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Off-Broadway Review: “The Seafarer” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)

Photo: Matthew Broderick, Michael Mellamphy, Andy Murray, Tim Ruddy, and Colin McPhillamy in “The Seafarer.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Seafarer” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)
By Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The latest offering of the Irish Repertory Theatre is the revival of “The Seafearer” by Conor McPherson, which opened on Broadway in 2007 and was nominated for a TONY award for best play that season. It follows the renowned style of the playwright, producing incredible natural dialogue, executed in somewhat ordinary life situations, with a collection of disreputable characters, and always providing a mysterious twist to maintain an interesting plot. In this case it is the story that revolves around the Faustian character “Sharky” who won a card game with the devil while in jail for murder, where the stakes were high: his soul or his freedom with the condition that if he won there could be a rematch at any time.

The festivities begin on Christmas Eve morning in the basement hangout of the Harkin brothers, Richard (a perfectly cantankerous Colin McPhillamy) and his younger brother James aka “Sharky” (a completely cogent Andy Murray), who has returned home to help his brother who is now blind as a result of a drunken brawl. Emerging from the decrepit, cluttered surroundings (impeccably designed by Charlie Corcoran) is good friend, neighbor and drinking buddy Ivan Curry (a hysterical and charming Michael Mellamphy), who cannot find his eyeglasses or his right mind amidst the dreck and the hangover from the drinking the night before. After spending the day trying to recover and get prepared for Christmas the next day, it is revealed that Richard has invited Tim Ruddy, (played with a comic Machiavellian flair by Nicky Giblin), an arch rival of his brother to stop by for a visit and a drink for the holiday. When he arrives, he brings with him an unexpected visitor, Mr. Lockhart (a sober and somber Matthew Broderick). This mysterious character that appears is soon disclosed as the devil who is here for the card game rematch that Sharky promised, to claim his soul. So, the plot continues with a card game ensuing surprising twists and turns that would only serve as a spoiler alert if mentioned.

Director Ciaran O’Reilly unravels the plot ever so slowly with precision enabling the actors to fully develop a character and allowing the audience to revel in the rich and often poetic dialogue for which playwright is well known. It is not until Mr. Lockhart arrives, that the pace should begin to accelerate given the evil and sinister reason he appears. It is always a pleasure to see Mr. Broderick take the stage, and it is admirable that he lends his star power to a successful off-Broadway company, but he has not taken full advantage of the menacing and malicious traits that usually accompany this persona. This diminishes the tension and the ability to realize the full potential of the suspenseful script.

Considering all creative factors, including the realistic, yet moody lighting design provided by Brian Nason, the talented cast can forge an enjoyable evening of theater that compliments the young, Irish playwright and gifted storyteller.

THE SEAFARER

The cast of “The Seafarer” includes Matthew Broderick as “Lockhart,” Colin McPhillamy as “Richard,” Michael Mellamphy as “Ivan,” Andy Murray “Sharky,” and Tim Ruddy as “Nicky.”

The production will feature set design by Charlie Corcoran, lighting design by Brian Nason, costume design by Martha Halley, sound design by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab, and original music by Ryan Rumery. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“The Seafarer” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the following performance schedule: Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets to “The Seafarer” range from $50-$70 and are available through Irish Rep’s box office at 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Matthew Broderick, Michael Mellamphy, Andy Murray, Tim Ruddy, and Colin McPhillamy in “The Seafarer.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 20, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Mlima’s Tale” at the Public’s Martinson Hall (Extended through Sunday June 3, 2018)

Photo: Sahr Ngaujah (foreground) in “Mlima’s Tale.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Mlima’s Tale” at the Public’s Martinson Hall (Extended through Sunday June 3, 2018)
By Lynn Nottage
Directed by Jo Bonney
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I'm Mlima of the Great Plains. Eldest of my clan. I was tracked for many days, taken by a poison arrow. Why are there so many of you?! Mumbi? Koko? Do you hear me?”

Mighty Mlima, “Kenya’s most famous elephant,” – the old, large elephant “with extraordinary tusks” – is murdered for those tusks by the Somali poachers Raman and Geedi. The story of that slaughter and how the magnificent tusks become part of the global illegal ivory trade is the subject of Lynn Nottage’s “Mlima’s Tale,” currently running in the Public’s Martinson Hall. This monstrous tale is relayed with exquisite detail and stirring magical realism from the killing of Mlima to the display of his intricately carved tusks in the new flat of nouveau riche Alice Ying in Bejing.

After Milima’s transformation to Tusks and Spiritul Presence, streaking his face and body with ivory paint and dust in a ritualized manner, he appears in every scene. Sahr Ngaujah’s personification of the elder pachyderm is a powerful presence as he emerges from the shadows, sits, looms over, and follows the characters that gather to determine the “fate of Mlima’s Tusks. They pass through the hands of poachers, a regional warden, a White Kenyan Director of Wildlife, a reporter, a Tanzanian businessman from Zanzibar, a ship’s captain, a customs officer, a carver, a Vietnamese trader, and a nouveau riche customer. Each of these characters – except perhaps Warden Wamwara Machau – exudes greed, deceit, dishonesty, and equivocation. Their entitlement and privilege are branded with the white marks of complicity (the marks of Cain?) Mlima places on them before he leaves the stage after each scene.

Sahr Ngaujah’s performance as Mlima and Mlima’s Tusks is spellbinding, spiritualistic, and primordially otherworldly. Mr. Ngaujah’s “elephant dances,” his contorted posturing of pain, anger, and judgement leaping from the stage directly into the hearts of the members of the audience is accompanied by the music (keyboard, percussion, and instrumental) and the haunting vocals of Justin Hicks. Throughout the play, Mr. Ngaujah and Mr. Hicks seems to breath in unison with hearts that appear to beat as one as Mlima. Mr. Ngaujah dominates the stage with an incomparable strength and persona. His Mlima is larger than life and transcends pain and death.

Adapting the form of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play “La Ronde,” Lynn Nottage retains one character from each of her scenes into the next. For example, from Scene II, the character of Geedi appears in Scene III with Githinji. Githinji then appears in Scene IV with Wamwara. This literary device repeats through Scene XV with Mlima (tusks) appearing alone in the first and last scenes. Ms. Nottage employs this device with great care infusing each scene with her unique perspective and carefully developed characters that reverberate with believable authenticity. These characters are easily distinguishable and have unique traits and personalities. A brilliant cast of Three Players – Kevin Mambo. Jojo Gonzalez, and Ito Aghayere – play all the characters. Each scene is “titled” with an appropriate African proverb like “The teeth are smiling, but is the heart?”

Under Jo Bonney’s fluid direction, the scenes move seamlessly from one to the other. A sliding panel (sometimes more than one) signals the scene changes allowing the action to proceed without full blackouts. Riccardo Hernandez’s set design is stark and sparse, lighted with perfection by Lap Chi Chu in overlapping pools of encroaching animus. The themes of Lynn Nottage’s transformative script transcend the confines of the illegal ivory trade: “Milma’s Tale” counterpoints every “tale” of greed, deceit, dishonesty, and equivocation extant in every transaction – economic or political – that threatens the spiritual core of the global community.

MLIMA’S TALE

The complete cast of “Mlima’s Tale” features Ito Aghayere (Player 3), Jojo Gonzalez (Player 2), Kevin Mambo (Player 1), and Sahr Ngaujah (Mlima).

“Mlima’s Tale” features scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez, costume design by Jennifer Moeller, lighting design by Lap Chi Chu, sound design by Darron L West, hair and makeup design by Cookie Jordan, music composition and direction by Justin Hicks, movement direction by Chris Walker and fight direction by Thomas Schall. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Mlima’s Tale” runs in The Public’s Martinson Hall through Sunday, June 3, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. (There is no 8:00 p.m. performance on Sunday, April 29.) Public Theater Partner, Supporter, Member and full price tickets, starting at $75.00, can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Running time is 80 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Sahr Ngaujah (foreground) in “Mlima’s Tale.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 20, 2018

Broadway Review: “Children of A Lesser God” at Studio 54 (Open Run)

Photo: Lauren Ridloff and Joshua Jackson in “Children of a Lesser God.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: “Children of A Lesser God” at Studio 54 (Open Run)
By Mark Medoff
Directed by Kenny Leon
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“For why is all around us here/As if some lesser god had made the world/But had not force to shape it as he would?” – Alfred Tennyson

The current Broadway revival of the groundbreaking play “Children of a Lesser God,” the first since it opened thirty-eight years ago to win the TONY award for best play, does not seem to have the emotional impact as the original. Playwright Mark Medoff has penned the love story of James Leeds, a speech therapist at a school for the deaf, and Sarah Norman, deaf since birth, who is not a student but works as a custodian at the school. The technique used to present the play is intriguing, since the actor portraying James speaks his dialogue and repeats Sarah’s words as she signs her responses, speaking for both characters. This is certainly an enormous task, and although an ingenious concept, it does lend itself to complications in relating emotional content and depth of character. Time has not been kind to Mr. Medoff’s script, which now seems histrionic, lending no insight into understanding the incapacitating relationship but rather just hoping for a dramatic solution to the problem. The result seems sanctimonious which sabotages the reality and tries to influence the emotional response of the audience without educating them. The play contains several means of communication which include verbal, physical expression, sign language and now the addition of super titles so hearing-impaired audience members can read vocal dialogue which is not signed.

Joshua Jackson gives a valid and notable performance as James, which masters the extensive dialogue, and is fine when executing his own words, but lacks the impassioned tone that should complement Sarah’s expressions when delivering her lines. If you watch her face as she signs and listen to his voice as he recapitulates, there is a disconnect, which tends to eradicate emotion and merely tell the story. Lauren Ridloff is a joy to watch as Sarah and gives an impressive Broadway debut, sculpting words with fluid movements that float in the air, accompanied by miens of anger, joy, passion and concern. Her entire being is a tool for communication. Both actors deftly execute their roles with integrity but lack a certain chemistry needed to elevate the relationship. The supporting roles are just that, although performed by a talented cast, seem to exist merely to fill the gaps that exist in the script. Kecia Lewis gives an honest and endearing nature to Mrs. Norman (Sarah’s mother) filled with empathy, strength and solicitude.

The stark, clean contemporary scenic design by Derek McLane seems less real and more atmospheric and is supported by the almost futuristic lighting by Mike Baldassari, perhaps purposely to escalate the premise that this all takes place in the mind of James. Neither aspect aids in humanizing the relationship and renders a sterile environment void of any imperfection. Director Kenny Leon has approached this production from too many angles that never seem to align to form a complete shape.

Mr. Medoff’s play will forever hold its place in theater history, but now in the twenty-first century there seems to be a surge in social equality and Tennyson’s words may now refer to all those who exercise their ability to hurt, hate, kill and murder as the product of a lesser god.


CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD

The cast of “Children of A Lesser God” features Julee Cerda, Treshelle Edmond, Anthony Edwards, Joshua Jackson, Kecia Lewis, John McGinty, and Lauren Ridloff.

The creative team for “Children of A Lesser God” features Derek McLane (set design), Dede Ayite (costume design), Mike Baldassari (lighting design), Jill BC Du Boff (sound design), Branford Marsalis (original music), and Alexandria Wailes (director of artistic sign language). Casting for the production is by Telsey + Company. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

Tickets for “Children of A Lesser God” can be purchased at www.telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or at the Studio 54 box office (254 West 54th Street). For more information about “Children of A Lesser God,” including performance times and cast biographies, visit childrenofalessergodbroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Lauren Ridloff and Joshua Jackson in “Children of a Lesser God.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 20, 2018