West.

“Days of Rage” runs at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre (305 West 43rd Street at 8th Avenue) through Sunday, November 25. For more information on “Day of Rage,” including performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://2st.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Lauren Patten and J. Alphonse Nicholson in "Days of Rage." Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “What the Constitution Means to Me” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday November 4, 2018)

Photo: Heidi Schreck in “What the Constitution Means to Me.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “What the Constitution Means to Me” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday November 4, 2018)
By Heidi Schreck
Directed by Oliver Butler
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After greeting the audience at New York Theatre Workshop, playwright Heidi Schreck introduces her play “What the Constitution Means to Me” as follows: “When I was 15 years old, I travelled the country giving speeches about the Constitution at American Legion halls for prize money. This was a scheme invented by my mom, who was a debate coach, to help me pay for college.” For ninety minutes, Ms. Schreck rehearses those speeches not for prize money but to remind the audience that the Constitution has been less protective of human rights than its drafters intended and to warn the audience that the main culprit in this diminution of protection is the Supreme Court of the United States.

This is a daunting (and daring) suggestion. To prove her point, the adult Heidi morphs (non-physically) into her fifteen-tear-old self to deliver her speech “Casting Spells: The Crucible of the Constitution” to the “audience of older— mostly white— men” at the American Legion Hall in Wenatchee, Washington and to the somewhat more diverse audience at New York Theatre Workshop where “What the Constitution Means to Me” runs through Sunday November 4, 2018. Ms. Schreck transitions between past and present, between her fifteen-year-old self and her adult self. This convention allows her to both focus on the speech and on her feelings about the Constitution “then and now.”

The “grit” of Ms. Schreck’s play comes when Heidi “draws an amendment from a can, in full view of the audience and has to speak extemporaneously on this amendment.” Ms. Schreck’s husband Mike Iveson plays the role of the American Legion moderator “Mike.” After parsing Amendment Nine (“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”) in her speech, Heidi pulls Amendment Fourteen Section One from the can for the second part of her challenge.

Amendment Fourteen, Section One states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and
subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In an electrifying performance, Ms. Schreck ricochets between decade and generations to describe how this Amendment has been interpreted since its adoption on July 9, 1868 as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. “Interpreted” here means more than mere jurisprudence: it means degraded, misconstrued, mis-applied resulting in the erosion of human rights over the years since 1868.

This is a challenging play and an important one. Directed by Oliver Butler, Ms. Schreck uses every tool of rhetorical argument to make her case and leaves the audience members wondering: “where have we been as our rights have been threatened and how much more will the High Court diminish those rights in the present and future. Discoursing on both the Ninth and the Fourteenth Amendments, the playwright and performer dissects the history of Roe v. Wade and how that decision affected her life and her family history.

“What the Constitution Means to Me” closes with Heidi debating with a NYC High School student Rosdely Ciprian and then spending time answering preselected audience questions to become better acquainted. This part of the play is less satisfying than the first and lessens the impact of that beginning. Overall, “What the Constitution Means to Me” is a chilling reminder of the importance of being an informed citizenry. Reading the Constitution of the United States is the first step. A copy is provided to each audience member. Let the learning begin.

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME

The cast for “What the Constitution Means to Me” includes Heidi Schreck, Mike Iveson, and New York City high school student Rosdely Ciprian.

“What the Constitution Means to Me” features scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costume design by Michael Krass, lighting design by Jen Schriever, and sound design by Sinan Zafar. Dramaturgy is by Sarah Lunnie (Literary Director, Playwrights Horizons). Terri K. Kohler serves as stage manager.

“What the Constitution Means to Me” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003) through Sunday November 4, 2018) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday- Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Single tickets for “What the Constitution Means to Me” start at $35.00 and vary by performance date and time. For further information, visit https://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Heidi Schreck in “What the Constitution Means to Me.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 26, 2018

Broadway Review: “The Lifespan of a Fact” at Studio 54 (Currently On)

Photo: Daniel Radcliffe in “The Lifespan of a Fact.” Credit: Peter Cunningham.
Broadway Review: “The Lifespan of a Fact” at Studio 54 (Currently On)
Written by Jeremy Kareken & David Murrell and Gordon Farrell
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Emily Penrose (a guarded and steely Cherry Jones), Editor-in Chief of a high-end publication, hopes to score big on the publication of a “lyrical essay” written by longtime associate John D’Agata (a languid and tenderly resilient Bobby Cannavale). She has shut down the presses and pulled the story about “Congressional Spouses” to publish the essay about the suicide of a young man in Las Vegas. And she is hoping this essay will boost magazine sales and continue to secure her position as a successful editor. Because she is aware that John often ignores the importance of facts, she hires the new intern Jim Fingal (a self-absorbed and cautious Daniel Radcliffe) to fact-check the essay before publication. He agrees he can fulfill the assignment over an extended weekend.

What ensues is a triumvirate of well-positioned “leaders” each having the ability to upend the other two members’ goals. Although the intriguing script focus primarily on Jim’s dogged fact-finding and John’s stubborn insistence that art trumps facts, there are significant themes centering on motivation, power, dominance, entitlement, and rhetorical argument. “The Lifespan of a Fact,” currently running at Studio 54, raises more enduring question than it answers – which is expected with three raconteurs vying for dominion.

John is a storyteller. He tells stories that he believes are relevant and connect to the readers and to the moment in history in which they live and try to navigate through with some modicum of success. He believes his essay about Levi Presley’s death is important as are the other events that transpired on the same day in Las Vegas. “On that day in Las Vegas when Levi Presley died, five others died from two types of cancer, four from heart attacks, three because of strokes. It was a day of two suicides by gunshot as well as a suicide from hanging.” That is John’s story and he is sticking to it.

Jim is a fact checker. Emily assigns him to check the facts in John’s essay to avoid law suits and maintain the credibility of her magazine. Jim cannot seem to get beyond the first few paragraphs. He creates one-hundred-and-thirty pages of spreadsheet and “notes” that call into question John’s credibility. Emily encourages Jim to understand that “we live in stories. Events organized to make ourselves known to each other and to history. Organized in a way that gives our lives meaning.” Jim believes the word “story comes from the Greek historia – an accurate retelling” and continues to question whether John has reported the correct numbers of deaths on the day Levi died.

In one corner it is the importance of and necessity for facts: in the other is the importance of and necessity for rich and enduring stories that are transformative and redemptive. The battle rages with Emily attempting to referee the fight. Both she and Jim end up in Las Vegas with John and the struggle for a resolution escalates. At one point, Jim determines that Levi Presley did not even exist despite John’s insistence that he shared the essay with Levi’s mother Gail. John said, “this is my best” and she said, “this is my son.” The obvious connection to the current debate concerning the place of truth in politics plays well in “The Lifespan of a Fact.” The playwrights develop their argument carefully and with the requisite logos, ethos, and pathos.

Under Leigh Silverman’s exquisite direction, the cast delivers a profoundly moving ensemble performance that insists the audience make the ultimate choice whether Emily will publish the essay. Fact and fiction have significant roles to play in humankind’s story telling. It has become strikingly evident in the last two years, however, that fiction has no place in the development of global policy-making and domestic governance. The jury is still out on whether “Levi climbed the fence and sat on the ledge for 48 seconds, then jumped.” John argues that “It is not a crime to try to find the music in a boy’s life.” Jim counters “people’s lives aren’t chord progressions you can rearrange at will.”

THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT

“The Lifespan of a Fact” stars Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, and Bobby Cannavale.

“The Lifespan of a Fact” features scenic design by Mimi Lien, costume design by Linda Cho, lighting design by Jen Schriever, sound design by Palmer Hefferan and projection design by Lucy Mackinnon.

“The Lifespan of a Fact” is currently on Broadway at Studio 54 (254 W 54th Street). For more information about the show including performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.lifespanofafact.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Daniel Radcliffe in “The Lifespan of a Fact.” Credit: Peter Cunningham.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, October 22, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Black Light” at Greenwich House Theater (Through Monday, December 31, 2018)

Photo: Daniel Alexander Jones as Jomama Jones in “Black Light.” Credit: Chad Batka.
Off-Broadway Review: “Black Light” at Greenwich House Theater (Through Monday, December 31, 2018)
Created by Daniel Alexander Jones
Directed by Tea Alagic
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“We are stardust, we are golden/We are billion-year-old carbon/And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.” (“Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell)

Jomama is the performer and alter ego of Daniel Alexander Jones who created the production “Black Light” now playing at Greenwich House Theater after a successful run at Joe’s Pub. She is a soul sonic superstar and when she speaks of a supernova the audience better listen up because her presence personifies the definition of that phenomenon perfectly. She is a star that suddenly increases in brightness until she explodes ejecting masses of stardust that fills the hearts and minds of the audience, so they may be able to get themselves back to the garden. In this explosion the mold that has tried to form our identity and control decisions is shattered and you are left at a crossroad which can determine who you really are and where you want to be. Don’t misconstrue, Jomama is not a preacher or a politician, but a revelation, clad in fabulous fashion delivering her message with soulful songs that embrace you with a warm understanding of life as it is.

She asks if we could be a witness, not just a passive observer but a living witness, “which means you take responsibility for what you see.” So, if you are willing to observe, see what is happening, you must react. Listening to stories, vividly describing events happening down South about her Aunt Cleotha, will captivate your imagination as you visualize the experience as if you were there. The memories not only conjure up a great deal of emotion but teach lessons that will possibly allow us to see just a little better in the “Black Light.” She asks that we hold hands with someone in the audience you do not know, close your eyes, so you may feel the universe, full of triumphs and faults. Then still holding hands, you open your eyes and there is the “harsh light, when all of our faults and our fears and our failings are visible .” We survive until the future light when we can “See Things as They Are”.

Jomama is accompanied by her incredible four-piece ensemble and two extremely wordly vocalists, Trevor Bachman and Vuyo Sotashe by her side. Their mere presence is an uplifting support and their voices fill the air with an eerie hope. At one point, Jomama addresses the supernova as a star at the end of its life cycle.

“But I wonder, if something must die in order for some new thing to be born. Something like, say, an idea - an idea about ourselves, an idea about each other, the way that we relate to one another, maybe an idea that moves beyond all the categories, the boxes we like to put one another in, maybe even an idea as unwieldy, and contradictory, as the idea of a nation?”

When you leave the theater what you realize is that the time you experienced with Jomama may be over, in a sense it has died, but be reassured that something was certainly born, for many will begin to see what has always been right front of them, and proudly bear witness.

BLACK LIGHT

Jomama Jones stars in “Black Light.” The band includes Tariq Al-Sabir (musical director, piano and vocals), Trevor Bachman (vocals), Sean Dixon (drums), Krystal Hawes (vocals), Michelle Marie Osbourne (bass), Josh Quat (guitar and vocals) and Vuyo Sotashe (vocals).

Black Light features scenic design by Gabriel Evansohn, lighting design by Ania Parks, costume design by Oana Botez and sound design by Nick Kourtides. Maximum Entertainment Productions serves as General Manager. Black Light is produced by Diana DiMenna.

“Black Light” runs at Greenwich House Theater (27 Barrow Street) through Monday, December 31, 2018. For the schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.nycblacklight.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Daniel Alexander Jones as Jomama Jones in “Black Light.” Credit: Chad Batka.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 18, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Fireflies” at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (Through Sunday November 11, 2018)

Photo: Khris Davis and DeWanda Wise in “Fireflies.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster/www.ahronfoster.com
Off-Broadway Review: “Fireflies” at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (Through Sunday November 11, 2018)
By Donja R. Love
Directed by Saheem Ali
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is clear from the start of Donja R. Love’s “Fireflies” that Olivia Grace (DeWanda Wise) is among the disconsolate: Olivia is languishing: Olivia’s wounded heart needs healing. There is a fire in Olivia’s soul that counterpoints the fire in the 1963 Fall sky above the home in the Jim Crow South she shares with her preacher-activist husband Charles Emmanuel Grace (Khris Davis). The first words Olivia shares are those from a letter she is writing to the yet unidentified Ruby: “Dear Ruby, It’s been awhile. The sky . . . it’s been burning so bright since you left. It reminds me of you.” And at this point the stage of the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater reverberates with the sounds of exploding bombs as the sky “cracks open and bleeds.” Olivia admits, “I can’t do this.”

Determining what it is Olivia can no longer do is the rich grit of Mr. Love’s engaging new play as is understanding in a deep way what it is Olivia is quite capable of doing. She writes all her husband’s sermons that he delivers in Alabama and elsewhere, assuring Charles is “out doing what [he] is supposed to be doing.” She schedules his appearances and reminds him of his itinerary. She surrenders to his needs and discounts her own needs. What she can no longer do is bring to term a baby she is not sure she wants. What she can no longer do is remain in an unfulfilling marriage to an unfaithful spouse. What she can no longer do is suppress her Queer identity that Ruby – unawares – has disclosed to Olivia after one meeting and has prompted Olivia to write hundreds of love letters which he carefully hides from Charles under a floorboard in the bedroom.

Mr. Love confesses Olivia’s growth and Charles’ emotional decline in language brimming with tropes. The extended metaphors of ‘bombs’ and ‘fireflies’ are carefully developed as they morph into internal dialogue from external threat. Just how that develops is thrilling to listen to and see. For Olivia, her husband’s death (Suicide? Car bomb?) becomes electrifyingly redemptive and sacrificial. Her ability to shift from sermon writer to mesmerizing preacher is a profoundly transformative moment in “Fireflies.” It is difficult not to step into the role of exhorter as Ms. Wise’s Olivia fires up her congregation after returning from Charles’ extended funeral service.

Olivia learns to love herself: to love the choices she makes about her body, her relationships, her sexuality, and her future. Olivia is also determined not to allow her history, nor the history of the Civil Rights Movement to be erased from America’s history. This theme explored in Suzan-Lori Parks’ “The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World” is echoed in a unique way by Mr. Love in his “Fireflies” the second installment in Mr. Love’s trilogy of The Love* Plays. In his April 10, 2017 article in “The Lark,” Donja R. Love writes, “The existence of Queer people of color, particularly of African descent, has repeatedly been washed over, or forgotten altogether.” Olivia is not about to be forgotten: neither will the bombs that killed people of color be forgotten.

DeWanda Wise and Khris Davis are electrifying in their roles as Olivia and Charles. Under Saheem Ali’s poignant and surgically precise direction, Ms. Wise and Mr. Davis explore every nerve, every synapse, every heretofore unexplored thought, every previously unanticipated action of their complex characters. Ms. Wise’s Olivia allows herself to grow despite cultural and marital roadblocks. And although it might be more challenging for Mr. Davis to accept his character’s “trifling, forgitful and lowdown” ways (from Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”), the actor successfully stands up to the protagonist’s explosive spiritual and psychological development. Olivia’s ability to love and her awareness that her child needs to grow up knowing she is God are powerful expressions of her recovered ego strength and self-awareness.

Alex Basco Koch’s meteoric projections and Justin Ellington’s brooding sound and original music fill and surround Arnulfo Maldonado’s stunning open set. David Weiner lights this set with mood-specific pools of wondrous color. And Dede Ayite’s costumes bristle with the sensibility expressed in each scene of the play.

This is not an Everyman’s tale: this is the saga of the Black and Brown and Black-and-Brown-Queer people who continue to experience race-fueled violence at the hands of systemic white racism. This is a tale that needs to ne heard, needs to be reiterated, and needs to find as many other iterations as possible. Olivia preaches, “Our assignment is to fly! We have to fly – as high as we possibly can. We have to soar because the higher we are the better we’ll be at making this world a brighter place.” Donja R. Love’s “Fireflies” takes that assignment seriously and succeeds brilliantly.

FIREFLIES

“Fireflies” stars Khris Davis and DeWanda Wise.

“Fireflies” features scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, costume design by Dede Ayite, lighting design by David Weiner, sound design by Justin Ellington, projection design by Alex Basco Koch and casting by Telsey + Company: Adam Caldwell, CSA; Will Cantler, CSA; Karyn Casl, CSA.

“Fireflies” runs at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues) through Sunday November 11, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday – Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.; Sunday evening performance at 7:00 p.m. on 10/21; Wednesday afternoon performances at 2:00 p.m. on 10/24, 10/31, and 11/7. Tickets for “Fireflies” at $65.00 are available online at www.atlantictheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or in person at the Linda Gross Theater box office. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Khris Davis and DeWanda Wise in “Fireflies.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster/www.ahronfoster.com
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, October 15, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Midnight at the Never Get” at York Theatre Company (Through Sunday November 4, 2018)

Photo: Jeremy Cohen and Sam Bolen in “Midnight at the Never Get” at York Theatre Company. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Midnight at the Never Get” at York Theatre Company (Through Sunday November 4, 2018)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Mark Sonnenblick
Co-Conceived by Sam Bolen
Directed by Max Friedman
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The latest offering at York Theater Company’s Main Stage Series is the new musical “Midnight at the Never Get.” The production history started with a successful short run at New York’s historical “Don’t Tell Mama” cabaret, and then a run at NYMF in 2016. Subsequently it had a six-week 2017 run at Provincetown Inn, Massachusetts and returned to Provincetown for a weekend engagement last month. So, in can be assumed that the book, music and lyrics by Mark Sonnenblick should be solid and the performance by Sam Bolen, who co-conceived the story and has performed in every production, should be cultivated and polished.

Mr. Sonnenblick’s musical compositions are indeed a fine representation of the era and The Great American Songbook, along with lyrics that are smart, sometimes witty, and turn sentimental during some sultry ballads. The obvious problem is that they were written for a cabaret performance and really do no address the task of character development or moving the plot forward. This required responsibility is left to the somewhat confusing and weak book that does not fare well, filled with every conceivable tragic blemish and stereotype in Gay history. Confused straight men who are closeted, flamboyant and campy behavior, the Stonewall uprising, the AIDS crisis, Gay men getting married, self-loathing, denial and delusion. Yes, it all happened, but gay life was not all dismal and cataclysmic. There is no trace of the positive to be found in this profoundly melancholic story.

The story starts in the 1960s and revolves around the gay relationship of Trevor, (Sam Bolen), a flamboyant singer and Arthur (Jeremy Cohen), a sedate songwriter. Their relationship is a bumpy ride with Trevor being aloof and delusional, following the lead of gay activists and Arthur being a controlled realist and somewhat closeted. Arthur is very talented, writing exceptional songs for Trevor who cannot sing them as well as much of the competition, which leads to an unpleasant breakup. Trevor is deceased and appears to be in a sort of purgatory waiting for Arthur to join him since he has just passed. Trevor tells the saga of their past, with a distorted view of himself as a remarkable entertainer, rather than the mediocre songster he had been. This version of the story and cabaret performance is what the audience experiences through his fallacious memory.

The cast is ever so competent, with Mr. Bolen (Trevor Copeland) plowing through the thirteen songs with ease and a strong vocal prowess, as he is accompanied by the proficient Jeremy Cohen on piano, leading an excellent five-piece band. Although Mr. Bolen’s performance is fine, it appears to be overly melodramatic and animated – even though it is how he wants to see himself – as opposed to who he really is in this memory play. Mr. Cohen is more down to earth and believable, resulting in a steady, solid turn as the Pianist and Arthur. Choreographer Andrew Palermo has made sure Mr. Bolen moves with a flair like Judy Garland. Director Max Friedman moves the evening along but needs to pull in the reins on the histrionic performances putting more depth into the characters to support the suspension of disbelief.

Although the events chronicled in this fictional narrative are accurate in the scope of gay history, it is a somewhat exaggerated depiction of homosexuals, relying on exposing their tragic lifestyle and never exploring positive situations, conduct, behavior or mores. It is an entertaining evening of cabaret but falls a bit short as a full-fledged theatrical production.

MIDNIGHT AT THE NEVER GET

The cast of “Midnight at the Never Get” features Sam Bolen, Jeremy Cohen, and Jon J. Peterson.

The creative team includes Christopher Swader and Justin Swader (Set Design), Vanessa Leuck (Costume Design), Jamie Roderick (Lighting Design), Kevin Heard (Sound Design), Addison Heeren (Prop Design), and Kevin Maloof (Production Manager). The Production Stage Manager is Julianne Menassian. The Assistant Stage Manager is Shanna Allison. The Casting Director is Jason Styres, CSA.

“Midnight at The Never Get” runs through Sunday November 4, 2018 at the York Theatre at Saint Peter’s (Citicorp Building, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue). Tickets are priced at $67.50 - $72.50 and may be purchased by calling (212) 935-5820 online at www.yorktheatre.org, or in person at the box office at the York Theatre. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jeremy Cohen and Sam Bolen in “Midnight at the Never Get” at York Theatre Company. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 12, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Hitler’s Tasters” at IRT Theater (Through Saturday October 27, 2018)

Photo: Kaitlin Paige Longoria, MaryKathryn Kopp, and Hallie Griffin in ‘Hitler’s Tasters.” Credit: Hunter Canning.
Off-Broadway Review: “Hitler’s Tasters” at IRT Theater (Through Saturday October 27, 2018)
By Michelle Kholos Brooks
Directed by Sarah Norris
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Kudos to the team of women (all women!) that wrote, directed, performed in, and filled all positions in the creative team for “Hitler’s Tasters” currently running at IRT Theater. The play examines the conflicts of the fifteen German young women who were conscripted to be Hitler’s tasters. They were initially transported daily to and from a school to fulfill their task of “defending the Motherland.” After a threat on Hitler’s life, they were permanently confined in a building adjacent to Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair headquarters in Prussia. The sole real-life survivor of this group of young women Margot Woelk has documented this “footnote in history” extensively before her death in 2014.

Although the young women (Hallie Griffin, MaryKathryn Kopp, Kaitlin Paige Longoria, and Hannah Mae Sturges) are dressed in period clothing – there are several costume changes – they have cell phones, take selfies, like contemporary music (Madonna), imagine Hitler sings like a “rock star,” and behave in a thoroughly modern way. They bicker about the vegetarian food, the lack of visits from the Führer and his German Shepherd Blondi, and often behave much like “mean girls.” Although their behavior seems contemporary, their weltanschauung is decidedly Deutschland. Their conversations are sprinkled with anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and anti-American sentiments.

The ensemble cast latches onto Michelle Kholos Brooks’s script with passionate zeal and each member delivers authentic and believable performances. Unfortunately, the script does not afford them the freedom to explore their characters more deeply. The audience get a sense of what these young women think and feel about tasting food for Hitler and then waiting an hour to see if they will die or not; however, there is no deep angst here, no existential fear, no sense of deep loss. Tasters come and go without much dread or disconsolation. The playwright’s choice to develop the conflicts of the young women through and anachronistic lens might diminish the cathartic experience in the dramatic arc.

The connections between time periods is obvious and quite impactful. Sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and abuse (sexual, physical, and psychological) continue into the present as does imperialism, white supremacy, and oligarchy. Some choices made by director Sarah Norris seem to diminish the striking parallelism between the present and the pre and postwar Germany. Why isn’t the playwright’s idea of the back of the guard utilized? Having one of the cast members portray the intrusiveness of a male would be more powerful than sound and light indicating the presence of the guards. And why is another young woman thrown into the room at the end of the play? This is not included in the script. It is apparent that past and present not only conspire to repeat dysfunction and horror: it is also apparent that both generations are caught in Sisyphean tasks that leave populations disconsolate and wounded of heart.

“Hitler’s Tasters” is also a gripping extended metaphor for how women who have been victims of sexual violence carry lifelong cultural shame that prevents them from coming forward to tell their important stories in an environment of male suspicion and doubt. Under Sarah Norris’s exacting direction, the brilliant ensemble cast carries this perennial weight with enormous grace and determination.






HITLER’S TASTERS

The cast of “Hitler’s Tasters” features Hallie Griffin, MaryKathryn Kopp, Kaitlin Paige Longoria, and Hannah Mae Sturges.

The all-female design team includes An-lin Dauber (scenic design); Christina Tang (lighting design); Ashleigh Poteat (costume design); and Carsen Joenk (sound design). The choreographer is Ashlee Wasmund. The fight choreographer is Frances Ramos. Line produced by Alyssa May Gold. The technical director is ToniAnne DiFilippo. The Production Stage Manager is Lindsey Hurley.

“Hitler’s Tasters” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday, October 27th at IRT Theater (154 Christopher Street, between Greenwich and Washington Streets) on the following performance schedule: Wednesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Please note there is an added performance on Monday, October 22 at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $25.00. To purchase tickets, visit www.newlighttheaterproject.com. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Kaitlin Paige Longoria, MaryKathryn Kopp, and Hallie Griffin in ‘Hitler’s Tasters.” Credit: Hunter Canning.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 12, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: The Custom Made Theatre Company’s “Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday November 3, 2018)

Photo: Gabriel Grilli and Trish Lindstrom in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Mother Night at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: The Custom Made Theatre Company’s “Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday November 3, 2018)
By Kurt Vonnegut
Adapted and Directed by Brian Katz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Howard Campbell

Howard Campbell’s (an even tempered and soft-spoken Gabriel Grilli) non-linear journey from Nazi Germany’s radio propaganda machine in World War II to his self-execution in 1961 is the subject of The Custom Made Theatre Company’s “Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters. Adapted from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel by the company’s Founding Artistic Director, the play begins with the forty-eight-year-old Campbell in an Israeli prison in Old Jerusalem awaiting trial for his collusion with the Nazis. Vonnegut’s forty-five short chapters are distilled successfully into Brian Katz’s seven “Tracks.”

The play ends in the same prison where Campbell learns of his impending release and his decision to be the sole judge of his future. Between these first and seventh Tracks, Campbell discloses how he arrived in Germany, how he became affiliated with both the Nazi Party and with Wirtanen (an intense and secretive Andrea Gallo) an American intelligence operative who convinces him to be an American spy. Campbell lives this double life as a Nazi propagandist and a spy who uses his pro-Third Reich broadcasts to filter important information to the Allies. He never quite comes to terms with his “pretending” and the results of his actions.

Campbell provides considerable exposition in his narrative, including his early history, how he met his wife Helga (a seductive and manipulative Trish Lindstrom), how he lived in Greenwich Village for fifteen years following the war, and how he ended up in an Israeli prison. The narrative includes a variety of characters significant in his journey, all played by the ensemble cast – from those who guarded him in prison to those who “hunted him down” in the United States.

Although Mr. Katz’s stage adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Mother Night” is faithful to the 1962 novel, it cannot remove the difficulties of the original text, including the novel’s lapses of believability. It would seem implausible that Campbell did not recognize that the “returned” Helga is her sister Resi. But the difficulty with this “Mother Night” is not the adequate adaptation, but the glaring inability of the cast to consistently deliver believable and authentic performances. Andrea Gallo delivers a solid portrayal of Wirtanen (and the other characters she portrays) and Trish Lindstrom’s Helga and Resi are also believable; however, the rest of the well-qualified cast oddly deliver performances that portray their characters as flat or as less than interesting caricatures. Without being behind the scenes, it is difficult not to assume that Mr. Katz’s direction is somewhat responsible for this predicament.

Daniel Bilodeau’s sparse set serves as prison, Greenwich Village apartment, other apartments, a rooftop, and other locations. The set is adequately lighted by Adam Gearhart and Zoë Allen provides period appropriate costumes.

“Mother Night’s” themes are as important in the present as they were when Vonnegut wrote the novel. It is remarkable how relevant the important issues of white supremacism, anti-Semitism, oligarchy, fascism, xenophobia, lack of personal integrity, and prevarication continue to erode the hallmarks of democracy. Frightening is perhaps a better adjective. The Custom Made Theatre Company is to be commended for bringing “Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night” to 59E59 Theaters. One wishes the performances and direction could have been more kind to the adaptation.

KURT VONNEGUT’S MOTHER NIGHT

The cast features Andrea Gallo, Gabriel Grilli, Trish Lindstrom, Matthew Van Oss, Eric Rice, Dave Sikula, and Dared Wright.

The design team includes Daniel Bilodeau (scenic design); Adam Gearhart (lighting design); Zoë Allen (costume design); Julian Evans (original music and sound design); and Stephanie Dittbern (properties design). The Production Stage Manager is Aliyah Nissim.

“Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night” runs at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) for a limited engagement through Sunday, November 3 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:15 p.m.; Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; Sunday at 2:15 p.m. Single tickets are $25.00 - $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one ten-minute intermission.

Photo: Gabriel Grilli and Trish Lindstrom in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Mother Night at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, October 10, 2018

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