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

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

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

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

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

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

YOU ARE NOW THE OWNER OF THIS SUITCASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FATHER

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

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

Tickets for “The Father” are available by calling Telecharge at 212-239-6200, online by visiting www.Telecharge.com, or by visiting the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office (261 West 47th Street). Ticket prices are $70-$150. Running time is 90 minutes
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, April 09, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NATHAN THE WISE

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

“Nathan the Wise” will perform Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $60.00 on weeknights and $65.00 on weekends and are available at www.classicstage.org or by calling (212) 352-3101 / 866-811-4111 or at the box-office at 136 East 13th Street, New York City (between Third and Fourth Avenues). Running time is two hours with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, April 09, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXIT STRATEGY

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

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

“Exit Strategy” plays a limited engagement through May 6, 2016 at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street, www.cherrylanetheatre.org.) Performances are Tuesday - Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sun 3:00 p.m. There is an added 2:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, May 4. No performances April 19, 26, and May 3. Tickets are $70 and can be purchased online at PrimaryStages.org, by phone via OvationTix at 212.352.3101 or toll-free 866.811.4111 (9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday), or at the box office. Running time is 95 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 08, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAGNEY

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

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

“Cagney” runs at the Westside Theatre - Upstairs (407 West 43rd Street) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “Cagney” are priced at $89 and may be purchased by calling Telecharge: 212-239-6200, or by visiting Telecharge.com. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including a fifteen-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, April 06, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRIGHT STAR

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

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

“Bright Star” runs at the Cort Theatre (138 West 48th Street) on the following schedule: on the following schedule: Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.; and matinee on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets at $45.00 - $149.00 can be purchased by visiting Telecharge.com or by calling 800-447-7400. For groups of 10 or more, call 1-800-BROADWAY, ext. 2. For more info, visit www.BrightStarMusical.com. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, April 05, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ECLIPSED

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

“Eclipsed” runs at the Golden Theatre (252 West 45th Street) through Sunday June 19, 2016 on the following schedule: Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.; and matinee on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Ticket prices range from $45.00 to $149.00 and can be purchased at the box office or by visiting the show’s website at http://www.eclipsedbroadway.com. Audience: May be inappropriate for 12 and under. (Strong subject matter.) Children under the age of 4 are not permitted in the theatre. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, April 04, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAMILTON

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

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

Tickets are available for purchase via phone 1-877-250-2929, online www.Ticketmaster.com or at the box office of the Richard Rodgers Theatre (226 W. 46 St.). For performance schedule, current ticket availability (including resale), and the full cast please visit www.hamiltononbroadway.com Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 01, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOUSE RULES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STUPID FU**ING BIRD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RICHARD Yeah? And what do you do?

ERIK: Uh...I don’t move, I dunno...

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

ERIK: Thanks,/ I’ll try that...

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

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

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

THE HUMANS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE EFFECT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WOLF IN THE RIVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BABY JANE DEXTER “IT’S PERSONAL”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IRONBOUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DISASTER!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE WAY WEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IDEATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEPHEN PETRONIO COMPANY - BLOODLINES

The Stephen Petronio Company dancers are Davalois Fearon, Kyle Filley, Gino Grenek, Cori Kresge, Jaqlin Medlock, Tess Montoya, Nicholas Sciscione, Emily Stone, and Joshua Tuason. Lighting design is by Petronio’s longtime collaborator Ken Tabachnick. Production photo by Sarah Silver.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, March 09, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RED SPEEDO

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

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

“Red Speedo” will run through March 27, 2016 for a limited engagement at New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday – Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $49.00 and are available for purchase at http://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 03, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SMOKEFALL

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

“Smokefall” performs at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street in Manhattan’s West Village) on the following schedule: Tuesday – Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday – Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $49.00 - $99.00 and can be purchased at http://www.mcctheater.org/tickets.html or by calling 866-811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 01, 2016

“Straight” at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Through May 8, 2016)

Pictured: Thomas E. Sullivan and Jake Epstein in "Straight." Credit: Matthew Murphy.
“Straight” at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Through May 8, 2016)
By Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola
Directed by Andy Sandberg
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And anyway--it is an excellent time to be gay. I sorta like gay people better!” (Emily to Ben)

If Emily (Jenna Gavigan) has her bioinformatics grad student finger on the national pulse when it comes to discerning whether the LGBT community has reached mainstream status, then it is a mystery why her boyfriend Ben (Jake Epstein) of four years has such difficulty accepting that he is gay. Ben’s inability to “fess up” to self and others is further puzzling given his deepening intimate relationship with almost twenty-one-year old Boston College student Chris (Thomas E. Sullivan) who spends increasing amounts of time with Ben in his bachelor pad. That query is the heady stuff of Scott Elmegreen’s and Drew Fornarola’s new play “Straight” currently playing at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row in Manhattan.

In one conversation with Chris, Ben says, “OK...But, yeah, but it seems kinda like, in our culture or whatever, like the only way to be gay is to be all the way gay. You know what I mean? I just...I wish it could stay like this, we have our normal lives, and just do what we feel like, without being weighted down with all this pressure to be all one thing or the other.” It appears it is all right for others for be gay but Ben. He chides Chris with, “But when it’s your son, or your brother, or your dad, suddenly it’s “Are you sure?” and “Is there anything we can do?” because that’s real. It’s like the Pink Scare in America or something.”

Ben is aware that he lives in a culture where “being gay” is not a problem. Chris reminds him that they are living in the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. And Ben is aware of his sexual status – he knows he is gay. Ben’s problem apparently is that he refuses to be labeled. Chris suggests early in their relationship that Ben is self-loathing so perhaps that is the source of Ben’s fear of being stigmatized. The difficulty is that Ben’s character is not developed fully enough to understand why he cannot accept who he is. And that is a significant problem in character development.

Chris’s character is richly developed by playwright’s Elmegreen and Fornarola which leaves their apparent choice to give Ben and Emily such short shrift puzzling. The premise of “Straight” is an engaging one and dealing with labeling and its consequences is a worthwhile and important dramatic enterprise. However, one longs for deeper understandings of the characters that inhabit Charlie Corcoran’s splendid Boston upscale apartment. Even Grant Yeager’s carefully plotted lighting design sheds little light on why Ben was attracted to Emily whose only goal in life seems to be getting hitched before thirty. And Ben teeters so closely on the edge of emotional barrenness it becomes difficult to care what decision he makes.

Under Andy Sandberg’s steady and discerning direction, Jake Epstein and Jenna Gavigan do their best to bring believability to their characters – Ms. Gavigan having to work harder than Mr. Epstein given the shallowness of her anemic Emily – and summon their formidable collective craft to do so. But it is newcomer Thomas E. Sullivan who really excels in this new play. He delivers a compelling canvas that paints richly the contours of his character Chris and is to be congratulated on his fortuitous Off-Broadway debut. It is worth seeing “Straight” just to witness this young actor’s prodigious craft.

The ending of “Straight” left the audience literally a-gasp so it is not fair to disclose what Ben ultimately chooses. Will he split with Emily and continue to bond with Chris? Will he dump Chris and finally move in with Emily? Or are there other choices this 26-year-old might make to disengage himself from his millennial ennui? It is worth seeing “Straight” to discover whether Ben successfully grapples with his status and makes the “right” choice. It would appear the playwrights are still grappling with their important play and it will be interesting to see where their journey will take them during the substantial time it is scheduled to run Off-Broadway.

The enduring questions raised by “Straight” remain: Is there still a stigma attached to being gay? Would a Millennial male feel devalued if he admitted he was gay when others always assumed he was straight? Are some generations more tolerant than others? Is it important whether or not social stigmas persist in distinguishing individuals who differ from their cultural norms? How do individuals choose to label themselves and how do they react to the labeling of others, particularly their peers? There are other enduring questions in “Straight” and it is perhaps those that should be posted on Twitter. So far it seems very few (if any) have followed the explicit directions on the Playbill insert and labeled themselves with the tear-off “I Label Myself” tab and posted to #LivingALabel.”

The ensemble cast and creative team are to be congratulated on their work evidenced in this important new play.

STRAIGHT

The cast of “Straight” includes Jake Epstein as Ben, Jenna Gavigan as Emily, and Thomas E. Sullivan as Chris.

The production features scenic design by Charlie Corcoran, costume design by Michael McDonald, lighting design by Grant Yeager, sound design by Alex Hawthorn, and casting by Matthew Maisto, CSA. Baseline Theatrical will serve as general manager. “Straight” is produced by Straight Productions LLC, Caiola Productions, Harrison Chad, Oliver Roth, Extra Toasty Productions, and SunnySpot Productions. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

“Straight” runs at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street) on the following schedule: Monday and Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $79.50 and can be purchased at http://www.straighttheplay.com/ or by calling 800-239-6200. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, February 29, 2016

David Roberts Named Chief New York Theatre Critic for OnStage

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

David Roberts Named Chief New York Theatre Critic for OnStage

NEW HAVEN, CT, FEBRUARY 26th, 2016 - OnStage is thrilled to announce that New York based writer, David Roberts, will serve as their Chief New York Theatre Critic.

In addition to his backgrounds in literature, theology, and psychology, Mr. Roberts has been a theatre critic for 20 years. With his partner Joseph Verlezza, they created Theatre Reviews Limited (theatrereviews.com) which was originally launched in 1997 as one of the first online websites dedicated to reviewing Broadway, Off and Off-Off Broadway, Cabaret, and Theatre Festivals in New York City. Mr. Roberts has been a critic for OnStage for the past two years.

OnStage Founder and Editor-in-Chief Chris Peterson said, “Since the beginning of this site, no one has covered more New York theatre than David Roberts. He brings a unique writing style that has been a great benefit to our readers. When the opportunity arose for a position like this, Mr. Roberts was the perfect choice.”

In his new position, Mr. Roberts will continue to review both Broadway and Off –Broadway productions in addition to serving as OnStage’s representative for New York based critics circles and associations.

Founded in May 2014, OnStage began as a blog with one writer. Since then, it has become an international leader in theatre discussion and critique. Today it employs a staff of 37 writers who review and discuss theatre in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Texas and St. Louis as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. With a weekly readership reach of over 3 Million, OnStage is currently read in over 50 countries.

cpeterson@onstageblog.com
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 26, 2016

“Dead Dog Park” at 59E59 Theaters (Closed Sunday March 6, 2016)

L-R: Tom O'Keefe and Migs Govea in "Dead Dog Park" - Photos Ashley Garrett
“Dead Dog Park” at 59E59 Theaters (Closed Sunday March 6, 2016)
By Barry Malawer
Directed by Eric Tucker
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Guilt isn't always a rational thing, Clio realized. Guilt is a weight that will crush you whether you deserve it or not.” ¯ Maureen Johnson, “Girl at Sea”

Barry Malawer’s “Dead Dog Park” was first produced in 2012 at the The Philipstown Depot Theatre in Garrison, NY. He wrote the play – his third – after carrying around a newspaper article for ten years about a black teenager who accused a white police officer of pushing him out of a building. In an interview with the Bedford-Katonah “Patch” in February of the same year, Malawer said. "I was intrigued about the implications this would have for the police officer and his family, and the teenager and his family. The play's themes concern the nature of truth and fate and how those elements play against each other and not necessarily to anyone’s advantage.” The play, currently being revived at 59E59 Theaters, continues to address the same themes and additionally addresses the important question concerning the recent deaths of black individuals at the hands of police officers.

Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Jr., Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray were all unarmed and black and killed by police officers over the past year. And Trayvon Martin was shot in 2012 by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. These deaths have sparked a national discussion about racism in America and the alarming number of deaths of young men of color. How do these events impact the lives of the police officers and their families, and the victims and their families?

In “Dead Dog Park” (an actual park in Washington Heights), Police Officer Rob McDonald (played with quintessential amorality by Tom O’Keefe) is accused of pushing thirteen-year-old Tyler Chapin (Jude Tibeau) out of a four-story window. The play takes place in a variety of locations – all represented by a table and a few chairs – and centers around McDonald’s trial for causing serious injury to the teenager. Tyler’s mother Sharonne (played with an appropriate scrappy persona by Eboni Flowers) engages attorney John Jones (played with an ambivalent fearsomeness by Ryan Quinn) to represent Tyler in court and do whatever he can to assure justice is done for her son and McDonald “rots in jail for the rest of his life.” The officer is convicted, Sharonne receives a substantial financial settlement, McDonald’s wife Angela (played with the perfect combination of anger and regret by Susannah Millonzi) divorces him and his partner Officer Ricky Romero (played with cautious affection by Migs Govea) does what he can to support his former partner.

Members of the ensemble cast, under Eric Tucker’s innovative and appurtenant direction, play not only their major roles but also the roles of legal team members. There is no fourth wall here: Mr. Tucker includes the audience into the decision-making process and challenges the audience to grapple with the play’s themes concerning the nature of truth and fate, guilt and innocence, truth and falsehood, justice and corruption, and integrity and deceit. Playwright Malawer offers more questions than answers and engages the audience in the maelstrom of crime and punishment and its accoutrements.

“Dead Dog Park” serves to keep this important discussion going yet it also serves to remind us that nothing is really being done to address the root causes of institutionalized racism and how systemic change can occur. Mr. Malawer’s play raises a multitude of rich and enduring questions in addition to those already mentioned. Why are there abandoned buildings in our urban centers? What is crime? What types of crime require forceful intervention by police officers? What is the nature of truth and how does one discern whether someone is telling the truth? What is a fit parent and does parenting contribute to whether a child commits a crime? The play takes no sides in the discussion; rather, it scatters John McDermott’s impressive bare set with ideas, concepts, questions – all for the audience to consider.

These questions become focused in the stunning and surprise ending of “Dead Dog Park,” a surprise better left undisclosed here. Boz and the Bard and Bedlam have teamed up to present an important piece of theatre that involves the audience and engages the audience in the thrilling matrix of ideas and enduring questions that will somehow determine the quality of life in our collective future.

DEAD DOG PARK

“Dead Dog Park” is presented by Boz and the Bard Productions, Inc., Sola Lupa Productions, LLC., and Sharon Perl in association with Bedlam and is directed by Eric Tucker. The cast features Eboni Flowers; Migs Govea; Susannah Millonzi; Tom O’Keefe; Ryan Quinn; and Jude Tibeau. The creative team includes John McDermott (set design); Whitney Locher (costume design); Joyce Liao (lighting design); and Emily Lyon (assistant director). Tori Sheehan is production stage manager. Production photos are by Ashley Garrett.

The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 p.m.; Friday at 8:15 p.m.; Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279­4200 or go to http://www.59e59.org. Running time is approximately 70 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 26, 2016

“Buried Child” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday April 3, 2016)

L-R: Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Rich Sommer, Amy Madigan, Larry Pine in Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child,” directed by Scott Elliott, Off-Broadway at The New Group. Credit: Monique Carboni.
“Buried Child” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday April 3, 2016)
By Sam Shepard
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.” - Aldous Huxley, “Brave New World”

No one in Dodge’s (Ed Harris) family is interested in sloughing off the muck of their individual or collective pasts. In fact, Dodge, Halie (Amy Madigan), and their sons seem to prefer being stuck in the muck of a shared secret that has immobilized them since something went awry in the horse tank “out back” years ago. Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child,” enjoying a New Group revival at the Pershing Square Signature Center, is all about brooding over wrongdoing and wallowing in remorse and is a powerful reminder of just how difficult it is to repent, make amends, and addressing oneself to the task of behaving better next time.

There really is no “next time” for Dodge’s clan. Halie’s philandering with Father Dewis (Larry Pine) is a rehash of her last time’s lapse of judgement. Tilden (Paul Sparks), back at the homestead from New Mexico after getting into some trouble, is hell-bent on carrying things into the house from “out back,” the post-Fall east of Eden brimming with corn and carrots. Tilden’s son Vince (Nat Wolff) makes a disappointing stopover at his grandfather’s farm only to discover no one really knows who he is. Bradley (Rich Sommer) sans leg (“chopped his leg off with a chain saw”) and sans wit, wouldn’t know redemption if it slammed into him. Vince’s girlfriend Shelly, a real “pistol” in Dodge’s opinion, is only interested in the family secret. And Dodge knows he’s going to “die any second” unable to crawl out from under the disintegration of reality ever since that “dark” day at the horse tank.

Director Scott Elliott has wisely compressed the three acts of “Buried Child” into a seamless and undisturbed 110 minutes giving the unfolding of the Dodge clan’s secretive past and the pact they made to bury that past an irresistible intensity that assures whatever happened out back will not stay out back and when the inevitable happens at the play’s end, the audience will remember the play for a very long time after the curtain call. Despite uneven performances by the cast, Mr. Elliot’s staging is a successful reminder of the power of Shepard’s play and its important place in the canon of American plays.

The ensemble cast, except for Ed Harris’ compelling portrayal of Dodge, seems not yet in full connection to their characters but hopefully that familiarity will deepen and their performances will become more engaging and ring with more authenticity as time passes. It is not fully clear why this has not yet happened, so these observations are about the characters only and not the actors. Bradley’s sexually destructive energy fails to ignite in his encounter with Shelly coming off more as a fumbling dentist than a sexual pervert. Shelly and Halie fail to have the depth they need to counterpoint Dodge’s powerful presence and Halie fails to stand up to Dodge’s repartee. And Father Dewis’ cellophane man persona causes the audience to wonder what Halie could possibly have seen in him as a paramour in the making. It is compelling to note that Ansel, though never present, is as real as any character on stage.

On the other hand, Nat Wolff’s Vince and Paul Sparks’ Tilden manage to warm up to their characters though Vince’s monologue before Shelly’s departure needs to be stronger and more prophetic of what is to come thereafter. It is Ed Harris’ Dodge that carries “Buried Child from beginning to end. Watching him on stage is a sheer delight. He gives Dodge’s confession at the play’s conclusion a chilling and cathartic essence. “We couldn’t let a thing like that continue. We couldn’t allow that to grow up right in the middle of our lives. It made everything we’d accomplished look like it was nothin’. Everything was canceled out by this one mistake. This one weakness.”

Derek McLane’s scenic design is a remarkable ramshackle resemblance of the up the down staircase of the human psyche and, lighted by Peter Kaczorowski with a serene subtlety, supports Mr. Shephard’s script with a blessed integrity. Susan Hilferty’s costumes are stunningly perfect and Jeremy S. Bloom’s sound design cautiously intrudes at precisely the right moments.

This is more than the story of the decay of one Midwestern farm family caught in a matrix of lies. “Buried Child” is the haunting trope that addresses the decay of all that our nation-state claims to hold dear. The New Group has chosen to bring Sam Shepard’s play back at exactly the right time when America’s electorate begins to grapple with how to “make things better” beyond the political bickering that has prevented the nation from moving forward. Like “The Scarlet Letter,” “Buried Child” rehearses the consequences of adultery – not the simple adultery of Hester Prynne or Halie – but the unabashed adultery of individuals, corporations, and nation-states. Indeed “Buried Child” serves as the scarlet letter emblazoned on all who stubbornly remain unrepentant. Kudos to the New Group for bringing this iconic play back home.

BURIED CHILD

“Buried Child” is presented by The New Group in association with Lisa Matlin and is directed by Scott Elliott. This production features Taissa Farmiga, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Larry Pine, Rich Sommer, Paul Sparks and Nat Wolff. Scenic Design is by Derek McLane. Costume Design is by Susan Hilferty. Lighting Design is by Peter Kaczorowski. Sound Design is by Jeremy S. Bloom. Production Stage Manager is Valerie A. Peterson. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production photos are by Monique Carboni.

Tickets are $25 - $115 and may be arranged at http://www.thenewgroup.org, or through Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12:00-8:00 p.m. daily). More information at http://www.thenewgroup.org. Running time is 110 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 25, 2016

“Insignificance” at Langham Place (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)

Susannah Hoffman and Max Baker - Photo by Jenny Anderson
“Insignificance” at Langham Place (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)
By Terry Johnson
Directed by James Hillier
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” (W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming’)

In Terry Johnson’s “Insignificance,” currently running in Room 505 at “Langham Place” in New York City (the first staging as a site-specific play), four iconic individuals collide in a top-notch hotel in Manhattan in 1953. The Professor is preparing to speak at the Conference for World Peace. The Senator, discovering the Professor’s whereabouts, visits the Professor to subpoena him to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The Actress, who always wanted to meet the Professor, is being pursued by her fans and hides in the Professor’s room. Billy Wilder is filming a scene of the film “The Seven Year Itch” on Lexington Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Street in New York City and the Actress is tired of having “her dress blown up around her ears.” The Ballplayer just wants a stable relationship with his wife the Actress.

What is insignificant is that these four characters – played with sublime craft by Max Baker (The Professor), Michael Pemberton (The Senator), Susannah Hoffman (The Actress), and Anthony Comis (The Ballplayer) - are clearly meant to be, respectively, Albert Einstein, Joseph McCarthy, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe DiMaggio. Ultimately, each of these characters is an “Everyman” teetering on the brink of the unthinkable drowning of “the ceremony of innocence.” Under James Hillier’s impeccable direction, each actor captures the soul of their character with depth, authenticity, and honesty. Watching Susannah Hoffman portray Marilyn’s explanation of the Specific Theory of Relativity to its discoverer is spellbinding and not soon to be forgotten.

What is significant is that these characters are tropes for four of America’s most important sectors: the Sciences, the Arts, Politics, and Sports. These are the pursuits meant to “save” us and keep us safe. They are collectively humanity’s hope and source for the surcease of all things falling apart.

What is significant is that Mr. Johnson’s script is wonderfully complex and replete with layer upon layer of meaning. The Professor has seen Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and quotes Proctor, “Because it is my name,” in defense of his refusal to meet the Senator’s demands to testify. In 1953, Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible" ran on Broadway at the Martin Beck. It was written in response to Senator McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee's crusade against supposed communist sympathizers. Despite the obvious political criticisms contained within the play, most critics felt that "The Crucible" was "a self-contained play about a terrible period in American history."

What is most significant is that humanity – like the Professor – become aware that the terrible period in American history is far from over. The “rough beast its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.” Yeats knew. Einstein knew there was something worse to come but did not “want to imagine it.” Marilyn also knew but chose to remain positive and hopeful. Joseph McCarthy might have been the beast or the anti-beast and, either way, could have cared less about the future. Joe DiMaggio knew but just wanted to play baseball and try to please Marilyn. The enduring and rich question raised by Mr. Johnson’s play is, “Do we know, care to know, and do we have a plan to avoid another terrible period in our collective history driven by the fractured fractals of fame.

This is the UK theatre company Defibrillator’s first US production and one hopes not the last. See “Insignificance” as soon as possible. It has a short run that ends on Sunday March 20 and each performance is limited to a maximum of 40-50 patrons. Do not miss out on this rare opportunity to see important theatre performed in the most intimate of spaces where “actors and audiences alike breathe the same oxygen.”

INSIGNIFICANCE

“Insignificance” is presented by Defibrillator. The cast includes Max Baker, Anthony Comis, Susannah Hoffman, and Michael Pemberton. Amy Cook is the Production Designer. Production photos by Jenny Anderson.

For more information about “Insignificance” including performance schedule at Langham Place in New York city and how to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.insignificanceplay.com/. Running time is estimated at 1 hour 50 minutes with a 20-minute interval. There is a bar looking down on 5th Avenue where drinks will be available during the interval.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, February 24, 2016

“Dot” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)

Michael Rosen and Marjorie Johnson - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Dot” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)
By Colman Domingo
Directed by Susan Stroman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

If the cacophony on stage during the Vineyard Theatre’s “Dot” even remotely characterizes the “noise” inside Dotty’s head, it is easy to understand the severity of her Alzheimer’s disease and just how far it has progressed. Colman Domingo’s new play tackles the horrific details of one family's struggle to cope with the deterioration of their mother and how her mental decline counterpoints each member’s personal struggle with reality and its disintegration.

Dotty Shealy (Marjorie Johnson) lives in the Philadelphia home she shared with her husband and in which she raised her two daughters and her son. Her daughter Shelly (Sharon Washington) has assumed the burden of caring for Dotty and is completely overwhelmed with that undertaking. The play opens two days before Christmas as Shelly and Dotty chat with former neighbor and family friend Jackie (Finnerty Steeves) who has returned from New York to borrow some linens and share that she is pregnant and about to be a single mother. Shelly and Dotty also await the arrival of Shelly’s sister Averie (Libya V. Pugh) and her brother Donnie (Stephen Conrad Moore) and his husband Adam (Colin Hanlon).

Once everyone arrives, the bickering about what to do with Dotty begins as she seems to fade away before their eyes. She forgets Shelly went to buy the Christmas tree, what medications she is supposed to be taking, and what time it is. Moments of lucidity collide with long stretches of forgetfulness and her disease becomes ever more present. The first act of “Dot” is strong and successfully introduces each character, delineates their specific conflicts, and paves the way for discovering more about Dotty and her illness. Unfortunately, this expectation remains unsatisfied.

In the second act of Mr. Colman’s play, Dotty’s important story gets sidelined by the subplots Mr. Domingo decides to place center stage. Despite the family’s insistence on calling a meeting to discuss Dotty’s condition and care and “getting her what she needs,” the only conflicts explored are those of the family – nuclear and extended including Dotty’s caregiver Fidel. Each of these stories is interesting and engaging but none have anything to do with Dotty. And why Jackie is even in the story is baffling. The ensemble cast bravely moves through the script and does the best it can to honor the intentions of Mr. Colman’s script. Unfortunately, the script’s weakness overshadows the collective craft of the cast. Dotty’s dementia becomes lost in her extended family’s delirium.

There are puzzling choices made by the playwright and director Susan Stroman that unfortunately detract from the power the play should and could have. For example, although there is no indication in the first act that Dotty is fully aware of her diagnosis, in the second act the plot hatched with Fidel to shame her family into understanding her condition is played out in an unfortunate comedic fashion. Fidel describes the exercise as “the virtual dementia experience” he and Dotty found online. Adam suggests they should have gotten “the actual kit” and not assembled the parts themselves.

And the choice to focus on a myriad of family issues leaves Dotty’s decline a mere side issue. The play tries to be about her memories and her unreliable mind but it is more about marriage equality, unwanted pregnancy, immigration reform, and sibling rivalry. The second act regrettably is more fractured than Dotty’s mental faculties and leaves the audience wanting more about Dotty.

DOT

The cast of “Dot” includes Colin Hanlon, Marjorie Johnson, Stephen Conrad Moore, Libya V. Pugh, Michael Rosen, Finnerty Steeves, and Sharon Washington.

“Dot” features set design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Kara Harmon, lighting design by Ben Stanton, sound design by Tom Morse, and hair and makeup design by Dave Bova. Casting is by Henry Russell Bergstein, CSA. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

For tickets and more information, please call the box office at (212) 353-0303 or visit www.vineyardtheatre.org. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, February 23, 2016

“The Body of an American” at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)

Michael Cumpsty and Michael Crane - Photo by James Leynse
“The Body of an American” at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)
By Dan O’Brien
Directed by Jo Bonney
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Dan O’Brien’s “The Body of an American,” currently running at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre, is oddly reminiscent of Robert M. Pirsig’s 1974 novel “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values.” Discussions between the play’s characters – the main characters Dan (Michael Crane) and Paul (Michael Cumpsty) – and secondary characters (also played by Mr. Crane and Mr. Cumpsty) are tied together by the story of Paul’s past self as the photo journalist who photographed a Somali mob dragging Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland through the streets of Mogadishu on October 4, 1993.

Just like the protagonist in “Zen and the Art,” Paul is haunted by ghosts that seem to “ride” with him, particularly the ghost of Cleveland. And like the protagonist in Pirsig’s novel whose philosophical investigations “drove him insane,” Paul shares with Dan,” “I’ve sought psychiatric treatment/in subsequent years. And my psychiatrist/says it’s my superego. I believe/it was William David Cleveland speaking/to me.” Further, Paul shares, “Remember what Cleveland said to me: If you do this I will own you. I just have this feeling he’s thinking, You watched my desecration, now here comes yours.”

Under Jo Bonney’s careful direction, the actors deliver authentic and honest performances that engage the audience and connect with the audience on deep levels raising rich questions about “where war lives.” In a conversation with Dan, Paul affirms, “It lives in each of us, Camus said. In the loneliness and humiliation we all feel. If we can solve that conflict within ourselves then we’ll be able to rid the world of war. Maybe. So tell me, Dan: where does war live in you?” “The body of an American” asks that profound question of each and every audience member. Dan shares that his family is where war lives in him and in their lack of acceptance.

Paul Watson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph set off a life-long quest for peace, for stillness, for self-acceptance and it is on that level his character and the play engages the audience in a profoundly important conversation. Both actors in the play “portray” Paul and this interesting convention draws the audience into their experience and their journey toward forgiveness and reconciliation. What desecrations have we all watched? What desecrations do we fear we face in the present or in the future?

Richard Hoover’s set design, Lap Chi Chu’s lighting design, and Alex Basco Koch’s projection design all contribute successfully to the reflective mood of the play and draw the viewer into the matrix of cerebral and psychological constructs that make “The Body of an American” a play worth seeing.

THE BODY OF AN AMERICAN

“The Body of an American” features scenic design by Richard Hoover, costume design by Ilona Somogyi, lighting design by Lap Chi Chu, sound design by Darron L West, and projection design by Alex Basco Koch. Production photos by James Leynse.

“The Body of an American” plays a limited engagement through March 20, 2016 at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street, www.cherrylanetheatre.org) Performances are Tuesday - Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m.; Sun 3:00 p.m. There is an added 2:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, March 9, with no evening performance on that date. No performances on February 24, March 2, and March 17. Tickets are $70 and can be purchased online at PrimaryStages.org, by phone via OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or at the box office. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Michael Crane and Michael Cumpsty.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, February 23, 2016

“Angel Reapers” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)

“Angel Reapers” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 20, 2016)
By Martha Clarke and Alfred Uhry
Directed by Martha Clarke
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

No matter how diligently humankind attempts to “reap angels,” the presumed effects of “The Fall” not only carry forward into the present but subvert any attempt for a successful journey “on to perfection” (John Wesley). “Angel Reapers” – currently running at the Pershing Square Signature Center - is a theological and psychological tour de force that exposes the underbelly of humankind's search for meaning, stability, and salvation.
In Martha Clarke’s and Alfred Uhry’s “Angel Reapers” a cross section of the fallen find their way into the care of a “family unit” of The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing known as the Shakers at an undisclosed location in an undisclosed time. After splitting off from the Quakers, the Shakers developed a matrix of ecstatic behavior that both connected them to their Savior and protected them from the carnal desires of the world around them.

The welcomed revival of “Angel Reapers” on the stage of the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre is an important and engrossing study of the dynamics of the theological matrices of the Shakers and other faith systems, including those receiving a high profile in the current presidential election and those playing out on the international political stage (terrorist organizations supporting their gruesome activities with their faith). The play is a powerful trope for humanity’s struggle to “win” the battle between “good” and “evil.” Brother William Lee (Nicholas Bruder) explains to his sister Mother Ann Lee (Sally Murphy), “My soul is an angel. My body is a man. They are at war- man and angel.”

The outstanding ensemble cast of actors, dancers, and singers, under Martha Clarke’s inventive and assiduous direction, rehearse with chilling authenticity just how – in this repressive Shaker “family” - sublimation fails to keep at bay the repressed id and the fear and unresolved anger garnered from their lives before joining Shaker Eldress Mother Ann Lee. There is brief nudity in “Angel Reapers.” The only difficulty with the nudity here is that it is oddly and unacceptably heteronormative and sexist. In the scenes depicting human affection and intimacy, only one female actor is required to be nude and none of the men involved in these scenes is required to do so. This is unconscionable and needs to be addressed by the creative team.

When the actors portraying Sister Grace Darrow (Gabrielle Malone), former orphan Sister Mary Chase (Ingrid Kapteyn), French immigrant Sister Agnes Renard (Sophie Bortolussi), abused wife Sister Susannah Farrington (Lindsey Dietz-Marchant), former convict Sister Hannah Cogswell (Asli Bulbul) join the refrain “I fear your sweat/I curse your fingers/I hate your hot breath/I damn your manhood /And yet I feed your lust,” the audience understands just how infantilized, victimized, and indeed abused these women have become under Mother Ann Lee’s tutelage.

This is a “family” where unconditional love and forgiveness have been transplanted by shaming and shunning; where a miscarriage is seen as punishment for carnality, and where the love and affection between two men or two women is seen as sinful. A “family” where ritualized movements and dances mask the internal conflicts between superego, ego, and id. A “family” where deep-seated regret morphs into insurmountable guilt. The former farmer Brother David Darrow (Andrew Robinson) gave away his wife and his farm to God and now prays secretly, “And when I come to live with you in Paradise/Please dear lord/Give them back to me.” And a “family” where runaway slave Brother Moses (yon tande) experiences the cacophonous counterpoint of his memories of slavery with his new servitude to a different Master.

Will Brother William Lee and his sister Mother Ann Lee together be able to find the strength to “recapture heaven” when God’s only surcease is to admonish them to continue to “struggle?” If there are answers, they will be addressed in the remarkable and must see “Angel Reapers.” If there are answers indeed.

ANGEL REAPERS

The cast includes Sophie Bortolussi as Agnes Renard, Nicholas Bruder as William Lee, Asli Bulbul as Hannah Cogswell, Lindsey Dietz Marchant as Susannah Farrington, Ingrid Kapteyn as Mary Chase, Rico Lebron as Valentine Rathburn, Gabrielle Malone as Grace Darrow, Sally Murphy as Ann Lee, Matty Oaks as Jabez Stone, Andrew Robinson as David Darrow and yon tande as Moses.

The design team includes Marsha Ginsberg (Scenic Design), Donna Zakowska (Costume Design), Christopher Akerlind (Lighting Design), Samuel Crawford & Arthur Solari (Sound Design), and Arthur Solari (Music Direction). B. Bales Karlin is the Production Stage Manager. Casting by Telsey + Company, Tiffany Little Canfield, CSA. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

To purchase tickets for all Signature productions, call Ticket Services at 212-244-7529 (Tues. – Sun., 11am – 6pm) or visit http://www.signaturetheatre.org. Running time 70 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, February 22, 2016

“Tennessee Williams 1982” at Walkerspace (Closes Sunday March 13, 2016)

Kate Skinner In "The Remarkable Romming-House of Mme. Le Monde - Photo by Antonis Achilleos
“Tennessee Williams 1982” at Walkerspace (Closes Sunday March 13, 2016)
Directed by Cosmin Chivu
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The world is accident prone, no use attempting correction. After all, the loss of one fool makes room for another.” – Mme. Le Mode

In the 1980s, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC is dedicated and Americans are ready to put the Vietnam War behind them. Interest rates reach an all-time high and Americans cash in on high-yielding Certificates of Deposit. President Ronald Reagan unashamedly proclaims that “greed is good.” During the same decade, around 700,000 demonstrators gather in New York City's Central Park protesting the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the United States is the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic.

Amidst the prosperity of this memorable decade, the matrix of “fears and angers, suspicions and vanities, and [humankind’s] appetites, spiritual and carnal” (Tennessee Williams, from His Memoirs) crouch and Mr. Williams’ pair of plays presented currently stage at Walkerspace by The Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company are a theological and psychological tour de force that exposes the underbelly of humankind's search for meaning, stability, and salvation amidst the victimization, immobilization, and powerlessness.

The first of the pair, “A Recluse and His Guest,” has its first performance by the Playhouse Crea¬tures Theatre Company at the Walkerspace in New York City. The second, “The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde,” was first performed by the Beau Jest Moving Theater at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival on September 25, 2009. In “A Recluse and His Guest” a Woman named Nevrika (Kate Skinner) ingratiates herself into the reclusive life of Ott (Ford Austin) an individual who claims “to live under circumstances,” and declares to his imposing guest that “a man is safe in his house, not on the street.” Despite his discomfort, Ott ultimately allows the Woman to stay and even offers her money to “buy a good trapler” at the market which prompts her response, “No, no! Don’t give me money. Look, I took no money! Dear, Ott, you must never let a woman touch money. She’ll take advantage of your— too trustful— nature.”

In “The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde (Kate Skinner), Hall (Patrick Darwin Williams) serves as ringmaster of her torture chamber where the incapacitated Mint (Jade Ziane) is repeatedly raped by her Son (Declan Eells). During one of the Boy’s atrocities, Mint – knowing his fate – cries out, “Oh, no, no, no! Well, maybe, since you’ve come with—Lubricant is it?” The Boy replies, “Astringent.” In both of these challenging plays, Mr. Williams highlights the characters struggling against their positions as powerless, immobilized victims. Obviously this is not a struggle confined to the decade of the 1980s.

Much has been made to distinguish Tennessee Williams’ earlier works (“A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Glass Menagerie,” etc.) from those penned just before his death in 1982 including the pair in this production. However, to make this distinction is flawed and disregards many of Mr. Williams’ early works like “Desire and the Black Masseur” written in 1948 – works that are as grotesque and troublesome as this pair in “Tennessee Williams 1982.”

Under Cosmin Chivu’s serviceable but inconsistent direction, the ensemble cast of “Tennessee Williams 1982” tackles the pair of late and rare plays with a respectable zeal. The performances are unfortunately not as even as one would expect or desire. While most of the cast deliver authentic and honest performances, some appear not to be as connected to their characters and their engaging conflicts. In “A Recluse and his Guest,” the Recluse Ott (Ford Austin) appears unable to effectively spar with The Woman Nevrika (Kate Skinner). And in “The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde,” Hall (Patrick Darwin Williams) engages better with Mme. Le Monde (Kate Skinner) on the grainy monitors than he does when she is present on stage.

Justin West’s scenic design is appropriately remote and morose and John Eckert’s lighting design exacerbates the matrix of sadness, danger, and despair extant on the stage. Angela Wendt’s costumes are spot on and are indeed characters in and of themselves.

It is always good to see Tennessee Williams on the New York Stage and The Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company is to be commended for bringing this pair of rare plays by the iconic playwright who never fails to challenge audiences to examine reality from a different and often chilling point of view. And whether we attempt a correction after we see these two plays remains our choice and our legacy.

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS 1982

The ensemble cast of “Tennessee Williams 1982” includes Ford Austin, Declan Eells, Kate Skinner, Anne Wechsler and Jade Ziane. The creative team includes Justin West (set design), Brooke Van Hensbergen (Associate set design), Angela Wendt (costume design), and John Eckert (lighting design), who join Joseph W. Rodriguez (Producing Artistic Director, Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company), Thomas Keith (Creative Producer), Olivia D’Ambrosio (Managing Director, Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company), Dana Greenfield (Associate Director) and Scott Davis (Assistant Director). Production photos by Antonis Achilleos.

Performances of “Tennessee Williams 1982” run through March 13 at Walkerspace (46 Walker Street, Manhattan on the following schedule: February 24–28, March 2-6, 9-13 at 7:30 p.m.; February 27, March 5, 12 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets, priced at $40.00 for general admission and $50 for premium seats, can be purchased by visiting http://www.playhousecreatures.org or by calling 800.838.3006. The running time is 90 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, February 21, 2016

“Old Hats” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through April 3, 2016)

David Shiner and Bill Irwin - Credit Joan Marcus (2013)
“Old Hats” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through April 3, 2016)
Created and Performed by Bill Irwin and David Shiner
Music and Lyrics by and Featuring Shaina Taub
Directed by Tina Landau
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Here’s to the chaos/The heartache and strain/Three cheers for agony/A toast to the pain/Hats off to everything that leaves a scar/For reminding me who my friends are” (“The Reminder Song” by Shaina Taub)

“Old Hats,” the captivating theater piece created and performed by Bill Irwin and David Shiner, is back at the Signature Theater after a sold out successful run in 2013 and might possibly be even better this time around with the addition of musician, lyricist, and singer Shaina Taub. The two veterans give remarkable performances as they clown, mime, mimic, dance, and contort their supple bodies to communicate their silent stories. Their willowy frames, exaggerated facial expressions, and animated movements capture the souls of their characters. The routines run the gamut from endearingly classic, cleverly comedic, simply silly, or gambling on audience involvement. Regardless of the choice, at this performance all were successful as was proven by the sheer delight evidenced in the audience’s reaction.

The routines are interspersed with songs written and performed by Ms. Taub and her band with lyrics that may well serve as an overture to the master’s unspoken allegory. The music may at times concoct a vaudevillian flair but the message of the lyrics is responsive to current themes resulting in an upbeat, uplifting effect, which seizes the content of the piece that follows and causes an effortless flow. The songs produce an intelligent perspective that support the material and Ms. Taub’s entertaining delivery is a joy to hear and experience. Highlights are “Make A Mess,” “Die Happy,” “The Reminder Song,” “Let’s Dream,” and “Lighten Up” during which the clowns join Ms. Taub in singing “Don’t worry ‘bout the gloom and doom advancing/If we’re all going down, wouldn’t you rather go down dancing?”

Mr. Irwin and Mr. Shiner are nothing less than brilliant with impeccable timing and indomitable energy.
They have managed to incorporate modern day technology into the opening number as they are chased by a huge rolling boulder and we are thrown into the middle of a 3 D movie. “Mr. Business” deals with the interminable interaction between humans and their high tech devices until realizing what they are missing. “The Hobo” takes a classic turn, heartwarming in simplicity and stunning in execution. “The Encounter” deals with two grumpy men waiting for a train taking on the subject of growing old and demonstrates incredible physical prowess. “The Magic Act” is a hysterical rendition of an incompetent magician and his distinctive, outlandish assistant (wife). Mr. Irwin as the assistant soars, exhibiting an enormous comic flair and the ability to produce facial images that speak volumes, all while sauntering around the stage in high heeled pumps. He certainly does not steal the scene, as Mr. Shiner is equally competent as the washed up magician performing old tricks without much success.

This is one of those exemplary evenings of theatre with flawless performances by all. It is a tribute to genres often overlooked and taken for granted rather than explored and savored for the discipline they require. It is graced by two consummate artists who excel in their craft, love their work, respect their audience and appear much younger physically and mentally, than their experienced years. If you missed it the first time around, now is not the time to hesitate. Make some time to sit back and enjoy a remarkable entertaining evening of theater.

OLD HATS

The design team includes G.W. Mercier (Scenic and Costume Design), Scott Zielinski (Lighting Design), John Gromada (Sound Design), Wendall K. Harrington (Projection Design), Mike Dobson (Foley Design). David H. Lurie is the Production Stage Manager. Casting by Telsey + Company, William Cantler, CSA. Production photo by Joan Marcus (2013).

The production will play through April 3, 2016 with in The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues). The performance schedule is as follows: Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. There are Wednesday performances at 2:00 p.m. on February 27 and March 2 and 9.

Tickets start at $45. To purchase tickets for all Signature productions, call Ticket Services at 212-244-7529 (Tues. – Sun., 11am – 6pm) or visit www.SignatureTheatre.org. Signature Theatre has also just announced that, subject to availability, Student Rush tickets will be sold for $30 when the ground floor Box Office opens each day up until performance time. The tickets are only available in person. The number of tickets varies from performance to performance. Limit two tickets per person. Valid student ID must be presented at the time of purchase. Running time is 2 hours including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 18, 2016

“Broadway and the Bard” at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Sunday March 6, 2016)

“Broadway and the Bard” at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Sunday March 6, 2016)
Conceived by Len Cariou, Barry Kleinbort, and Mark Janas
Musical direction by Mark Janas
Directed by Barry Kleinbort
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is nothing better than listening to an actor deliver Shakespeare’s lines with unbridled passion and the natural “heartbeat” rhythms inherent in the Bard’s iambic pentameter. And that is precisely the way veteran actor Len Cariou delivers important scenes from “Twelfth Night,” Henry V,” Richard II,” “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” “Othello,” “Taming of the Shrew,” Much Ado About Nothing,” “Julius Caesar,” “King Lear,” “As You Like It,” and “The Tempest.” Mr. Cariou pairs Shakespeare with songs from Broadway composers that either resonate with Shakespeare’s texts or provide an interesting contrast with the thematic content of the lines from the plays.

Highlights of these pairings are Henry V’s soliloquy (“Henry V, Act III, Scene 1) with “Applause” (from “Applause,” Charles Strouse/Lee Adams); Richard II’s soliloquy (“Richard II,” Act III, Scene 2) with “If I Ruled the World” (from “Pickwick,” Cyril Ornadel/Leslie Bricusse); Benedick (“Much Ado About Nothing,” Act II, Scene 1) with “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and “How Long Has This Been Going On” (“Funny Face”), both songs by George and Ira Gershwin; and the fortuitous pairing of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 (“When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes”) with Leonard Bernstein’s “Middle C.”

Mr. Cariou and Mr. Janas are a successful team and have a genuinely good time working together. This authenticity and pure honesty translate to the audience in remarkable ways. This synergy is perhaps most evident in the stunning pairing of Jacque’s soliloquy from “As You Like It” (Act II, Scene 7 – All the world’s a stage) with “September Song” (Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson). The iconic stage actor and accompanist, in collaboration with director Barry Kleinbort, triumph in achieving Mr. Cariou’s idea of combining his two great loves – Shakespeare and the American Musical. The eighty-minute melding of superb soliloquy and memorable song could not be finer.

One wishes that the abovementioned pairing would have served as the fitting conclusion to the evening’s enchanting offerings. Instead, the team chooses to close with a more comedic pairing of Prospero’s soliloquy from “The Tempest” (Act IV, Scene 1) with Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from “Kiss Me Kate.” It might have been a “far, far better thing” (Dickens indeed!) to have placed that pairing earlier in the program. Fortunately, this does not detract from the overall effectiveness of the team’s clever convention.

“Broadway and the Bard” has a short run that is scheduled to close on March 6. It would be a good thing to secure tickets now.

BROADWAY AND THE BARD

The creative team for “Broadway and the Bard” is: Josh Iocavelli (sets), Matt Berman (lights and sound), and Karen Parlato (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

The performance schedule for “Broadway and the Bard” at the Lion Theatre (410 West 42nd Street) is: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 8:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $70.00 and available at Telecharge.com/ (212) 239-6200. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, February 16, 2016

“Cyrano de Bergerac” at The Theatre at St. Clement’s (Through Sunday February 28, 2016)

Bridget Saracino Gabriel Barre and Luke Darnell. Photo: Jon Kandel
“Cyrano de Bergerac” at The Theatre at St. Clement’s (Through Sunday February 28, 2016)
By Edmond Rostand, Adapted by Gabriel Barre, Rick Sordelet and Alexander Sovronsky
Directed by Gabriel Barre
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“This nose precedes me everywhere/A quarter of an hour in front, to say, ‘Beware/Don’t love Cyrano’ to even the ugliest/And now Cyrano has to love the best,/The brightest, bravest, wittiest, the most/Beautiful!”

Were he to live in the present, Cyrano de Bergerac would assume that women viewing his twenty-first century profile on Bumble or Tinder would immediate swipe left and leave him dateless. Despite his stellar profile, his proboscis would be unbecoming enough to ruin his chances for love. That low self-esteem plagued the fictionalized Cyrano in 17th Century France and believed his ugliness prevented his cousin Roxanne from falling in love with him choosing instead the handsome and young soldier Christian de Neuvillette.

The classic play’s themes raise important and enduring questions about fear, beauty, loyalty, friendship, love, and difference – what it means to be different and what it means to accept those perceived as being different. Resonance Ensemble’s production of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” currently running at The Theatre at St. Clement’s, is an adaptation of the play based on the translation by Anthony Burgess and it faithful to the text and to the spirit of the iconic work. It is easy to identify the characters and their conflicts and the plot driven by these engaging problems that are as contemporary as they are part of the fabric of 17th Century France.

The music and lyrics – despite their skilled execution – are superfluous and add nothing to the overall development of the action of the play. And the attempt to include audience members by having them read a few lines or trot across the stage is ineffective and seriously detracts from the production. The simple and economical set and props serve their purpose well with a somewhat 17th century theatrical flair. What diminishes this is the actors wandering about in order to change costumes, retrieve props or instruct would be flustered thespians who are seated on stage of their next assignment. This could possibly enhance the effect but the constant peripheral business only diminishes important scenes.

The performance at Hotel Burgundy, Roxanne’s confession of love for Christian at the poet’s cook shop, Roxanne’s kiss and marriage to Christian, the siege of Arras and death of Christian, the convent fifteen later where Roxanne learns the truth about Cyrano’s love and letters and where Cyrano dies after being ambushed by an enemy – all of these important components of Rostand’s enduring love story are extant in the Resonance production.

This is truly one of the greatest classic love stories that has proven the test of time. Unfortunately what is lacking in this particular production is the chemistry needed between the characters to communicate their feelings of insurmountable love. The infatuation, desire, longing, admiration and lust is just not believable; therefore, the relationships become unimportant which is the crux of the story. The actors are competent on their own but a bit selfish in their presence and need to be a bit more generous in order to create meaningful relationships. Less bravura and more humility might be a good antidote.

It is Edmond Rostand’s text and Gabriel Barre’s inventive and direction, although flawed, that serve the production best. Mr. Rostand understands the “language of love” and the actors understand that language, letting his prose roll gently off their tongues or spew fiercely through their lips when necessary. The problem occurs when actors fail to catch these words and savor them in order to give a heartfelt response.

CYRANO DE BERGERAC

The cast of “Cyrano de Bergerac” includes Rin Allen, Gabriel Barre, Luke Darnell, Joe Jung, Mark Peters, Bridget Saracino, Alexander Sovronsky, and Louis Tucci. The creative team includes Ashley Cusack (scenic design), Pamela Kupper (lighting design), and Peter Fogel (costume design). Production photos by John Kandel.

Performances of “Cyrano de Bergerac” run through February 28, 2016 at The Theatre at St. Clements (423 West 46th Street). The playing schedule is Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursday - Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., with added performances on Tuesday February 16 and February 23 at 7:00 p.m. For more information, please visit ResonanceEnsemble.org. Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with a 10-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, February 10, 2016

“The Woodsman” at New World Stages (Tickets on Sale Through Sunday May 29, 2016)

Photo by Emma Mead
“The Woodsman” at New World Stages (Tickets on Sale Through Sunday May 29, 2016)
By James Ortiz
Music Composed by Edward W. Hardy, Lyrics by Jen Loring
Directed by James Ortiz and Claire Karpen
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“What hope is there for an escape from evil?” (Nick Chopper)

“The Woodsman,” the new theater piece by James Ortiz, is inspired by the back story of the “Tin Man” before Dorothy arrives in Oz and is adapted from the beloved writings of L. Frank Baum. It is an inventive, magical journey empowered to be told with sparse dialogue, beautiful haunting music, ingeniously captivating puppets, and a remarkable cast that is able to embody and exude endless natural sounds and conjure up an array of heartfelt emotions. This current production affords this winning combination to unlock the powerful communication needed to encompass all senses and eventually capture your heart. It is pure, honest, human and a theatrical feast.

The tall lanky Mr. Ortiz is superb as Nick Chopper, with telling limbs that seem to touch the sky, poke a cloud and cause an emotional rainstorm. The sublime Eliza Martin Simpson inhabits the role of Nimmee, the witch’s slave, with grace, vulnerability and understanding. Both these actors are extremely generous, confident in every turn to release irrepressible energy to exhibit incredibly passionate commitment. Under the direction of James Ortiz and Claire Karpen the ensemble is brilliant as they each portray several characters, sing, and produce most of the sound effects. As they maneuver the remarkable puppets, they inescapably become their souls. They infuse their puppets with genuine, intentional movement. Their bodies twist and turn while their faces contort, grimace and relax to reveal all.

Amanda A. Lederer and Sophia Zukoski bring the Witch to a haunting reality as she does all she can to destroy the love between her slave Nimmee (Eliza Martin Simpson) and Nick Chopper. And Tinkers Will Gallacher and Axex J. Gould reconstruct Nick Chopper with tin parts that replace his missing limbs. Nick’s transformation to the Tin Man is spellbinding.

The music by Edward W. Hardy is complimentary and evokes all the necessary moods required to enhance each scene. It is delivered by a solo violin played with competent precision by Naomi Florin and accompanied by the accomplished vocals of the ensemble. Lyrics by Jen Loring are intelligent and integrate well into the storyline.

Perhaps the most revealing part of this production is the collaboration which seems to be the evident element for success. Everything depends on everything here and all components are equal. It is obviously Mr. Ortiz’s vision but it is the creative team and cast who make it visible and viable. They search and seize the meaning of love and loss. They empty their hearts simply to fill yours and give us hope that all who reside just East of Oz can live with the confidence that there is indeed a way to escape from all that is evil.

Do yourself a favor and luxuriate your senses in this impassioned production of “The Woodsman.”

THE WOODSMAN

Directed by James Ortiz and Claire Karpen and written by James Ortiz with music composed by Edward W. Hardy and lyrics by Jen Loring, “The Woodsman” ensemble features Benjamin Bass, Devin Dunne Cannon, Will Gallacher, Alex J. Gould, Amanda A. Lederer, Aaron McDaniel, Lauren Nordvig, James Oritz, Eliza Martin Simpson, Meghan St. Thomas, and Sophia Zukoski.

“The Woodsman” creative team includes James Ortiz (set and puppet design), Molly Seidel (costume design), Carol Uraneck (original costume design), Catherine Clark and Jamie Roderick (lighting design), Devin Dunne Cannon (associate director), Will Gallacher (movement coordinator), Aaron McDaniel (fight director) and Naomi Florin (music director & violinist). The Woodsman is produced by Robb Nanus, Rachel Sussman, Ryan Bogner and Adam Silberman and was originally produced and developed by Strangemen & Co. Press photos by Matthew Murphy and Emma Mead.

Tickets for “The Woodsman” range from $45.00 - $85.00 and can be purchased via www.Telecharge.com (212-239-6200) and at the New World Stages box office (340 West 50th Street). The performance schedule for “The Woodsman” is Monday at 8 p.m., (Tuesday dark), Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8pm, and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The running time is approximately 75 minutes without intermission. Recommended for children 8+.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, February 09, 2016

“Sense and Sensibility” at The Gym at Judson (Extended through April 10, 2016)

From Bedlam's "Sense and Sensibility." Photo by Ashley Garrett
“Sense and Sensibility” at The Gym at Judson (Extended through April 10, 2016)
By Jane Austen, Adapted for the Stage by Kate Hamill
Directed by Eric Tucker
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Quiet please. It’s Jane Austen. Sit still and pay attention so you don’t miss anything. She’s tough to understand sometimes.” None of these admonitions or warnings are relevant when watching Bedlam’s production of Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” adapted for the stage by Kate Hamill and currently playing at The Gym at Judson in Manhattan. Bedlam’s stage version of this iconic piece is without question one of the best pieces of theatre in Manhattan and assuredly one of the best stage adaptations of Austen’s classic tale.

Bedlam’s production is fresh, buoyant, engaging, and richly authentic. The story of Elinor Dashwood’s (Bedlam co-founder Andrus Nichols) and her sister Marianne Dashwood’s (Kate Hamill) turbulent love affairs with Edward Ferrars (Jason O’Connell) and John Willoughby (John Russell) is wonderfully accessible in this production and is given remarkable believability and relevance by Bedlam’s cast and creative team. Austen’s dense writing – replete with minute detail – could not be more clear here and could not give the audience more exuberant joy as Ms. Hamill’s adaptation untangles Austen’s web of intrigue and reveals how Elinor’s “sense” and Marianne’s “sensibility” eventually reward their efforts to understand and find love and their efforts to navigate their provincial male-dominated and wealth-bedeviled society.

Members of the talented ensemble cast portray several characters (John Russell, for example, plays both John Dashwood and John Willoughby) and the ever-present and seemingly omniscient gaggle of gossipy members of the Devonshire and London communities that serve as the play’s settings. Each delivers authentic and honest portrayals of their characters. For instance, Laura Baranik portrays the cold and selfish Fanny Dashwood with a robotic snap of the neck that chills even the faintest generous streak in her husband John. Andrus Nichols stands taller than her natural frame as Elinor Dashwood and Kate Hamill’s Marianne Dashwood knows no boundaries or limits to her emotional and spiritual dynamism.

Bedlam’s “Sense and Sensibility” is transformative theatre, groundbreaking theatre, immersive theatre, theatre not to be missed. Eric Tucker’s staging is sparse and inventive. Setting is provided by landscapes hanging on the walls of the Gym at Judson, a few trellises, a rolling door frame, some tables and chairs on wheels, and three hanging chandeliers. The actors either are pushed around or cleverly paddle their way around the stage. It is all brilliant and under Mr. Tucker’s inventive direction this staging allows the core of “Sense and Sensibility” to be revealed in its purest articulation.

Thanks to Bedlam’s willingness to explore new ways to preserve and present theatre, “Sense and Sensibility” need no longer only be understood in the context of its particular culture: this classic is now not only accessible to the present but relevant to this twenty-first century’s attempts to understand not only the vicissitudes of love but also its penchant for accumulating wealth and power. Edward Ferrar’s ability to extricate himself from his mother’s matrix of wealth, greed, and control serves as a dynamic trope for Marianne’s mantra: “You must be driven almost mad by PASSION, by RAGE, by love for the FRAIL BEAUTY OF LIFE ITSELF!”

Bravo Bedlam, Kate Hamill, and Eric Tucker for allowing your ensemble to wander close to us before curtain, prepare themselves in their “no walls” dressing room, and then breathe even closer, look into our eyes and share the pure joy of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.”

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

Bedlam’s production of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” features Laura Baranik, Jessica Frey, Kate Hamill, Edmund Lewis, Andrus Nichols, Jason O’Connell, John Russell, Samantha Steinmetz, Stephan Wolfert and Gabra Zackman, and has scenic design by John McDermott, lighting design by Les Dickert, costume design by Angela Huff and choreography by Alexandra Beller. Production photos by Ashley Garrett.

Tickets range from $69.00 to $89.00, and are available at http://www.bedlam.org and at Ovation Tix (866-811-4111). The playing schedule for “Sense and Sensibility” is as follows: Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00 p.m., and Sunday at 7:30pm. Please note there will be no performance Sunday, February 28 at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 1 at 7:00 p.m., Friday, March 4 at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, March 6 at 7:30pm. There will be added performances Monday, February 29 at 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday, March 23 at 7:00 p.m. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, February 08, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UTILITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WASHER/DRYER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WIDE AWAKE HEARTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I AND YOU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAURICE HINES TAPPIN THRU LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCHOOL OF ROCK – THE MUSICAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOTHERSTRUCK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMERICAN DANCE MACHINE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAID TIDINGS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ONCE UPON A MATTRESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 ACROSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE GREAT DIVORCE

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

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

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

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