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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INDIA PALE ALE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TORCH SONG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAYS OF RAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLACK LIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIREFLIES

“Fireflies” stars Khris Davis and DeWanda Wise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIDNIGHT AT THE NEVER GET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






HITLER’S TASTERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KURT VONNEGUT’S MOTHER NIGHT

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

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

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

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

Regional Review: “Pamela’s First Musical” at Two River Theater (Through Sunday October 7, 2018)

Photo: Carolee Carmello and Sarah McKinley Austin. Credit: Yurik Lozano.
Regional Review: “Pamela’s First Musical” at Two River Theater (Through Sunday October 7, 2018)
Book by Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by David Zippel
Directed and Choreographed by Graciela Daniele
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The familiar phrase “Everything old is new again” is a perfect way to describe the current production at the delightful Two River Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey. It is an old-fashioned musical comedy featuring music by the legendary Cy Coleman with a book written by the brilliant playwrights, Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang, entitled “Pamela’s First Musical.” It is truly a tribute to the masters who pay homage to their profession and community by creating a show about musical theater. The story is based on the children’s book by Ms. Wasserstein with Mr. Durang joining the creative team at Two River to complete and polish the book for the musical. Graciela Daniele takes the helm as director and choreographer for this world premiere production and she was the original choice by Mr. Coleman and Ms. Wasserstein, who are now sadly missed but remain icons of the American Theater.

The story revolves around a precocious eleven-year-old with a vivid imagination and a dream of becoming an acknowledged member of the Broadway theater community. She has an Aunt Louise, who is a wealthy fashion designer in New York City, that swoops in on her motor scooter to rescue her from her dreadful Birthday breakfast and tales her to see her first big Broadway musical. They lunch at Sardi’s, meet the stars backstage and watches the show from the producer’s box as all the while her imagination runs wild. All’s well that ends well, as in all great musical comedy. It is great wholesome family entertainment.

The music is reminiscent of Mr. Coleman’s earlier work but somewhat less vibrant and interesting. Although displaying varied styles, it does not provide much energy for the cast. Lyrics by David Zippel provide sufficient exposition and move the lost plot along slowly. Both lyrics and music serve ballads more sufficiently than the upbeat or production numbers. Choreography by Ms. Danielle is quite pedestrian revolving mostly around simple time steps and routine jazz. Sets by David Gallo and Viveca Gardiner are colorful, splashy and take on a fantastical theme. The small eight-piece orchestra led by Gregory J. Dlugos is excellent giving the feel of a big musical.

The cast is competent, doing what they can but cannot transcend the mediocre book. There are times that stereotypical behavior diminishes characterization and is a deterrent to the sincerity of the story.
It appears that many elements are fighting between reality and fantasy resulting in contradictions that distract from the imaginative theme of the production. Just when you expect more, you are given less. Still it is a joy anytime you can see Broadway veterans Carolee Carmello, Howard McGillin, Michael Mulheren and David Garrison take the stage.

Two River Theater has brought a pleasant musical that possibly could have been kept a secret to the stage for audiences of all ages to enjoy. It is not perfect but is certainly worth a visit for an entertaining evening of regional theater.

PAMELA’S FIRST MUSICAL
The cast includes Sarah McKinley Austin, Wesley J. Barnes, Jeanine Bruen, Andréa Burns, Mary Callanan, Carolee Carmello, Nick Cearley, Erica Dorfler, Hillary Fisher, David Garrison, Jacobi Hall, Howard McGillin, Michael Mulheren, Elizabeth Ritacco, and Blake Zolfo.

The creative team includes music director Gregory J. Dlugos, orchestrator Charlie Rosen, scenic designers David Gallo and Viveca Gardiner, costume designer Gabriel Berry, lighting designer David Lander, and sound designer Drew Levy. The casting is by Tara Rubin Casting. The production stage manager is Lori M. Doyle and the assistant stage manager is James Steele.

Ticket prices range from $40.00 to $70,00, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $20.00 tickets are available for every performance; $20.00 tickets may be partial view. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $20.00 and include the best available seats at every performance. Tickets are available from www.tworivertheater.org or 732-345-1400.

Photo: Carolee Carmello and Sarah McKinley Austin. Credit: Yurik Lozano.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 5, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Primary Stages’ “Final Follies” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday, October 21, 2018)

Photo: Deborah Rush and Piter Marek in "The Rape of Bunny Stuntz. Credit: James Leynse.
Off-Broadway Review: Primary Stages’ “Final Follies” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday, October 21, 2018)
By A.R. Gurney
Directed by David Saint
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Given the long-term relationship that existed between A.R. Gurney and Primary Stages, it is befitting that the prolific playwright requested his agent to send his newest one act play “Final Follies” to the theater company for production in 2017. It turned out to be ominously and aptly titled since he passed soon after, leaving this to be the last play of his legacy in the American Theater. Mr. Gurney was heralded as one of the most astute chroniclers of WASP culture, both heralding and ridiculing their traditions, to achieve fresh revelations in the current socio-political atmosphere. The first production of Primary Stages 2018/2019 season is a tryptic of three one acts, the first being “Final Follies,” followed by “The Rape of Bunny Stuntz” which comprises the first act and “The Love Course” which stands alone in act two.

The first piece “Final Follies” deals with Nelson, a complete failure on the employment scene, a privileged male supported by his wealthy Grandfather who raised him but the good-looking brother in the family. His latest escapade is aspiring to become a porn star even though he professes to be shy. Although this short one act may address the sexual repression that may exist in this culture it does not explore what motivates the characters. When asked why he wants to act in adult films by the interviewer and former leading lady, who he falls in love with, he replies “money.”

The evening then moves on to “The Rape of Bunny Stuntz” an early work from 1965, which is a bit darker and deals with the hidden desires of the perfect suburban matron who is chairing a civic meeting which falls apart when she is confronted by an offstage, socially undesirable male who claims to know her intimately. She surrenders to her sexual desires, abandons her civic duties and realizes that the masquerade of her life was empty. This play was the first attempt of Mr. Gurney to create a role for the audience becoming a passive partner in the events and proceedings that take place. Neither of these pieces in the first act come close to the wit and satire audiences are accustomed too when viewing the playwrights well known works.

In act two “The Love Course” from 1969 is the most entertaining part of the evening, filled with exaggerated characters and unrealistic circumstances. It is a play about two colleagues teaching a class together which examines the aspect of “love” in some of the greatest plays and novels in literary history. The plot suggests that the subject matter of the course may invade the private lives of those who teach it. Going one step further is the possibility that the process of teaching may contain erotic elements. Although the outcome is quite predictable it is quite humorous to watch the proceedings.

The entire cast is more than competent under the careful direction of David Saint who moves the evening along at a steady pace. Mr. Saint does what he can with the new and antiquated scripts, as do the actors, but they all fall short of covering up the obvious flaws. Most of the work seems shallow, without substance, mostly because of weak character development. Perhaps a line spoken by Bunny Stuntz to the audience when she is trying to convene her meeting, may possibly sum up the evening one acts, “Now while we’re waiting – why are we here? Is it fair to ask that?” As it turns out the audience is only waiting for something to happen, but it never does.

FINAL FOLLIES

The cast of “Final Follies” features Betsy Aidem, Colin Hanlon, Mark Junek, Piter Marek, Greg Mullavey, Rachel Nicks, and Deborah Rush.

“Final Follies” features scenic design by James Youmans, costume design by David Murin, lighting design by Cory Pattak, sound design by Scott Killian, and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting.

Primary Stages’ “Final Follies” runs at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Sunday, October 21, 2018. For more information, including the performance schedule and ticket purchase, visit https://primarystages.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes, including one intermission.

Photo: Deborah Rush and Piter Marek in "The Rape of Bunny Stuntz. Credit: James Leynse.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 4, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “On Beckett” at Irish Repertory Theatre’s Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage (Through Sunday November 4, 2018)

Photo: Bill Irwin in “On Beckett.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “On Beckett” at Irish Repertory Theatre’s Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage (Through Sunday November 4, 2018)
Conceived and Performed by Bill Irwin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“On Beckett,” currently playing at Irish Repertory Theatre’s Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage, is part performance, part graduate school lecture (with perambulation), part predilections on whether Samuel Beckett’s writing is “natural clown territory,” and part perusal of the importance of culture and language – all presented with perfection and seemingly unbridled passion by Bill Irwin. During Mr. Irwin’s introduction, it becomes clear the audience is about to experience something out of the ordinary, and when Mr. Irwin completes “a final passage of Beckett, after which the lights will go out, and the evening will be done,” experience one of the most profound experiments to be conducted on an off-Broadway stage.

“On Beckett” incudes readings and performances from Beckett’s 1950 series of thirteen short prose pieces to which Beckett “gave that odd title “Texts for Nothing,” from an early Beckett novel “Watt,” and selections from one of Samuel Beckett’s two greatest plays “Waiting for Godot.” Vladimir and Estragon and Pozzo and Lucky emerge from the iconic play in ways that are refreshing and equally disturbing. Lucky’s “nonsense speech” has never been more provocative, more pain-filled, more relevant.

Beckett asks, “where does violence sit in the human equation” in the excerpt from “Watt.” The speaker rehearses “the whacks, the moans, the cracks, the groans, the welts, the squeaks, the belts, the shrieks, the pricks, the prayers, the kicks, the tears, the skelps, and the yelps” the speaker’s week proffers. These “ascending levels of violence” rattle from Bill Irwin’s soul during his reading of Beckett’s text. The same passion pervades Mr. Irwin’s performance of the excerpts from “Waiting for Godot” (with an appearance of Finn O’Sullivan as “Boy).

Mr. Irwin teases the text, teases the audience’s perception of “existence,” and challenges his own ability to extract himself from the power Samuel Beckett’s writing has had over him. He admits, “This language haunts me, it will not let me alone.” After ninety minutes with Bill Irwin and his “On Beckett,” the audience is reminded of the enormous skill of the actor and the haunting allure of Beckett’s “deep” writing.

“On Beckett” is about Bill Irwin’s process and the metacognition involved in that creative process as he shares the push-pull relationship he has with existentialism’s bard. This is a performance needed to be seen, to be ingested, to be struggled with. Samuel Beckett echoes and hauntingly precedes (philosophically) William Butler Yeats and T.S. Eliot. This reviewer could not escape “watching” the aging J. Alfred Prufrock, the “bottoms of his trousers rolled” lingering “till human voices wake us, and we drown.”

Or perhaps, as the speaker in “Texts for Nothing, Text #9 opines, “There’s a way out there, there’s a way out somewhere, the rest would come, the other words, sooner or later, and the power to get there, and the way to get there, and pass out, and see the beauties of the skies, and see the stars again.” Vladimir’s question remains: “Was I sleeping while the others suffered?” Was he? Were we? Are we?

ON BECKETT

The cast of “On Beckett” includes Bill Irwin and Finn O’Sullivan.

The creative team for “On Beckett” includes set designer Charlie Corcoran, costume consultant Martha Tally, lighting designer Michael Gottlieb, and sound designer M. Florian Staab. Christine Lemme serves as production stage manager.

“On Beckett” runs at Irish Rep Theatre’s Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage (132 West 22nd Street) through Sunday November 4, 2018. For further information, including performance schedule and ticket pricing, visit https://primarystages.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes, including an intermission.

Photo: Bill Irwin in “On Beckett.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 4, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” at MCC Theater’s Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Sunday October 7, 2018

Photo: Chaunté Wayans and Dana Delany in “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” at MCC Theater’s Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Sunday October 7, 2018)
By Jen Silverman
Directed by Mike Donahue
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

By agreeing to carefully examine the sex-role stereotypes attributed to women, five disparate women named ‘Betty’ cautiously approach self-acceptance and self-understanding in Jen Silverman’s “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” at MCC Theater’s Lucille Lortel Theatre. Their collective rage about their loneliness, their fears, their submission, and their dismissions by men is a welcomed examination of gender and sexual status in the attainment and celebration of equality. Although Jen Silverman’s new play adds little in content to the discussion, her method(s) of developing her themes is/are somewhat unique and engaging.

The five Betties know each other and call each other ‘Betty.’ The audience differentiates them by their individual character traits and by the numbers 1 through 5. Betty 1 (a vulnerable and needy Dana Delany) and Betty 2 (a lonely and self-deprecating Adina Verson) are Femme, rich, married (to Richard and Charles respectively), and lonely. Their husbands are “busy” and inattentive. Betty 3 (a bold yet unfulfilled Ana Villafañe) is Femme and Latinx and exploring her potential as a playwright after seeing her first Shakespeare play. Betty 4 (a transparent and effaced Lea Delaria) is a tattooed Butch Lesbian who loves to work on her truck and is “too often ignored.” And Betty 5 (an ebullient and charismatic Chaunté Wayans) is Genderqueer (masculine-of-center), tattooed, and owns her own boxing gym. Betty 5 likes to work on her truck with Betty 4 who has a huge crush on her.

On Dane Laffrey’s almost-bare stage, the 5 Betties collide in a variety of settings in the present in New York City: at dinner parties; the boxing gym; the garage; and alone. They share their loneliness, their rage, their misunderstandings about themselves and one another, and their desires for community and acceptance and love. The playwright uses the vagina as the trope for this exploration into identity and awareness. In the process, the Betties least likely to “connect” become lovers while the remaining Betties transcend their earlier misgivings about self to achieve new levels of recognition.

One wishes to know more about each Betty to feel for the conflicts they face and fully appreciate the plot these conflicts drive in the ninety minutes of frenzied activity on the stage. The importance of the play’s themes is incontrovertible; however, is Ms. Silverman’s approach to these ideas pretentious or prophetic? Do chairs and truck engines falling from the ceiling advance the dramatic progression? Do audience members need to crane their collective necks to read large text projections to understand what is “about to happen.” And if those projections are in fact necessary, has the playwright done her best to define the play’s characters and actions?

Humor tempered with caring is necessary to pull off something as zany as “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties.” Less humor and more opportunities to care about these Betties seems needed here for a more satisfying result.

COLLECTIVE RAGE: A PLAY IN 5 BETTIES

The cast of “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” features Dana Delany, Lea DeLaria, Adina Verson, Ana Villafañe, and Chaunté Wayans.

The creative team for “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” includes scenic design by Dane Laffrey, costume design by Dede Ayite, lighting design by Jen Schriever, sound design and original compositions by Palmer Hefferan, projection design by Caite Hevner, and casting by Telsey + Company/Adam Caldwell, CSA, William Cantler, CSA, Karyn Casl, CSA. Production Stage Manager Lori Ann Zepp and Stage Manager Veronica Lee.

“Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” runs at MCC Theater’s Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street through Sunday October 7, 2018. For tickets and more information, visit www.MCCTheater.org. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Chaunté Wayans and Dana Delany in “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, September 28, 2018

Broadway Review: “The Nap” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Currently On)

Photo: Ben Schnetzer and Johanna Day. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “The Nap” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Currently On)
By Richard Bean
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

One would think mounting a Broadway show about snooker would be perilous. Richard Bean’s “The Nap,” currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, unfortunately confirms that fear. Think “The Hustler” staged as a farce with poorly developed characters whose conflicts are not believable and drive a less than satisfying plot. Dylan Spokes (an energetic and engaging Ben Schnetzer) is a young Sheffield snooker player who has become a world player of the game. He finds himself the object of a “complicated” plot to recover the large amount money that a “foreign” syndicate lost betting on one of his games – a bet that resulted from a bizarre conversation between Dylan’s mother Stella (a dazed and disconnected Johanna Day) and Waxy Bush (a wooden and fearful Alexandra Billings) Stella’s transgender boss who is missing her left hand.

Joining Stella and Waxy are Mohammad Butt (a suspicious Bhavesh Patel) “Integrity Officer for the International Centre for Sport Security” and Eleanor Lavery (a transparent and wily Heather Lind) “of the National Crime Agency.” It would do disservice to “The Nap” to disclose the “shenanigans” Stella, Waxy, Mohammad, and Eleanor” involve themselves in to reach their goal of recovering the one-hundred-twenty thousand pounds lost in the ill-informed bet. It is enough to say that most of the story is predictable. The mistaken identities, the subterfuge, and the attempt at farce do not rescue the weak script. Nor does Daniel Sullivan’s direction. Unfortunately, the enterprise lies flat throughout the two hours.

The cast seems to do its best to enliven “The Nap” including Max Gordon Moore’s portrayal of Dylan’s whacky agent Tony DanLino. But without Ben Schnetzer’s commitment to his character Dylan Spokes and John Ellison Conlee’s supportive performance as Dylan’s father Bobby, the play would proceed without energy or nuance. Both actors understand their characters fully and deliver believable and energetic performances. To be fair to the rest of the cast, they had less to “dig into” in the weak characters they were given to portray.

David Rockwell’s scenic design is easy on the eye – it does not as Waxy declares about reading “go in one eye and out the other.” The British Legion Snooker Room, the Hotel Room at the St. George Hotel, Waxy’s Country Living Room, and The World Snooker Championship Final are given authentic detail by Mr. Rockwell. Justin Townsend’s lighting is appropriate as is Lindsay Jones’s original music and sound design.

As in any Shakespearean tragi-comedy, the protagonist is the victor in the end and gets reunited with “his love.” The journey to that celebration is long and bumpy. Some actors are difficult to understand, and the dialects wobble a bit more than they might. Some of the rough edges might resolve during the run but that seems unlikely given the script’s less than satisfying dramatic development.

THE NAP

The cast of “The Nap” features Alexandra Billings, John Ellison Conlee, Johanna Day, Ahmed Aly Elsayed, Ethan Hova, Heather Lind, Max Gordon Moore, Bhavesh Patel, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Ben Schnetzer.

“The Nap’s” creative team includes David Rockwell (scenic design), Kaye Voyce (costume design), Justin Townsend (lighting design), Lindsay Jones (sound design), Anne Ford-Coates (hair and make-up design), Ben Furey (dialect coach), and Thomas Schall (fight director).

“The Nap” currently runs at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street). Tickets are available at www.Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. For more information about “The Nap,” please visit http://thenapbroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Ben Schnetzer and Johanna Day. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, September 28, 2018

Broadway Review: “Bernhardt/Hamlet” at Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre (Through Sunday November 11, 2018)

Photo: Jason Butler Harner and Janet McTeer in “Bernhardt/Hamlet.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Bernhardt/Hamlet” at Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre (Through Sunday November 11, 2018)
By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Sarah Bernhardt (an intense and commanding Janet McTeer) struggles with her decision to play Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” not because of self-doubt or weakness, but because she is not sure William Shakespeare wrote the tragedy all that well or fully understood the play’s protagonist. During rehearsals for the play and for Bernhardt’s groundbreaking role as Hamlet, she argues with her cast about Hamlet’s age and demeanor and wonders why the ghost of Hamlet’s father “comes in armor? I’m his son. Why doesn’t he just talk to me?” In Theresa Rebeck’s “Bernhardt/Hamlet” currently running at Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre, Bernhardt is so convinced the Bard got it wrong that she urges the French dramatist – and her married paramour – Edmond Rostand (a passionate and somewhat languorous Jason Butler Harner) to adapt the tragedy to her specifications.

Ms. Rebeck’s compelling new play explores in depth Sarah Bernhardt’s struggles with playing “Hamlet” and her compassion for being a “thinking” actor who works her craft with “feeling.” Bernhardt takes no prisoners in this effort; rather, she draws upon her power to navigate her journey to authenticity and believability on the stage. When Rostand fails in his efforts to adapt “Hamlet” to her liking and spend his time on “Cyrano de Bergerac,” Bernhardt replaces him with Marcel Schwob and Eugene Morand whose translation (with Bernhardt as Hamlet) is staged in Paris in 1899. Not even “love” gets in the way of Sarah Bernhardt’s passion for the theatre.

That passion is exemplified in Bernhardt’s conversation with Constant Coquelin (Dylan Baker) during a rehearsal of “Hamlet” when he is delivering his lines as the ghost of Hamlet’s father. “Yes, I have it Constant I have the words it’s the sense of it that eludes. I cannot make it out! “Is it not monstrous that this player here but in a fiction, in a dream of passion could force his soul so to his own conceit” how is that monstrous. He is a player. It is what players do.” For Sarah Bernhardt, nothing stands in the way of the actor tackling a role with thoughtful feeling. Ms. Rebeck captures that passion with ethos, pathos, and logos. Her writing connects with the audience on significant and enduring levels.

Janet McTeer (Sarah Bernhardt), Dylan Baker (Constant Coquelin), and Jason Butler Harner (Edmond Rostand) deliver towering performances under Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s exacting direction. Together with the rest of the ensemble cast, they find the delicious layers in Theresa Rebeck’s script and expose them to the audience with conviction and grace. Brittany Bradford is an intense and gracious Lysette and Ito Aghayere is a jealous and commandeering Rosamond. Matthew Saldivar (Alphonse Mucha), Nick Westrate (Maurice), Tony Carlin (Louis), Aaron Costa Ganis (Raoul), and Triney Sandoval (Francois) round out the cast.

Beowulf Boritt’s massive revolving set allows the action of the play to easily open from the commanding stage to Bernhardt’s dressing room and other locations. Toni-Leslie James’s costumes are period-perfect and Bradley King’s lighting drapes the stage in luminous folds of splendor.

At the end of “Bernhardt/Hamlet,” the audience sees a clip from the 1900 film adaptation of “Hamlet” in which Sarah Bernhardt appears as Hamlet dueling Laertes. This is a fitting conclusion to an important dramatic exploration of the life and passion of Sarah Bernhardt and a celebration of women and power.

BERNHARDT/HAMLET

Bernhardt/Hamlet stars Janet McTeer as “Sarah Bernhardt,” Dylan Baker as “Constant Coquelin” and Jason Butler Harner as “Edmond Rostand.” The cast also includes Matthew Saldivar as “Alphonse Mucha,” Nick Westrate as “Maurice,” Tony Carlin as “Louis,” Ito Aghayere as “Rosamond,” Brittany Bradford as “Lysette,” Aaron Costa Ganis as “Raoul” and Triney Sandoval as “Francois.”

The creative team includes Beowulf Boritt (Set Design), Toni-Leslie James (Costume Design), Bradley King (Lighting Design) and Fitz Patton (Original Music and Sound Design).

“Bernhardt/Hamlet” runs at the American Airlines Theatre on Broadway (227 West 42nd Street) through November 11 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets at $49.00-$139.00 are available by calling 212-719-1300, or online at www.roundabouttheatre.org. Running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Jason Butler Harner and Janet McTeer in “Bernhardt/Hamlet.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “I Was Most Alive with You” at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage (Through Sunday October 14, 2018)

Photo: Russell Harvard (Knox) and Tad Cooley (Farhad) in “I Was Most Alive with You” at Playwrights Horizons. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “I Was Most Alive with You” at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage (Through Sunday October 14, 2018)
Written by Craig Lucas
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Present, past, and several possible futures collide with the biblical story of Job in Craig Lucas’s “I Was Most Alive with You” currently playing at Playwrights Horizons Mainstage. And within each time frame and tale exist a multitude of layers of complexity and contingency about the human condition, particularly its vulnerability and resilience in the face of elucidated and unexplained suffering. As in all attempts to parse why bad things happen to good people, there are no “answers” in the play – perhaps only richer and more enduring questions raised by the First Testament mythos of Job “one blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”

Job’s alter ego in “I Was Most Alive with You” is Knox (a vulnerable and self-deprecating Russell Harvard) the thirty-something adopted Deaf son of Ash (a deeply flawed yet sensitive Michael Gaston) and Pleasant (a damaged but highly resilient Lisa Emery). At the beginning of the play and in real time, Knox is at home alone for the first time since his car accident that left him missing a hand and unable to sign. Ash, having left Knox at home, arrives at his workroom to continue work on a teleplay with his partner Astrid (an energetic and omnipotent Marianna Bassham). After reviewing seven basic ideas sketched out at Ash’s place earlier, they decide on a narrative dealing with the Thanksgiving dinner that precipitated Knox’s leaving with his boyfriend Farhad (a conflicted and distressed Tad Cooley) and getting into the accident. This narrative, according to Astrid, will be a “two-pronged narrative, what one did and what one might have done, should’ve.”

As Astrid and Ash begin to explore their idea, the events of that Thanksgiving, all that led up to it, and the events that followed the accident begin to exist in flashback in precise counterpoint to the action in the present. This challenging convention includes a shadow cast that not only signs the dialogue but also “acts out” what is being “said.” All members of the shadow cast work on a level above the main playing area. This allows the hearing and the d/Deaf to explore the action in a variety of ways – including the occasional use of projections of dialogue. Director Tyne Rafaeli’s staging is brilliant. She moves the cast into and out of the present and past with clarity and a seamless majesty. Arnulfo Maldonado’s scenic design, Annie Wiegand’s lighting design, and Jane Shaw’s sound design further enhance the fluidness of the transitions from scene to scene.

It is in both the present and the past that the audience experiences the depth of despair in Knox’s life – the same depth of despair that eventually led Job to curses the day he was born. His addiction, loss of love, loss of family, and loss of limb catapult Knox and his family into a chaotic examination of relationship, faith, and future. Scenes of working on the teleplay collapse into the concomitant scenes from the past with the logos, ethos, and pathos needed to make both dimensions believable and cathartic. Knox learns that his grandmother Carla (an animated and thoughtful Lois Smith) is dying, that his mother summons the courage to leave his father who is in love with Astrid, and that Carla’s Jehovah’s Witnesses friend Mariama (a caring and distraught Gameela Wright) is more than someone to help with the ASL signing at Thanksgiving – she has been the one assisting Carla cope with her illness.

“I Was Most Alive with You” explores the complex ways we communicate with or without speaking and hearing. Whether our language is English or ASL, how we insinuate, describe, perceive, interpret, parse, and understand the world around us is rehearsed with authenticity and believability. The play also explores how humankind deals with tragedy and deep despair. In the final scene – back in the present – Astrid and Ash are finishing the teleplay with Knox making a decision that threatens to explode life as his family knows it. Has Knox decided to end his life? Will Farhad intervene? How will the real and the fictional end? Astrid asks an emotionally distraught Ash whether he can accept an ending that includes rescuing Knox or whether he can live with “whatever happens.” Perhaps that is the only question available to the bereft, the wounded, the distraught, the suffering. And if it is, can we accept that choice?

I WAS MOST ALIVE WITH YOU

The cast of “I Was Most Alive with You” features Marianna Bassham, Tad Cooley, Lisa Emery, Michael Gaston, Russell Harvard, Lois Smith, and Gameela Wright. The shadow cast includes Beth Applebaum, Harold Foxx, Seth Gore, Amelia Hensley, Christina Marie, Anthony Natale, and Alexandria Wailes.

The creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (scenic design), David C. Woolard (costume design), Annie Wiegand (lighting design), Jane Shaw (sound design), Alex Koch (projection design), Daniel Kluger (original music), and Brett Anders (Production Stage Manager).

“I Was Most Alive with You” runs at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street) through Sunday October 14th on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances take place Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets start at $59.00 and are available at https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/. Running tine is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Russell Harvard (Knox) and Tad Cooley (Farhad) in “I Was Most Alive with You” at Playwrights Horizons. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” at the Theatre at St. Clements (Through Sunday October 21, 2018)

Photo: Jean Lichty, Annette O’Toole, Kristine Nielsen, and Polly McKie in “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur.” Credit: Joan Marcus
Off-Broadway Review: “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” at the Theatre at St. Clements (Through Sunday October 21, 2018)
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish;/Come to the mercy-seat, fervently kneel;/Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;/Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” (Thomas Moore and Thomas Hastings/Samuel Webbe)

Sometimes the brokenhearted are aware on some non-conscious level of the impending inconsolable, melancholic, or woebegone event(s) about to befall them. They might find themselves not associating with friends, or cancelling social engagements, or like Dorothea (a delightful but desperately infatuated Jean Lichty) deciding not to answer the phone when expecting an important call from a new “suitor.” Near the end of her set of one-hundred “setting-up exercises,” Dorothea hears the phone ringing in the living room of the apartment she shares with Bodey (an ebullient and crestfallen Kristine Nielsen). Bodey is hard of hearing and claims not to have heard the phone ringing and proceeds to prepare the recently purchased fryers and deviled eggs for the lovely Sunday picnic at Creve Coeur Lake – just a short streetcar ride from the apartment.

Dorothea is upset and insists that Bodey put on her hearing aid and more intently listen for the call from Ralph Ellis the principal of the school where Dorothea teaches Civics. After a brief encounter in the back seat of Ralph’s car, Dorothea assumes her boss is “the one” she has been waiting for. During their “scuffle,” Helena (a brusque and overbearing Annette O’Toole), Dorothea’s co-worker at the school, arrives at the apartment to discuss “important business” with Dorothea. Also joining the trio is Bodey’s upstairs neighbor Miss Gluck (an irrepressible and indulgent Polly McKie) – the fourth member of the playwright’s intriguing lonely-hearts club.

Miss Gluck serves as the catalyst for the gradual unfolding of truth. As the other characters interact with her and collide with her, their hidden feelings and secrets are exposed as they project their loss and anger on her. This is a brilliant bit of writing by Tennessee Williams who seems to hover over the play somewhat like Tom Wingfield in “The Glass Menagerie” and reintroduce kaleidoscopic shards of the conflicts found in previous characters like Tom’s mother Amanda and sister Laura and Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Deception and dishonesty abound as the four women learn more about themselves and begin to understand the reality they need to face and accept the need to “move on.”

Although Dorothea insists to Bodey that “complexes and obsessions must not be cultivated,” she remains obsessed with the phone call from Ralph Ellis and the possibility they will soon wed. But all the women in “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” are cultivating complexes and obsessions and coming to terms with that cultivation is the enduring theme of Tennessee Williams’ play (here and elsewhere). Bodey is obsessed with hooking up her twin brother with Dorothea. Helena is selfishly obsessed with holding Dorothea to the promise she will room with Helena and assume half of the expenses. Dorothea is obsessed with the idea that the new apartment will be a place to entertain Ralph, and Miss Gluck is obsessed with the despair of loneliness and bereavement.

Austin Pendleton directs with a steady hand and keeps the action moving forward at a brisk pace on the stage of the Theatre at St. Clements. Harry Feiner’s set and lighting provide the “fiercely bright colors” of Bodey’s apartment that at the same time provide a refreshing palette for Bodey compared to her rather drab existence at International Shoe and challenges Helena’s naively ordered sense of her universe of the privileged and “elite.”

Perhaps a picnic on a lovely Sunday afternoon with skillet-fried plump chicken fryers and deviled eggs is the best remedy for a broken heart or for the disconsolate. At least the pain has temporarily subsided or has sufficiently numbed the distraught enough to “open” the heart to healing and the surcease of loneliness. Only time will tell for Dorothea as she heads out the door to meet Bodey and Buddy for perhaps her last chance for love. Tennessee Williams’ 1979 play “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” connects deeply with all (individuals, governments, nation-states) suffering the malaise of loss or lack of identity and the quest for independence that sometimes results in broken hearts. Perhaps there is a mercy-seat for all who languish with wounded hearts.

A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR

The cast of “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” includes Kristine Nielsen, Annette O’Toole, Jean Lichty, and Polly McKie.

The creative team includes Harry Feiner (Set and Lighting Designer), Beth Goldenberg (Costume Designer), Leah Loukas (Wig and Hair Design), Carrie Mossman (Prop Designer), Amy Stoller (Dialect Designer and Dramaturg), Ron Piretti (Fight Director), Stephanie Klapper (Casting Director), Gary Levinson (Production Manager), Marci Skolnik (Production Stage Manager), and Lisa Dozier King (General Manager).

“A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” runs at the Theatre at St. Clements (423 West 46th Street) on the following performance schedule: Wednesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $55.00 - $99.00 and can be purchased by visiting www.LaFemmeTheatreProductions.org or by calling (866) 811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jean Lichty, Annette O’Toole, Kristine Nielsen, and Polly McKie in “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur.” Credit: Joan Marcus
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, September 24, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: The Pond Theatre Company’s “The Naturalists” at Walkerspace (Through Sunday September 23, 2018)

Photo: John Keating, Sarah Street, Tim Ruddy in “The Naturalists.” Credit: Richard Termine.
Off-Broadway Review: The Pond Theatre Company’s “The Naturalists” at Walkerspace (Through Sunday September 23, 2018)
By Jaki McCarrick
Directed by Colleen Clinton and Lily Dorment
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Currently playing at Walkerspace, The Pond Theatre Company’s “The Naturalists” is a compelling look at how one’s “secret” past can suddenly and unexpectedly encroach on the present and delay one’s progress into the future. Brothers Francis Sloane (a thoughtful and tender John Keating) and Billy Sloane (a defiant and burdened Tim Ruddy) enjoy an uneventful present in their mobile home in a rural hamlet of County Monaghan, Ireland in 2010. Their lives might not be described as idyllic; however, they get along most of the time, and the income from their cattle farm seems to provide a comfortable albeit spartan existence.

Billy runs the farm while Francis teaches his students that the First Nation peoples “had it right . . . we are keepers of the earth.” They hope to save enough money to return to the family house which they had to abandon with their mother Martha years ago. Francis convinces Billy the pair need someone to help around the mobile home and he interviews Josie Larmer (a repentant and loyal Sarah Street) for the position and she agrees to fill it – even “stay over” if necessary. Playwright Jaki McCarrick unfolds this exposition with care, allowing the actors to portray their characters and their layered conflicts with rich authenticity.

Josie, Francis, and Billy have more than their share of “skeletons” in their collective closets: addiction, incest, imprisonment, bomb-making – among other things – clutter their past lives and the trio seems to have come to terms with most of that detritus successfully. Francis observes positive changes in Billy. “I know. But it’s all, I don’t know, comin’ to a head now or somethin’. Like he’s becomin’ a man at last and his old skin won’t fit him no more.” This forward movement for the “new family” is impeded after Billy opens a letter to Francis from his acquaintance from 1979 Narrow Water days John-Joe Doherty (a dastardly and pernicious Michael Mellamphy).

John-Joe is an “old ghost” from the past – the past Billy knows is “catching up” with him and Friancis and threatening the redemption they have welcomed since moving to the mobile home and welcoming Josie into their “family.” It is difficult to comment on John-Joe’s visit in Act II without issuing a spoiler alert. Jaki McCarrick has written a dense script with layers of rich and enduring questions about humankind’s ability to navigate the present when the past continues to attempt to negotiate itself back into that present. The shadows from the past are often insidious and even life-threatening. Under the direction of Colleen Clinton and Lily Dorment, the ensemble cast of “The Naturalists” work brilliantly together to explore these dynamic characters whose engaging conflicts could not be more relevant in the present.

Chika Shimizu’s set design, Caitlin Smith Rapoport’s lighting design along with Christopher Ross-Ewart’s sound design clearly define the various settings of “The Naturalists.” If directors Colleen Clinton and Lily Dorment could modify the convention of the scene changes, the action of the play would move more quickly without sacrificing any dramatic substance.

The trio – Francis, Billy, and Josie – are naturalists; in addition, they embrace the tenants of naturalism which affirm that it is natural laws that govern the structure and behavior of the universe. Perhaps Francis summarizes it best. “Morals is it? Morals are nothin’ but the customs of the people around ya and conforming to those customs. If we were all vegetarian it would be immoral to eat meat.” Amen.

THE NATURALISTS

The cast for “The Naturalists” includes John Keating as Francis Xavier Sloane, Tim Ruddy as Billy Sloane, Sarah Street as Josie Larmer, and Michael Mellamphy as John-Joe Doherty.

The creative team for “The Naturalists includes” Chika Shimizu (scenic design), Grier Coleman (costume design), Caitlin Smith Rapoport (lighting design), Christopher Ross-Ewart (sound design), Carrie Mossman (prop design), Garrett Markgraf (production stage manager), Josiah Parsons (production manager) and Madeleine Goldsmith (producer).

Performances of “The Naturalists” take place through Sunday September 23 at Walkerspace, located at 46 Walker Street in Manhattan. Tickets, priced at $45.00 general admission, can be purchased by visiting thepondtheatre.org or by calling 212-279-4200. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes plus one intermission.

Photo: John Keating, Sarah Street, Tim Ruddy in “The Naturalists.” Credit: Richard Termine.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 20, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Days to Come” at Mint Theater Company at Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre (Through Saturday October 6, 2018)

Photo: Chris Henry Coffey, Ted Deasy, and Roderick Hill in “Days to Come.” Credit: Mint Theater Company.
Off-Broadway Review: “Days to Come” at Mint Theater Company at Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre (Through Saturday October 6, 2018)
By Lillian Hellman
Directed by J. R. Sullivan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The moral turpitude of those who “consume” is in the spotlight in Lillian Hellman’s 1936 “Days to Come” currently running at Mint Theater Company at Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre. On the surface, Hellman’s second play focuses on the dispute between labor and management in the small town of Callom, Ohio where Andrew Rodman’s (willful but wimpish Larry Bull) family brush factory has been shuttered by a strike. Because Andrew has a close relationship with the workers, he would like to see the strike end; however, he cannot afford the increase in wages being demanded by those workers. His sister Cora (a whining and wistfully weak Mary Bacon) does not want the strike to end.

Beneath the surface of this unremarkable plot is the more dynamic storyline driven by Hellman’s complex characters and their authentic, relevant conflicts. Andrew is in financial trouble not because of the failure of his factory but because of his uncontrollable spending on his distant and disinterested wife Julie (a reserved and weak Janie Brookshire). The strike occurs not because his workers are asking for an unreasonable raise: the strike occurs because Andrew has lost his moral compass. Those around him (the “one-percent”) have also abandoned any values they once held. Betrayal, criminality, deceit, murder, gluttony, and prevarication abound, and these are the themes that resonate with the current socio-political environment.

The important themes of Lillian Hellman’s play and the rich, enduring questions it raises are unfortunately overshadowed by the production. Overall, the performances are weak, and the direction seems uneven. Hellman’s characters in “Days to Come” are meant to be well-rounded, strong, and authentic. Only Chris Henry Coffey and Kim Martin-Cotton bring those significant attributes to their characters Thomas Firth and Hannah (respectively).

Mr. Sullivan’s cast is fully capable of delivering engaging and believable performances. Why most of the characters become caricatures is puzzling and problematic. Hellman’s grit requires real characters: real thugs (Dan Daily, Geoffrey Allen Murphy and Evan Zes) not cartoon thugs; a truly lost and somewhat damaged wife (Janie Brookshire) not an indecisive and cloying spouse; a deceitful and despicable best friend and attorney (Ted Deasy) not just an arrogant sycophant; a truly decisive and forceful union representative (Roderick Hill) not a hesitant and somewhat fearful bureaucrat.

It is Hannah the cook and Lucy (a servile but enlightened Betsy Hogg) the maid who sacrifice their wages and “steal” food from the Rodman larder to support the striking workers and their hungry families. Strong women with deep convictions. Cora, on the other hand, will not sacrifice her breakfast in the living room where she has “had it for thirty years.” Sam Wilkie (Dan Daily) the strikebreaker is “like the English” and “eats big in the mornings.” Moral strength battles moral depravity in Lillian Hellman’s “Days to Come.”

That battle of the Titans gets lost in the Mint Theater production of her play and (despite Harry Feiner’s elegant set and Andrea Varga’s splendid period costumes) falls flat. The Mint’s mission to produce “worthwhile plays from the past that have been lost or forgotten” is one of the most important goals of our Off-Broadway theatre companies and must be supported and we await the upcoming production of this valuable company.

DAYS TO COME

The cast of “Days to Come” features Mary Bacon, Janie Brookshire, Larry Bull, Chris Henry Coffey, Dan Daily, Ted Deasy, Roderick Hill, Betsy Hogg, Kim Martin-Cotten, Geoffrey Allen Murphy, and Evan Zes.

The creative team for “Days to Come” includes sets by Harry Feiner, costumes by Andrea Varga, lights by Christian DeAngelis, and sound by Jane Shaw. Jeff Meyers serves as production stage manager.

Performances for “Days to Come” take place at Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street between 9th and Dyer Avenues) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For information about added performances, visit http://minttheater.org/. Tickets for “Days to Come” are $65.00 (including $2.25 theater restoration fee) and can be purchased online at www.TeleCharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200, or in person at the Theatre Row Box Office. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.

Photo: Chris Henry Coffey, Ted Deasy, and Roderick Hill in “Days to Come.” Credit: Mint Theater Company.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 26, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Smokey Joe’s Café” at Stage 42 (Tickets on Sale through January 9, 2019)

Photo: Dionne D. Figgins and Dwayne Cooper. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Smokey Joe’s Café” at Stage 42 (Tickets on Sale through January 9, 2019)
Co-conceived by Stephen Helper and Jack Vierte
Directed and Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Faded pictures in my scrapbook/Just thought I’d take one more look/And recall when we were all/In the neighborhood.” – “Neighborhood”

The revival of Grammy-Award-Winning “Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller,” having headed south from its recent engagement at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, has landed at Stage 42 in New York City to positive notices from the press – including this one! Forty iconic Leiber and Stoller hits in ninety minutes would be glorious enough, but hearing those songs delivered by a cast of nine extraordinary singers and dancers backed by a powerhouse eight-member band is an experienced not to be missed. “Smokey Joe’s Café” currently running at Stage 42 delivers more that might expect from any musical revue.

Under Joshua Bergasse’s direction, the cast (five men and four women) fills Beowulf Boritt’s towering Café set with solo numbers, duets, trios, quartets, quintets and full company numbers that transport the adoring audience back to a glorious past with themes that reverberate in the present and continue to be relevant in the future. The forty songs celebrate memories, falling in and out of love, perseverance in adversity, seduction, equality, and loyalty. Whether backed by the band or singing a capella, the performers deliver their songs with rich interpretive skills and pristine vocal qualities.

There are solos, duets, trios, quartets, quartets plus one, and roof-raising company numbers. The roof of
Stage 42 is rattled not only by the matchless vocals but also by the members of the band including a piano four-hand challenge. For some of the numbers, band members bring instruments onto the stage. Yuka Tadano plays her standing bass and Eric Brown plays a small set of drums center stage. Mr. Bergasse’s staging is innovative and engages the audience in the “neighborhood” experience of Smokey Joe’s Café.

Standout solos are Jelani Remy’s ebullient “Jailhouse Rock” and John Edwards’s hauntingly beautiful “I Who Have Nothing.” Both singers have expansive ranges and beautiful rich tones that dig deeply into their songs. With Dwayne Cooper and Kyle Taylor Parker, Jelani and John are the men’s quartet that owns the stage with slick classic Motown dance moves and other classic dance steps all choreographed by Joshua Bergasse. The harmonies created are tight and full of wonderful texture. Often other members of the cast join the quartet or create other combinations of voices and styles.

Standout numbers in the “Smokey Joe’s Café” song list are the tender “Dance with Me” (Dionne D. Figgins with All Men); “On Broadway” (Men’s Quartet); the seductive “Spanish Harlem” (Dionne and Jelani with Dwayne and Max Sangerman); “Fools Fall in Love” (Nicole Vanessa Ortiz with Emma Degerstedt and John); “Kansas City” (Nicole, Max, and Alysha Umphress); “Stand By Me” (John with Full Company); “Loving You” (sung a capella with Max and All Men); “There Goes My Baby” (Kyle with All Men); and “I’m A Women” (All Women with Kyle).

“Smokey Joe’s Café’s” current incarnation is a must-see show. The all-star cast and the Leiber & Stoller songs they perform will keep you singing and remembering long after leaving the theater. The opening number sung by the Full Company says it best: “Faded pictures in my scrapbook/Just thought I’d take one more look/And recall when we were all/In the neighborhood.”

SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ

The cast of “Smokey Joe’s Café” features Dwayne Cooper, Emma Degerstedt, John Edwards, Dionne D. Figgins, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, Kyle Taylor Parker, Jelani Remy, Max Sangerman, and Alysha Umphress. Standbys for the production are Shavey Brown, Antoinette Comer, Dan Domenech, and Bronwyn Tarboton.

“Smokey Joe’s Café” features scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Alejo Vietti, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, sound design by Peter Fitzgerald, wig design by Charles G. LaPointe, original vocal arrangements by Chapman Roberts, additional original vocal arrangements by Louis St. Louis and orchestrations by Sonny Paladino and Steve Margoshes. Music Supervision and new arrangements are also by Mr. Paladino. Casting is by Tara Rubin Casting. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Performances for ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller” run at Stage 42 (422 West 42nd Street). For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets ($49.00 - $109.00), please visit the show’s official website http://smokeyjoescafemusical.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Dionne D. Figgins and Dwayne Cooper. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Be More Chill” at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday September 30, 2018)

Photo: Will Rowland and George Salazar in “Be More Chill.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
Off-Broadway Review: “Be More Chill” at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday September 30, 2018)
Music and Lyrics by Joe Iconis
Book by Joe Tracz
Based on the Novel by Ned Vizzini
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are no LGBTQ+ characters in “Be More Chill” and the only mentions of the sexual status of this disparate community are negative. When Jeremy decides to sign up to be in the after-school play – a post-apocalyptic zombie infused retelling of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – in order to spend time with his crush Christine – he worries that “it’s a sign-up sheet for getting called gay.” Predictably, and sadly, as soon as Jeremy signs, Rich calls out “Gay! Hahaha!” Rich taunts Jeremy about being gay, suggesting that he and Michael are “boyfriends.” The fact that Michael has lesbian parents (“mothers”) does not offset the musical’s lack of strong LGBTQ+ characters.

The hype surrounding “Be More Chill,” including its extensive marketing campaign, and the musical itself cannot and should not be a substitute for the real work required to discover who one is and then grapple with how to achieve selfhood and self-acceptance in the midst of discrimination, bullying, and dehumanization. “Be More Chill” hopefully will not itself become the Squip that numbs the intensity of that process.

BE MORE CHILL

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

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

“Be More Chill” runs through Sunday September 23rd, 2018 at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street, NYC). Performances are 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. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $65.00 - $140.00 and are on sale at www.ticketcentral.com or by calling (212) 279-4200. For more information, visit www.BeMoreChillMusical.com. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Will Rowland and George Salazar in “Be More Chill.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 13, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The Field” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Closed Friday, August 10, 2018)

Off-Broadway Review: “The Field” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Closed Friday, August 10, 2018)
Written by Emily Emerson
Directed by Brook Davis
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

At the beginning of Emily Emerson’s “The Field,” recently finishing its run at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, the cornfields of Avon, Virginia are ready to be turned under by the hardworking farmers and the lives of hundreds of other hardworking women and men in the town have been “turned under” by the closure of the furniture plant where they have been employed for decades. All the plant’s production has been moved to Mexico. The folks of Avon need something like a miracle to pull them through this devastation.

The setting of “The Field” is a small diner run by Rita (a calloused but tender Cinny Strickland) and her young cook Enid (a wise beyond her years Emma Russell). Rita honors her deceased father by continuing to keep the diner in operation in good times and in bad. She is generous to a fault and diverts all the customers’ tips to Enid’s college fund. Enid makes the best hush puppies around using a secret ingredient to maintain her standing. The diner is Avon’s “town square” where all important matters are discussed, and relevant decisions made. After Mayor Bob Daniels (an officious and disconnected Douglas Paul Brown) announces the plant closure at Rita’s, local farmer Francis O’Donnell (a beleaguered but hopeful Brian Mullins) enters and announces that overnight a huge crop circle has appeared in his cornfield.

Into this mayhem comes George Sartori (a warm but suspicious Ben Baker) the reporter assigned by a regional newspaper to cover the furniture plant closure. Sartori is well-dressed, well-coiffed, and handsome as hell – the kind of drifter-grifter-diabolic intruder-stranger-alien-angel that often sweeps into small western towns and brings either “trouble” or “salvation.” Rita chooses “trouble” until Sartori pins her to one of the tables after hours and spends the night. So much for the possibility he is a messenger from God. While working, Sartori never loosens his tie, uses a small notebook for his research, and doesn’t seem to own a cell phone. Nor do any of the other residents of modern-day Avon.

Sartori initiates a “philosophical” discussion of the provenance and meaning of the crop circle. Has it been inscribed by aliens? Is it a miracle? Francis’s wife Beryl’s (a gentle and content Sarah Jenkins) overnight “recovery” from cancer would suggest a miracle; however, the reporter argues for a rational explanation and convinces the townspeople to try to “duplicate” the phenomenon in one of Bob’s fields in the same timeframe of the crop circle’s appearance in Francis’s field to rule out his theory. They fail, and Francis decides to test the miracle theory by plowing the crop circle under. To disclose what happens next would require a spoiler alert but it is as confusing as everything that has come before.

The playwright chooses to use a trope, here an extended metaphor, to grapple with the meaning of miracles and raise enduring questions about the phenomenon. There is a disconnect between the questions the playwright chooses to ask and the questions that are embedded in a rich discussion of miracles. Ms. Emerson engages her characters in a conversation about whether the crop circle might be the work of aliens, the work of humans, or a miracle. Not addressed directly are perhaps more difficult questions: Do miracles exist? What is the provenance of miracles? What is the longevity of a miracle? Can grantors of miracles reverse their supernatural occurrences? Does a miracle have to be embraced to be effective?

Ms. Emerson’s characters have rather poorly defined conflicts. Therefore, the plot driven by the conflicts wobbles without ever finding a satisfying dramatic arc. It is difficult to care about the characters or their problems and nothing is resolved at the play’s end. There is certainly no catharsis. Direction by Brook Davis cannot overcome the shortcomings of the script leaving the competent cast to struggle on their own to tell the convoluted story the best they can. Hopefully future incarnations of “The Field” will give Ms. Emerson’s intriguing concept a more satisfying treatment.

Unfortunately, “The Field” leaves the audience with only a recurrence of Beryl’s cancer and a befuddled Francis muttering, “What have I done?” But earlier, Sartori skips town after finishing his glowing account of Avon, heads to a new assignment, and now has Enid’s secret ingredient for her hush puppies – cold bacon grease. Might be worth following the grifter.

THE FIELD

The cast of “The Field” features Tim Austin, Ben Baker, Douglas Paul Brown, Sarah Jenkins, Brian Mullins, Emma Russell, and Cinny Strickland.

The creative team includes Matthew Emerson (scenic design), Claire Abernathy (costume design), and Liz Stewart (lighting design).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 13, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Bergen” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 13, 2018)

Photo: Members of the cast of “Bergen” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Emily Hewitt Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “Bergen” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 13, 2018)
Written by Steven Fechter
Directed by Kathy Gail MacGowan
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is a bleak, doleful new play entitled “Bergen” that is being presented as part of The Broadway Bound Festival at the 14th Street Y. More a play with songs than a musical, “Bergen” is set in the near future in Norway where a motley group of mediocre rock musicians try to decide what to name their band. They set midnight as the deadline and the only criterion is that the name chosen reflects the collapse of America. Playwright Steven Fechter falls short of the dark side of comedy when the ongoing joke, a plethora of cynical names, wears thin after several outbursts of suggestions as the night of debauchery evolves. The predictable plot is driven by situation and circumstance. The only possible irony to be found is that this bunch of losers want to name their band after the cause of a dystopian America.

There is a surfeit of depressing information spouted by each of the characters about their past which supports their mood and state of mind but little emotion to elicit the present pain and struggle. A lot is said but nothing happens. Enter a new female lead singer who drops in to audition or possibly save the day. It appears the best she can do is ignite the hormones of each band member that results in triggering sexual fantasies, which are as arbitrarily displayed as the songs which are randomly performed by each character. Neither move the plot forward. She obviously knows something the band doesn’t as she flees to the horrid debacle of America to save herself. Of course, before she left the gang came up with the name “American Disease” so the only thing left to do is hire the waitress in the café to be their new female lead singer.

The major problem with the structure of the play is there is no focus. It is difficult to understand what it is about. It is too broad a statement to say the entire world is in trouble for whatever reason. Questions are not answered, dreams are not fulfilled, and life continues to pass the characters by as they only choose to exist within their fantasies. There are too many inner conflicts that are never resolved but merely pile up on top of each other until they topple and are then swept away. The melancholy pulse of the production deflates the dramatic arc and consumes any hope of change or survival, merely encouraging the self-absorbed characters. This makes it difficult to like or care about any of them. Perhaps there is a message buried somewhere within the work, but it is lost in translation.

BERGEN

The cast of “Bergen” features Halle Charlton, Kent Coleman, Nicholas-Tyler Corbin, Andrea Lynn Green, and Joe Jung.

The creative team includes Janet Mervin (costume design) and Kia Rogers (lighting design). Monet Fleming serves as production stage manager.

All performances of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Bergen” is 85 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Members of the cast of “Bergen” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Emily Hewitt Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 13, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Saturday, August 11, 2018)

Photo: Nicholas-Tyler Corbin and Sarah Arikian-Coe in “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Alida Rose Delaney.
Off-Broadway Review: “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Saturday, August 11, 2018)
Written and Co-Directed by Eddie Zareh
Co-Directed by Carlton Cyrus Ward
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Currently running at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y, the new play entitled “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” by Eddie Zareh examines the early childhood of John Lennon. It addresses the complications and grief that arose from first being taken from his mother and put in the care of his Aunt Mimi by order of Social Services and then after a reconciliation, losing his mother when she is tragically hit and killed by a police car. The plot follows a linear structure which takes on a double meaning in this circumstance. First, it follows the events in chronological order starting at one point and ending at another. The problem which emerges during this period is the lack of character development that should result from the events at hand. Second, the tone can be said to flat line, stuck on one emotion which is a consistent stream of anger. There are little pockets when a different response or sentiment attempts to creep in, but it is quickly overshadowed. It is common knowledge that anger is only one stage of grieving and the plot does touch briefly on depression – but what happened to denial, bargaining, and acceptance.

There is too little information about the emotional development of John Lennon and the effect it had on his artistic endeavors and since he is such a prominent figure in musical history much of what is told has already been exposed in literature or documentary film. Those fans who are lucky enough to have visited Liverpool are afforded even more detail about his early years. Paul McCartney who is also still grieving over the loss of his mother, is introduced as a pivotal character when forming a bond with Lennon through their music. Co-Directors Carlton Cyrus Ward and playwright Eddie Zareh fail to explore the depth of any of the principal characters leaving them one dimensional. It merely results in a fact-based plot with little dramatic support to engage the audience and coerce them to have an emotional investment. The production clearly needs a fresh creative critical eye to move forward and suffers from the dilemma of playwrights directing their own work, not allowing it to flourish.

The cast is admirable doing what it can with the material but seems contained and prohibited from exploring. The issue of childhood grieving is an intriguing and deserving subject but perhaps better served with a less complicated celebrated personality. The iconic figure dominates the work always leaving the audience wanting more. In this case what would have deserved attention is the influence of grief on the ability to create. It certainly is informative and sheds light on an important subject but just lacks a certain punch.

LONG LOST JOHN: A LENNON FAMILY STORY

The cast of “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” features Sarah Arikian-Coe, Nicholas-Tyler Corbin, Alida Rose Delaney, Claire-Monique Martin, Patrick McCartney, Jake Haven Parisse, and Douglas Wann.

The creative team includes Kryssy Wright (set and lighting design), Tony Novarro (music director), and Liz Richards Krebs (stage manager).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Nicholas-Tyler Corbin and Sarah Arikian-Coe in “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Alida Rose Delaney.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Sunset Village” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Tuesday, August 7, 2018)

Photo: Members of the cast of “Sunset Village” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Emily Hewitt Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “Sunset Village” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Tuesday, August 7, 2018)
Written by Michael Presley Bobbitt
Directed by Tom Miller
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Sunset Village,” the new play by Michael Presley Bobbitt, is having its premiere as part of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y. The success of this show will certainly depend on whether it will be carefully marketed to find the correct venue along with the appropriate audience. The best and most noteworthy attribute of the play is the age of most characters, portraying seniors in a retirement community in central Florida. There certainly seems to be an ageism quandary in the present state of theater, with a lack of roles written for older actors.

The script is predictable with an extremely weak dramatic arc and falls victim to the common pitfalls of poor or nearly non- existent structure. Scenes are created to support the broad situation comedy and fall short on character evolution or plot development. The two protagonists Edna (Anna Marie Kirkpatrick), the meek newbie moving into the community, and Mr. Midnight (Shamrock McShane), the renowned sybarite, are exposed as professional retirees who are intelligent, well-traveled, in shape and active. The conjecture that the idle time of discerning seniors is consumed by sex, drugs, alcohol and Walmart pies may be slightly amusing but does not add any depth to a character and cannot support a ninety-minute production. A plausible depiction might also include a gym, volunteer work, museum visits and cultural performances, all of which can provoke irreverent humor. The identity of the structure also struggles with the possibility of becoming an ensemble piece featuring the coping mechanisms for survival, used by each member of the motley “gang” of women, but to accomplish this, there needs to be extensive character development. Too often the material prompts the actors to fall prey to stereotypical behavior.

The subject matter of the play is certainly fair game and ripe for development, but this incarnation only scratches the surface of what can and should be addressed about the quality of life, grief of loss, struggles of self- acceptance and loneliness which can all be addressed with clever and insightful comedy. Although Mr. Bobbitt has been prompted by personal events in his life that generated his concession to age and mortality, he must realize that the subject is not fresh and that previous products have been quite successful having raised the bar. When the same themes have been addressed by a brilliant sitcom “The Golden Girls,” this new play presently only results in a silver-plated version that does not shine. Hopefully the playwright will continue the journey alongside his saucy seniors and discover the wisdom of their years and the capacity of their hearts.

SUNSET VILLAGE

The cast of “Sunset Village” features Jan Cohen, Gay Hale, Ian Hales, Laura Beth Jackson, Anna Marie Kirkpatrick, Cindy Lasley, Shamrock McShane, and Kristin Mercer.

The creative team includes Bob Robbins (lighting design), Tom Miller (sound design), and Norma Berger (stage manager).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Sunset Village” is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Members of the cast of “Sunset Village” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Emily Hewitt Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)

Photo: Tara Giordano and Christopher Marshall in “The After-Dinner Joke.” Credit: Stan Barouh.
Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)
By Howard Barker and Caryl Churchill
Directed by Richard Romagnoli and Cheryl Faraone
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

PTP/NYC’s thirty-second season includes two plays by the company’s “usual suspects.” The double bill, currently running at Atlantic Stage 2, includes four of the ten short plays in Howard Barker’s 1987 “The Possibilities” and Caryl Churchill’s 1977 “The After-Dinner Joke.” Both offerings invite the audience to grapple with provocative content that often seems elusive and controversial and that raises numerous essential, enduring questions.

In November 2011, A. E. Dobson wrote in “Exeunt Magazine” that Howard Barker’ works “are organized around antinomies of reason: circumstances and actions whose meaning can be justifiably explained in a number of opposing (and often mutually exclusive) ways.” Antinomies of reason abound in the four short Barker plays. Under Co-Artistic Director Richard Romagnoli’s ingenious direction, seven actors portray the twelve characters found in “The Unforeseen Consequences of a Patriotic Act,” “Reasons for the Fall of Emperors,” “Only Some Can Take the Strain,” and “She Sees the Argument But.”

In the first, “The Unforeseen Consequences of a Patriotic Act,” a Woman (a determined yet naïve Eliza Renner) visits the exiled Judith (a stalwart and conniving Kathleen Wise) and her servant (a strident and steely Marianne Tatum) to convince Judith to return to Jerusalem and accept the accolades she deserves for saving Israel by offering herself to, and ultimately beheading Holofernes. In the second, “Reasons for the Fall of Emperors,” Alexander of Russia (an entitled and presumably contrite Jonathan Tindle) confides in the peasant who shines his boots (a convincing and powerfully focused Christopher Marshall) about his discomfort about the killing in battle but then orders his officer (a stiff and obedient Adam Milano) to have him brutally flogged. In both short plays, nothing is what it might seem to be on the surface, and no one can be fully trusted to be telling the whole truth. Kudos to an unflappable Madeleine Russell who portrays an unconventional woman in a society that come to mistrust the exposure of women’s ankles in “She Sees the Argument But.”

Co-Artistic Director and Producing Director Cheryl Faraone takes the directorial helm for Caryl Churchill’s “The After-Dinner Joke” and guides her talented cast through a successful sailing on the waves of the playwright’s “stew of twisted narrative chronology” that serves up magical realism and dining room farce in the guise of a narrative about charity and “wanting to do good.” Personal secretary Selby (an optimistic but gullible Tara Giordano) tells her boss Mr. Price (an effusive and double-talking Jonathan Tindle) that she wants to quit her job at Price’s Bedding and take money from the rich to give to the poor. After (unsuccessfully) seeking help from the Mayor (an affable and dystopic Christopher Marshall), Selby “a Candide-like do-gooder” travels the world trying to find the perfect location to fulfill her charitable mission. The large cast takes on multiple roles in this rollicking fantasy and successfully lets the audience in on Churchill’s “joke.”

Hallie Zieselman designs the sparse but functional sets for both plays. Annie Ulrich’s costumes, Joe Cabrera’s lighting, and Cormac Bluestone’s sound effectively support the staging of these two important plays.



THE POSSIBILITIES AND THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE

The casts for “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke” include Roxy Adviento, Madeline Ciocci, Tara Giordano, Christo Grabowski, Noah Liebmiller, Christopher Marshall, Adam Milano, Eliza Renner, Madeleine Russell, Marianne Tatum, Jonathan Tindle, and Kathleen Wise.

The production team for “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke” includes, Hallie Zieselman (Scenic Design), Joe Cabrera (Lighting Design), Annie Ulrich (Costume Design), Cormac Bluestone (Sound Design), and Devin Wein (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Stan Barouh.

Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7:00 p.m., Saturdays - Sundays at 2:00 p.m., and select Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues). The schedule varies - for exact days and times visit www.PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $37.50, $22.50 for students and seniors. Purchase online at www.PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For more info visit www.PTPNYC.org. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Tara Giordano and Christopher Marshall in “The After-Dinner Joke.” Credit: Stan Barouh.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 3, 2018

Broadway Review: “Straight White Men” at The Hayes Theater (Currently On)

Photo: Stephen Payne, Josh Charles, Armie Hammer, and Paul Schneider. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Straight White Men” at The Hayes Theater (Currently On)
By Young Jean Lee
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When entering The Hayes Theater to see “Straight White Men, the audience is bombarded by loud music – so loud, one cannot speak to one’s neighbor. Person in Charge 1 (more later) approaches to ask if the music is too loud. If one answers ‘yes,’ one gets a free set of earplugs. If one answers ‘no,’ one finds out later that they are “privileged.” The audience learns in a pre-curtain sharing that the loud music (now stopped) is meant to make the audience feel uncomfortable. The only discomfort is the ensuing ninety-minute new play by Young Jean Lee.

Matt (a self-effacing but balanced Paul Schneider) lives with his father somewhere in the Midwest. He cooks for Ed (a compassionate and empathic Stephen Payne), cleans, bakes apple pies, sets up the Christmas tree for the annual Christmas Eve/Christmas Day homecoming, and provides emotional support for his widower dad. From all accounts it seems a mutually beneficial and mostly a healthy accommodation to a change in Matt’s life. Into this innocent father-son reunion, burst Matt’s brothers. Matt is out of work, volunteering, accommodating, kind, bright, and attentive. His working brothers, one a divorced corporate success and one a teacher receiving a full-time salary for teaching one class have none of Matt’s characteristics. Their arrival precipitates one of the most annoying sitcom episodes that pretends to have deep cultural meaning.

During one of many sitcom scenes, crowded on the sofa in matching plaid pajamas provided by Ed, the father-sons quartet share Chinese takeout while trash talking, texting, and drudging up childhood memories that are more juvenile in the present that they were in the past. During the conversation, Ed – who likes puffins – announces he is going on a cruise to Nova Scotia. This sparks a new round of puerile trash talk about Ed’s “puffin paraphernalia,” “General Tso’s Puffin,” “Puffin Fried Rice,” “Puffin Pot Sticker,” and “Moo Shu Puffin.” Much of this is directed toward Matt who, in exasperation, begins to cry.

This critical moment drives the remainder of Young Jean Lee’s play. Matt’s brothers Jake (an alarmingly juvenile Josh Charles) and Drew (an equally alarmingly juvenile but empathetic Armie Hammer) are convinced Matt needs psychotherapy, needs to move out of their father’s house, and use the Harvard education and talents he possesses to “better the world” as their mother would want him to. Jake lashes out at Matt calling him a loser. Generally, mayhem, insults, and silliness prevail throughout the rest of the play. Finally, after embarrassing and belittling Matt ad nauseam, Ed is forced to “man up,” grabs the reigns of tough love and evicts Matt. So much for straight, white men?

Are these entitled, judgmental, young, straight, white, successful men and their father supposed to be the epitome of Every-White-Straight-Man? Is their elitist behavior supposed to “shock” the audience? Is Young Jean Lee somehow trying to throw them and all straight white man a life raft in the turbulent sea of white privilege? Or is the playwright trying to use comedy as a way of exposing the deficiencies of being straight, and white, and male? Is the play an expose of the shortcomings and toxicity of the straight cisgender male? It is almost impossible to tell in this ninety-minute visit to the “museum tryptic” entitled “Straight White Men” the playwright has foisted upon the audience.

This critic relearned more about the role of straight white men in the history of humankind from the Persons in Charge (1 and 2) than from Young Jean Lee’s exhausting script. We learn from Person in Charge 2 Ty Defoe that he is “from the Oneida and the Ojibwe nations. My gender identity is Niizhi Manitouwug, which means “transcending gender” in the Ojibwe language.” We also learn from Ty that “This theater we’re all sitting in together is built on the land of my people.” And with just the hint of sarcasm he adds, “So Welcome.” A powerful summary of all that Ed and Drew failed to learn from their Mom’s version of Monopoly called ‘Privilege’ and what the audience fails to learn from sitting through “Straight White Men.”

STRAIGHT WHITE MEN

“Straight White Men” stars Kate Bornstein, Josh Charles, Ty Defoe, Armie Hammer, Stephen Payne and Paul Schneider.

“Straight White Men” features scenic design by Todd Rosenthal, costume design by Suttirat Larlarb, lighting design by Donald Holder, sound design by M.L. Dogg, choreography by Faye Driscoll and casting by Telsey + Company.

“Straight White Men” runs at The Hayes Theater (240 W 44th Street) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets ($69.00 - $149.00) can be purchased by visiting the theater’s box office or visiting https://2st.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Stephen Payne, Josh Charles, Armie Hammer, and Paul Schneider. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The House That Will Not Stand” Celebrates Freedom’s Prodigality at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday August 12, 2018)

Photo: Harriett D. Foy, Lynda Gravátt, and Michelle Wilson in “The House That Will Not Stand.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “The House That Will Not Stand” Celebrates Freedom’s Prodigality at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday August 12, 2018)
By Marcus Gardley
Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Beartrice Albans (a resolute and Machiavellian Lynda Gravátt) spent her life under the oppressive laws that governed people of color in the colony of Louisiana. Specifically, she was Lazare’s placée a status that allows her as a woman of color to set up common law households with a white man to circumvent legal prohibitions. Beartrice’s mother signed the papers that placed the young woman into this form of indentured servitude. Lazare, of course, was married to a white woman although he and Beartrice had three daughters together. In “The House That Will Not Stand” at New York Theatre Workshop, Marcus Gardley examines what happens to Beartrice and her daughters when Lazare dies (mysteriously) and new American laws – post Louisiana Purchase in 1813 – threaten to leave them homeless and living in poverty. Is there any chance of survival for the house Beartrice “built” during her time with Lazare?

Under the new American laws, Beartrice’s house goes to Lazare’s wife after his death, not to Beartrice. “I spent most of my life trying to break the yoke I got ‘round my neck when my mother sold me to be a placée. I thought I was selling my body for love or at least for wealth but the only thing it afforded me in the end was this house.” Beartrice does not plan to give up her home in Creole Faubourg Tremé, Louisiana easily. Nor will she “see her daughters become placées and thusly the property of white men.” There are a variety of new plays on and off Broadway that parse the kinetics of white privilege and systemic racism in a fictional setting. “The House That Will Not Stand” analyzes the same themes in an historical setting from the point of view of those experiencing the oppression.

Since its original presentation by the New York Stage and Film Company and the Powerhouse Theatre at Vassar in 2012, Marcus Gardley’s important play has been performed across the country and around the world. Its presentation at NYTW could not be timelier or more significant. The struggles of these strong Creole women – forerunners of Civil Rights in America – resonate with the struggles of all marginalized persons who feel they are either far from accessing true freedom and equality or one step away from losing the freedom and equality they and their forebears fought for.

The divisions within Beartrice’s house are powerful tropes for the divisions that existed in the early 1800s in America and continue to exist in the present. Director Blain-Cruz uses these intriguing divisions to move the action of the play forward with the alacrity requisite to the story line. Lynda Gravátt’s gripping performance as Beartrice is the centerpiece of “The House That Will Not Stand.” Ms. Gravátt portrays Beartrice as a conflicted mother who attempts to juggle her own need to stay in power with the needs of her daughters Odette (Joniece Abbott-Pratt), Maude Lynn (Juliana Canfield), and Agnès (Nedra McClyde). Beartrice’s commitment to protect them despite the machinations of her sworn enemy La Veuve (Marie Thomas) and her clairvoyant sister Marie Josephine (Michelle Wilson) is unimaginably fierce. Lynda Gravátt’s multi-layered Beartrice will do anything, including giving herself to Lazare’s wife to keep her house standing.

Under Lileana Blain-Cruz’s deft direction, the seven-member all-female cast grabs the stage right at the beginning of the first act and never relaxes its tight grip on the plot driven by the conflicts of their individual characters. These are performances the audience will not easily forget – they sear deeply into the psyche with logos, ethos, pathos and humor as they explore the dynamics of systemic racism and sexism and freedom. Lileana Blain-Cruz creates stunning “pictures” throughout the performance that transcend traditional boundaries of space and time. These “pictures” include the compelling scene during which Beartrice’s slave Makeda (Harriet D. Foy) casts a spell on the deceased Lazare and allows him to overtake her body to learn the truth of his death. Ms. Foy’s performance is as brilliant as it is unsettling. Beartrice’s daughters and her sister have different ideas of how to escape bondage and these scenes are equally compelling.

Adam Rigg’s scenic design is magnificent and captures the splendor and period of the Creole cottage in Louisiana. Montana Levi Blanco’s costumes and Cookie Jordan’s wigs are award-worthy and period perfect. Yi Zhao’s lighting and Justin Ellington’s sound and original music capture the mystery and pathos of Marcus Gardley’s script.

Beartrice is the mother who knows that her daughters “will be spat on because of the color of their skin, raped because of their flesh, made to slave in kitchens because of their sex;” however, despite their prodigality and upon their return “crawling on [their] necks, begging [her] with [their] baby eyes,” she will “still be here, sitting on my throne. I’ll sit back, suck my teeth and say so sweetly…Well…Welcome Home!” Prodigal daughters and prodigal mother willing to sacrifice all to obtain and preserve freedom. “The House That Will Not Stand” raises the essential and enduring questions needed to continue the discussion of systemic racism in America.

THE HOUSE THAT WILL NOT STAND

The cast for “The House That Will Not Stand” includes Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Juliana Canfield, Harriett D. Foy, Lynda Gravátt, Nedra McClyde, Marie Thomas, and Michelle Wilson.

The creative team includes scenic designer Adam Rigg, costume designer Montana Levi Blanco, lighting designer Yi Zhao, and sound design and original music by Justin Ellington. Movement is by Raja Feather Kelly. The dialect and vocal coach is Dawn-Elin Fraser. Terri Kohler serves as stage manager. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“The House That Will Not Stand” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street) through Sunday, August 12, 2018. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Harriett D. Foy, Lynda Gravátt, and Michelle Wilson in “The House That Will Not Stand.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 30, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Mary Page Marlowe” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday August 19, 2018

Photo: Blair Brown and Brian Kerwin in “Mary Page Marlowe.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Mary Page Marlowe” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday August 19, 2018
By Tracy Letts
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Dreams. Daydreams. The dreamers write the scripts casting characters from their lives and casting themselves as the protagonists. The dreamers, write, cast, act in, and direct these phantasmagoric and kaleidoscopic vignettes that are “performed” while they are nestled in REM sleep or daydreaming on public transportation or at work. “Mary Page Marlowe,” currently running at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, is an engaging non-linear cascade of such kaleidoscopic vignettes from the title character’s life as a child of twelve (Mia Sinclair Jenness) to her life as an adult of sixty-nine (Blair Brown) facing her mortality in a Lexington, Kentucky hospital room. Brokenness seems to have shadowed Mary Page during this passage of time along with the dysfunction from which brokenness often erupts.

Tracy Letts, who often writes about the dysfunction extant in family systems, pulls the curtain back from a dramatic examination a specific tortured American family, to examine the cultural underbelly of the provenance of that systemic dysfunction – how Mary Page might have been traumatized. In 1996 when she is 50 (Kellie Overbey), Mary Page “I told you to get some help! Didn’t I? I told you that your drinking was out of control! You’re killing yourself!”

This is one of the “panels” that Mary Page “sews” during her life. This metaphor of the patchwork quilt – its stains, the “different” women making the quilt, the materials used, the relative condition of each panel – is introduced at the end of the play when in 2005 fifty-nine-year-old Mary Page (Blair Brown) visits the drycleaners in Lexington, Kentucky and she asks the proprietor Ben (Elliot Villar) whether her “quilt” can be repaired and cleaned.

Each scene, each panel, discloses a “bit” of Mary Page’s life, her relationships with her children, the disparate experiences with marriage with three husbands. Indeed, there is dysfunction in each of these vignettes; however, it is what underlies the dysfunction – the trauma involved in the vicissitudes of life – that energizes Tracy Letts’s script and makes Mary Page an “Everywoman.” She is an accountant in Kentucky trying to figure out who she is and where she fits into the larger community. She faces abuse and neglect: she abuses and neglects. She has extramarital affairs. She sees a “shrink” (Marcia Debonis) at thirty-six (Tatiana Maslany).

Under Lila Neugebauer’s exquisite direction, the actors playing Mary Page each give intriguing performances that focus on the pastiche of one “ordinary” American facing the dangers inherent in leaving “the crib” and separating and individuating from the nuclear family. This collage of a person seems to be a copy of other stories like those “belonging to” Mary Page Marlowe and this familiarity is the source of the plays disquieting construction and execution. The actors who are part of each panel in Mary Page’s life also deliver authentic and believable performances.

Laura Jellinek’s multi-level set, Kay Voyce’s decade specific costumes, and Tyler Micoleau’s lighting work well with the actors’ craft to delineate scenes, places, and moods. Brandon Wolcott’s sound design and Bray Poor’s original music envelope the work of the creative team in sonorous tones of expectation.

MARY PAGE MARLOWE

“Mary Page Marlowe” runs at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (305 West 43rd Street) through Sunday August 12, 2018. For further information about the production including cast, creative team, performance schedule, and to purchase tickets, visit https://2st.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Blair Brown and Brian Kerwin in “Mary Page Marlowe.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, July 27, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Roundabout’s “Skintight” at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday August 26, 2018)

Photo: Eli Gelb and Idina Menzel in “Skintight.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: Roundabout’s “Skintight” at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday August 26, 2018)
By Joshua Harmon
Directed by Daniel Aukin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Thrown under the bus by her ex-husband Greg, a carping, selfish, completely self-centered Jodi Isaac (Idina Menzel) takes the red-eye from Los Angeles to New York City to “celebrate” her a self-assured father Elliot Isaac’s (Jack Wetherall) birthday. However, the real reason for her visit is that she “just, like couldn't physically be in LA knowing” Greg and his new twenty-four-year-old bestie Misty would be celebrating their engagement at a party where all her friends would be present. Jodi brings her twenty-year-old self-absorbed son Benjamin Cullen (Eli Gelb) along hoping a “family” birthday party will please Elliot and bring her some surcease from her angst over losing her fifty-year-old husband to a younger “more beautiful” woman.

It becomes clear in the first few moments that Jodi is a self-centered, self-absorbed, spoiled individual who has no one’s interests at heart except her own. This character deficit becomes solidified when her father’s handsome, confident, unconventional lover Trey (Will Brittain) appears from upstairs and Jodi assumes he works for Elliot. Jodi refuses to understand he is part of Isaac’s family – perhaps the most important member of his family. Trey, of course, is beautiful and young and, just as Misty “stole” her husband, Trey has wrenched her father from her leaving Jodi bereft beyond belief.

Joshua Harmon tackles themes of fidelity, beauty, love, and betrayal in his “Skintight” currently running at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. It is difficult to know whether Elliot’s and Trey’s marriage will last or what Trey’s motivations are for asking Elliot to marry him. Nor is it easy to understand Elliot’s motivations or his concept of fidelity. After all, Jeff (Stephen Carrasco) was once Elliot’s lover and now his butler and manservant. What is not difficult is to recognize that Elliot and Trey are in love in the present and their love transcends Jodi’s experiences with marriage, love, or fidelity. If only Mr. Harmon had chosen a better metaphor to describe Elliot’s affection for Trey than the unsettling (on many levels) metaphor expressed in in the sentence “I'd like to have sheets made from your skin.”

These themes and the characters that are embedded in them are not new. There are several plays and movies that feature a younger man capturing the heart of an older man and “coming between” the older man and his family. The difference here is on Joshua Harmon’s handling of the plot sequences that are driven by his perhaps familiar characters and their conflicts. There is a freshness to the theme that transcends its familiarity.

Under Daniel Aukin’s carefully executed direction, the characters explore their individual pasts and their histories with family and friends with honesty. Their portraits are authentic. One wishes for a more dynamic and layered Jodi. Because her character traits make her such an unlikable person, it is difficult to explore the deficits she claims to have experienced with her father. The same holds true of her son Benjamin. Although Eli Gelb charges his character’s “time alone” with the jock-strapped Trey with the energy of a pubescent gay young man, the actor is not given much by the playwright to make his Benjamin a likeable character. Unfortunately, the deep angst of these two characters remains unexplored by the playwright. Jack Wetherall, on the other hand, brings unbridled emotion to Elliot’s closing monologue about his affection for Trey and Will Brittain powerfully combines the beauty and softness of a Troy Donahue with the rough edges and grit of a James Dean in his splendid portrayal of Trey.

Lauren Helpern’s set reflect the playwright’s affinity for stairs as a trope for character development and neatly captures the essence of privilege and wealth to which the Isaaks/Cullens have become accustomed in their successful adult lives as do Jess Goldstein’s costumes. Orsolya’s (Cynthia Mace) maid’s costume speaks for itself and supports her pleasing performance as the maid who knows best.

“Skintight” ends on a hopeful note. Somehow the characteristics of an authentic family modeled by Elliot and Trey ignite enough memory to convince Jodi and Benjamin that some new understanding of family is now possible and even desirable.

SKINTIGHT

The cast of “Skintight” includes Will Brittain, Stephen Carrasco, Eli Gelb, Cynthia Mace, Idina Menzel, and Jack Wetherall.

The creative team includes Lauren Helpern (Scenic Design), Jess Goldstein (Costume Design), Pat Collins (Lighting Design) and Eric Shimelonis (Original Music and Sound Design). Jill Cordle serves as Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Skintight” plays at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street) through Tuesday through Sunday August 26, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “Skintight” are available by calling 212-719-1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org, or in person at any Roundabout box office. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Eli Gelb and Idina Menzel in “Skintight.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Fire in Dreamland” at The Public’s Anspacher Theater (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)

Photo: Enver Gjokaj and Rebecca Naomi Jones in “Fire in Dreamland.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Fire in Dreamland” at The Public’s Anspacher Theater (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)
Written by Rinne Groff
Directed by Marissa Wolf
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"There have been, and will be again, many destructions of [humankind] arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes." – Plato (“Timaeus”)

Rinne Groff has created an engaging extended metaphor based on the 1911 fire that destroyed the iconic Dreamland on Coney Island. Counterpointing the event of the suspicious destruction by fire is the destruction by water by superstorm Sandy in 2012 and the “destruction” of Kate (Rebecca Naomi Jones) by the “lesser causes” of betrayal, self-doubt, and prevarication. “Fire in Dreamland,” currently running at The Public’s Anspacher Theater, explores that metaphor and its trove of rhetorical devices that bombard the senses and often places the audience in a surreal wonderland.

Standing on the pier in Coney Island, Kate attempts to deflect the advances of the aggressive Jaap Hooft (Enver Gjokaj) the Dutch filmmaker who approaches her and offers to wipe the mascara from the right side of her face. Kate has been crying. Kate is lonely. Kate ultimately is swept away by the dashing and handsome filmmaker who wants to make a film about the fire that focuses on the animals that were destroyed, including the iconic Black Prince. “Fire in Dreamland” recounts the relationship between Kate and Jaap and how its disastrous outcome counterpoints the disasters on Dreamland, Superstorm Sandy, and those that eventually challenge the survival of Everyman.

Director Marissa Wolf and the three-member cast grapple successfully with Rinne Groff’s demanding script which results in a sometimes mind-spinning tumble into the playwright’s wonderland of fractured realism laced with magical realism and “theatre noire.” Until Lance appears on stage he is far upstage right sitting in a beach chair barely in sight behind post-Sandy reconstruction scaffolding. During this time, Lance (Kyle Beltran) edits (“blinks”) scenes using his clapperboard. When he emerges from the shadows, he is identified as the New York Film Academy staff member who “signs out” equipment for one-time student Jaap. The sound of the clapperboard stops and starts scenes that are not defined by time, space, or any other imaginable dimension.

Rebecca Naomi Jones’s Kate is multilayered and believable. Ms. Jones infuses her character with an honesty that is both convincing and powerful. Enver Gjokaj’s Jaap is self-centered, selfish, and his “charm” is disquieting. And Kyle Beltran’s languorous Lance emerges from the scaffolding emboldened to take on Jaap and somehow “rescue” Kate.

Susan Hilferty’s Coney Island Boardwalk/bedroom scenic design is expansive and provides the “space” needed to explore the crevices of Groff’s script. Creeping out under the first row of patron seats, the boardwalk beckons the audience into the playwright’s bizarre world of flaming lion manes, clicking clapperboards, and fractured hearts. Ms. Hilfery’s costumes tease the imagination and the senses – those mermaid costumes! Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting and Brendan Aanes’s original sound and music blend “reality” and “fantasy” in remarkable shadowy “soundbites.”

In Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s groundbreaking “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” the author concludes there is no compelling answer to the title’s question; however, he posits that the real question is what do people do after illness, death of a loved one, or natural disaster occurs? And in his follow-up “Living A Life That Matters,” he suggests that what one needs to do after the calamitous events is to make a commitment to creating and living a life that matters to others and to the world.

Whether the fire in Dreamland was arson or not; whether the 2012 hurricane on the East coast was providential or not; and whether Kate was broken by Jaap’s actions, it is what the residents on Coney Island did after disaster and What Kate does after being “duped” by Jaap (was she?) that is important. Rinne Goff opts for hopefulness in “Fire in Dreamland.” Embracing motherhood and creativity rather than loneliness and despair has the power to extinguish flames, emerge from the Flood, and all the “other” destructions of humankind.

FIRE IN DREAMLAND

The complete cast of “Fire in Dreamland” features Kyle Beltran (Lance), Enver Gjokaj (Jaap Hooft),
and Rebecca Naomi Jones (Kate).

“Fire in Dreamland” features scenic and costume design by Susan Hilferty, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, and original music and sound design by Brendan Aanes. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Fire in Dreamland” runs at The Public’s Anspacher Theater (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday, August 5, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Public Theater Partner, Supporter, Member tickets and full price tickets, starting at $60.00, can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Enver Gjokaj and Rebecca Naomi Jones in “Fire in Dreamland.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 23, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (Through Sunday September 2, 2018)

Photo: Stephanie Lynne Mason and Daniel Kahn. Credit: Victor Nechay/ProperPix.
Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (Through Sunday September 2, 2018)
Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Joel Grey
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

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

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

Steven Skybell brings a solid, reverent and practical Tevye to this production, brimming with conflict, humor and honesty which rings true to the everyman, regardless of race, color or creed. His charming baritone reflects his characters wisdom and vulnerability. All this plays well off the stern and stoic Golde as portrayed by the layered performance of Mary Illes, who manages to redeem the nearly as impenetrable character with waves of compassion. Jackie Hoffman infuses matchmaker Yente with consistent welcomed humor that purposely disguises a woman who is alone and lonely. Rachel Zatcoff is an assertive Tsaytl devoted to the impoverished tailor Motl, enacted with a timorous innocence by Daniel Kahn. The rebellious Hodl is brought to life with a solid conviction by Stephanie Lynne Mason demonstrating determined energy and a steadfast commitment to an unexpected romance. The curious Khave, is given a thirst for knowledge by the wholesome and fearless Rosie Jo Neddy. She is the most adventuresome daughter, crossing religious and cultural boundaries to elope and marry a Christian, Fyedke, a stalwart and intelligent Cameron Johnson.

The entire twenty-six-member cast is wonderful and works diligently to reach the core of this story in the native Yiddish language which proves to authenticate the time and place. They are supported by a wonderful twelve-piece orchestra conducted by Zalmen Moitek, which fills the space with memorable melodies. This production is not perfect yet and can be tweaked here and there but it is certainly on the way. It is purely a demonstration of the incredible power of theater. Kudos to the entire cast and creative team for collaborating to present a cogent, emotional and entertaining production. Mazel Tov!


FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

The cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” features Jennifer Babiak, Joanne Borts, Josh Dunn, Michael Einav, Kirk Geritano, Samantha Hahn, Jackie Hoffman, Mary Illes, Cameron Johnson, Daniel Kahn, Stephanie Lynne Mason, Evan Mayer, Rosie Jo Neddy, Raquel Nobile, Nick Raynor, Bruce Sabath, Kayleen Seidl, Adam B. Shapiro, Jodi Snyder, James Monroe Števko, Lauren Jeanne Thomas, Bobby Underwood, Michael Yashinsky, and Rachel Zatcoff.

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

National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” runs at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (36 Battery Place) through Sunday September 2, 2018. For tickets and performance schedule, visit http://nytf.org/ or call 866-811-4111. For group sales and memberships, call 212-213-2120 Ext. 204. Running time is 3 hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Stephanie Lynne Mason and Daniel Kahn. Credit: Victor Nechay/ProperPix.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 21, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “Brecht on Brecht” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)

Photo: Christine Hamel (foreground) in “Brecht on Brecht.” Credit: Stan Barouh.
Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “Brecht on Brecht” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)
By Bertolt Brecht, adapted by George Tabori
Directed by Jim Petosa
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Brecht on Brecht” the theatrical collage of works by Bertolt Brecht first compiled by George Tabori in the early 1960s is appearing at Atlantic Stage 2 in repertory with “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke” as part of PTP/NYC’s Season 2018. This is the Potomac Theatre Project’s thirty-second season in New York City. “Brecht on Brecht” features songs and scenes from Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Bertolt Brecht’s most famous collaborations, as well as first-hand accounts from Brecht himself and explores the socio-political and issues the playwright faced as an artist fleeing Nazism for exile in America.

The themes of anti-Semitism and xenophobia so relevant during the rise of the Third Reich are just as relevant in our current “dark times” splintered by xenophobia, anti-Semitism, nativism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. In both Brecht’s time and in the present socio-political climate, W. B. Yeats’ words ring with uncompromising truth: Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

In thirty-nine vignettes or scenes, the cast under the direction of Jim Petosa, perform eleven songs with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler. “Alabama Song” (sung by the company) is from “Little Mahagonny.” “Army Song” (sung by the company), “Death Message” (sung by Jake Murphy), “Barbara Song” (sung by the company), “Ballad of Mack the Knife” (sung by Harrison Bryan), and “Pirate Jenny” (sung by Christine Hamel) are all from “The Threepenny Opera.” “Tango Ballet” (sung by Jake Murphy and Carla Martinez), “Surabaya Johnny” (sung by Carla Martinez), and “Bilboa Song” (sung by the company) are all from “Happy End.”

Without referencing a specific actor, the members of the cast do not trust their material. Brecht’s songs are mini-operas with a complete story (libretto). The vocalists’ tasks are to understand those stories and relate their depth in song using the range of their craft. There is little need for histrionics but an overwhelming need for vocal range, rich modulation, and pristine interpretive style – all oddly missing in the performances. The same dynamics are relevant in the non-musical pieces like “The Jewish Wife” (performed by Christine Hamel) and “The Infanticide of Marie Farrar.” These narrative pieces also require the modulation of voice and rich interpretation. They are performed here without these rhetorical graces.

Hallie Zieselman’s set design, Joe Cabrera’s lighting design, and Annie Ulrich’s costume design serve the production well as does Ronnie Romano’s music direction and piano.

Although Bertolt Brecht understood the importance and power of the comedic, his writings are overwhelmingly dark and, like a sharp scalpel, cut deeply beneath the facia into the “guts” of the human condition. That darkness is absent in this “Brecht on Brecht.” Overall, the young cast seems unable to identify with the depth of despair that defines the fiber of Brecht’s weltanschauung. This and the director’s sometimes odd choices make the tone of this “Brecht on Brecht” more like that of a Brechtian “Godspell.” The performances skim the surface of the angst of Brecht, Kurt Weill, and Hanns Eisler leaving the grit and grime and ghastly shadows trapped beneath the weight of a cacophony of red clown noses. This is unfortunate given the consistent quality of PTP/NYC’s thirty-two seasons of engaging productions that have challenged audiences in “dynamic and provocative” ways. These are dark times. The center is not holding. Perhaps this is not the time for clowning around.

BRECHT ON BRECHT

The cast for “Brecht on Brecht” includes Harrison Bryan, Christine Hamel, Carla Martinez, Jake Murphy, Miguel Castillo, Olivia Christie, Sebastian LaPointe and Ashley Michelle.

The production team for “Brecht on Brecht” includes Ronnie Romano (Music Director and Pianist), Hallie Zieselman (Set Design), Joe Cabrera (Lighting Design), Annie Ulrich (Costume Design) and Alex Williamson (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Stan Barouh.

Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7:00 p.m., Saturdays - Sundays at 2:00 p.m., and select Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues). The schedule varies - for exact days and times visit www.PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $37.50, $22.50 for students and seniors and $20.00 for previews. Purchase online at www.PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For more info visit www.PTPNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Christine Hamel (foreground) in “Brecht on Brecht.” Credit: Stan Barouh.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 21, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Cyprus Avenue” at The Public’s LuEsther Hall (Through Sunday July 29, 2018)

Photo: Amy Molloy and Stephen Rea in the Abbey Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre’s co-production of “Cyprus Avenue.” Credit: Ros Kavanagh.
Off-Broadway Review: “Cyprus Avenue” at The Public’s LuEsther Hall (Through Sunday July 29, 2018)
By David Ireland
Directed by Vicky Featherstone
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

David Ireland’s “Cyprus Avenue” currently running at The Public’s LuEsther Hall sneaks up on the audience like a cat burglar armed with an AK-15 assault rifle. What one assumes will be lost is far less than the devastation left behind by the action in Ireland’s disquieting play. The detritus remaining after Eric Miller’s (Stephen Rea) violation of his wife Bernie (Andrea Irvine), their daughter Julie (Amy Molloy) and their granddaughter Mary-May is almost unbearable and not predictable. This all begins with Eric stepping onto the stage (after a considerable pause) and sitting on a chair in his living room in Cyprus Avenue, East Belfast. Bernie enters and asks, “What are you doing sitting there doing nothing?” Eric stares back dumbfounded. The next scene begins with Eric in the office of his psychotherapist Bridget (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo).

Why Eric is in therapy does not become clear until after the play’s shocking climax. It is clear at the start that Eric has been remanded to attend the weekly sessions as “part of [his] ongoing treatment” in some yet unnamed facility. In this introductory session Eric hurls a racial slur at his African-American therapist and reveals himself to be a deeply disturbed individual outwith any moral compass. Their sessions segue into a series of flashbacks that reveal Eric’s current state of mind and the reason for his being remanded to psychotherapy.

In those flashbacks, Eric defends his anti-Catholic, anti-Fenian, pro-Protestant, pro-Unionist stance in graphic outbursts that need to be seen to fully appreciate David Ireland’s writing and Stephen Rea’s powerful presence on the stage. It is difficult to parse the depth of Eric’s sectarian hatred without issuing a spoiler alert. This hatred no knows no bounds and respects no limits. Playwright David Ireland has pushed the plot driven by this character’s maniacal temperament to the limit of moral turpitude and beyond.

The moral assault comes in waves of increasingly increased salvos from Eric’s failing ego strength and seems to be given new momentum when he determines (beyond the shadow of a doubt) that his new granddaughter Mary-May not only looks like but is Gerry Adams the President of Sinn Fein. Eric does not believe that his wife’s claims that the baby is “the most gorgeous cutest baby in the whole wide world!” He finds that assertion unscientific. Yet he easily believes his granddaughter is the Fenian Gerry Adams, particularly after drawing a black beard on the baby and putting on glasses! Because Gerry Adams cannot live in his house, Eric begins to find ways to resolve the dilemma, even recruiting Slim (in a bizarre quid pro quo deal) to assist him.

Under Vicky Featherstone’s impressive direction, Stephen Rea commandeers the stage as soon as he steps upon it and never surrenders the exquisite control he has over his maniacal character Eric Miller. With equal craft, Andrea Irvine and Amy Molloy portray two strong women determined to survive their husband and father’s racism, sexism, abuse, and psychosocial brokenness. Assuming an appropriate clinical demeanor, Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo’s Bridget brings Eric as close to self-discovery as any therapist might succeed in doing. And Chris Corrigan assembles a Slim that simply contradicts all that is reasonable and respectable. The cast of “Cyprus Avenue” stalks the shadows of the human conscience and discovers an inner world not unlike the world we currently seek shelter from.

What could have caused Eric’s apparent paranoid schizophrenia? Eric shares with his therapist Bridget that the past has been “lying awake at night and contemplating the past.” When asked to further define the past, Eric replies: “Resentments. Disappointments. Failed expectations. Ruined dreams. Entanglements. Despair. That which could have been. And that which is.” Eric’s heinous acts bring him peace without remorse. Sectarian hatred, moral turpitude, and xenophobia abound. Which of these is the greatest? Is there any way to find shelter from the wrath of those who claim them as their moral center? David Ireland's "Cyprus Avenue" could not be more relevant and more chilling.

CYPRUS AVENUE

The cast of “Cyprus Avenue” features Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo, Chris Corrigan, Andrea Irvine, Amy Molloy, and Stephen Rea.

“Cyprus Avenue” features scenic and costume design by Lizzie Clachan, lighting design by Paul Keogan, sound design by David McSeveny, and fight direction by Bret Yount. Production photos by Ros Kavanagh.

“Cyprus Avenue” runs through Sunday July 29, 2018 at The Public’s LuEsther Hall (425 Lafayette Street) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Single tickets, starting at $80.00, can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Amy Molloy and Stephen Rea in the Abbey Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre’s co-production of “Cyprus Avenue.” Credit: Ros Kavanagh.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Pedro Pan” at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Closed on Saturday August 14, 2018)

Photo: Jenny Lis Padilla and Wilson Jermaine Heredia with the Company of “Pedro Pan.” Credit: Joe TickNow.
Off-Broadway Review: “Pedro Pan” at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Closed on Saturday August 14, 2018)
Book by Rebecca Aparicio
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Elkins
Directed by Melissa Crespo
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

During the Fidel Castro regime, “Operation Pedro Pan” transported children fleeing the growing fears of Communist indoctrination in Cuba to the safety of the United States where some of the children were reunited with family or relatives while others were cared for by the Catholic Welfare Bureau. Based on this historic event, the new musical aptly titled “Pedro Pan” is now playing at the Acorn Theater as part of the NYMF 2018 Season. The subject matter is so relevant to the current socio-political landscape regarding immigration and assimilation that it is ripe for development into a germane piece of theater. Conceived as a musical it has the opportunity to capture the lively essence of the Cuban culture through song and dance that represents a significant portion of their heritage.

The book by Rebecca Aparicio clearly defines the activities but only faintly presents the severity of the brutal situation in the homeland and the constant struggle for acceptance in a foreign land. The story needs to be more fluid and less linear to invoke urgency and sentiment. Music by Stephen Anthony Elkins is strongest when highlighting Latin beats, but also provides some pleasant ballads in a pop Broadway style with lyrics that support the action. Direction by Melissa Crespo is lackluster and inconsistent and misses numerous opportunities to explore the nature of the activity or the depth of the characters. Choreographer Sidney Erik Wright creates somewhat pedestrian production routines, given the ability demonstrated by the talented performers.

The soul of this production truly lies in the exemplary cast that is flawless. Wilson Jermaine Heredia (a sincere Papi) will melt your heart with his vocal prowess. Genny Lis Padilla (a loving and torn Mami) is the perfect complement to Mr. Heredia with a pure and clear tone. Their duets are wonderful. Natalie Toro embodies Tia Lily with care and concern, soft and stern, always on point with a strong vocal. Then there is Gregory Diaz IV (a subtle and vulnerable Pedro) and his motley crew, Julian Silva (a confident Roger), and Taylor Caldwell (a spunky and fearless Wendy). Individually they are impressive, together they are a powerhouse of energy and exhibit wisdom beyond their years, understanding the security of friendship but never denying the need for acceptance.

It is understood that although presented as a full production, the work is still in development. Hopefully the show will expand to at least ninety minutes or more, fleshing out the characters, adding a few songs that will extract more of the drama in Cuba and relate to the fear and isolation of moving to a foreign land. The creative team should embrace the efforts of this cast who reveal the potential of the material with their spirited performances.

PEDRO PAN

The cast of “Pedro Pan” includes Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Genny Lis Padilla, Natalie Toro, Gregory Diaz IV, Julian Silva, Taylor Caldwell, Cherry Torres, Rodrigo Ignacio Cruz, Diego Lucano, and Sisley Carretas.

For more information on “Pedro Pan,” please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2018-events/pedro-pan18. “Pedro Pan” concluded its five-performance run at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row on Saturday July 14, 2018.

Photo: Jenny Lis Padilla and Wilson Jermaine Heredia with the Company of “Pedro Pan.” Credit: Joe TickNow.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 15, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Teenage Dick” at the Public’s Shiva Theater (Through Sunday July 29, 2018)

Photo: Tiffany Villarin and Gregg Mozgala in “Teenage Dick.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Teenage Dick” at the Public’s Shiva Theater (Through Sunday July 29, 2018)
By Mike Lew
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Playwright Mike Lew characterizes his play “Teenage Dick” as “vaguely from Richard III.” The protagonist of this engaging and quite dark play is high school junior Richard Gloucester (Gregg Mozgala). Richard has CP and likes to speak with a Shakespearean flair and verbiage. His disability and diction have made him the object of verbal and physical harassment. This Roseland High School teenage Dick, like his “Buncback’d Toad” namesake Richard of Gloucester, has problems that transcend his disability: both possess an indomitable vengeful spirit that brings them to deciding “whether it’s better to be loved or feared?” The objectives of Richard’s wrathful behavior at Roseland High are to wrest the role of senior class president from Eddie (an uber-confident and self-possessed Alex Breaux) and date Eddie’s former girlfriend Anne (an effervescent and determined Tiffany Villarin). Aficionados of Shakespeare are on alert.

Mike Lew’s engaging script is a brilliant retelling of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” that captures the pathos and ethos of the 1591-1592 culmination of the Bard’s dramatic four-play saga. Shakespeare’s characters are clearly in evidence. In “Teenage Dick,” Richard’s last name is Gloucester. Barbara “Buck” Buckingham (a resilient and devoted Shannon DeVido) is Richard’s rebellious bestie. Junior class president Eddie, like Edward the Prince of Wales, is Richard’s arch nemesis. Anne, Richard’s “love interest” is the widow Anne. Clarissa’s (a Jesus-loving, overachieving, and self-centered Sasha Diamond) and Elizabeth (a naïve, Marinda Anderson) have perhaps less obvious parallels but play important roles in “Teenage Dick.”

Whether Shakespeare was influenced by Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli is debatable. However, his Richard III shows Machiavellian characteristics if not the conviction of the principles promulgated by the “father of modern political science.” Mike Lew, on the other hand, that his Richard (the teenage Dick) is directly influenced by Machiavelli’s “four pathways to power.” Richard’s goal? “The senior elections are upon us and from here I will vault past my inglorious station. Not by a pity vote. Not by campaigning. But by systematically destroying the competition. I’ll take down Clarissa AND Eddie AND hold dominion over all of this school.”

And that is exactly what Richard does. “Teenage Dick” chronicles his machinations and his ascent to “victory.” What this power grab means to his relationships and to his opponents, even to his friends is often unsettling and morally ambiguous. Mike Lew has assembled characters whose conflicts are engaging and believable and the plot these “problems” drive is complex, layered, and relevant to the conversations about the dynamics of bullying. Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s direction is dynamic and he successfully keeps things moving at an appropriate pace. He gives his cast the space to explore their characters in depth.

Gregg Mozgala’s Richard is vengeful, diabolic, damaged beyond repair and incapable of making a meaningful connection to others. He easily seduces Anne, betrays her trust by revealing her deepest secret, and tosses her aside. How Anne reacts to this betrayal is one on the most emotionally laden scenes in the play. Richard’s vengeance does not end with his betrayal of Anne. He needs to make sure that Eddie can in no way regain his power. How he decides to accomplish this concludes the action of the play and provides a significant catharsis. “Teenage Dick” raises enduring questions about power and betrayal, and unbridled vengeance. The answers, important as they are, lay heavily on the mind and on the heart.


TEENAGE DICK

The cast of “Teenage Dick” includes Marinda Anderson, Alex Breaux, Shannon DeVido, Sasha Diamond, Gregg Mozgala, and Tiffany Villarin.

“Teenage Dick” features set design by Wilson Chin, costume design by Junghyun Georgia Lee, lighting design by Miriam Crowe, sound design by Fabian Obispo, and movement coordination by Robert Westley. Alyssa K. Howard is Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Teenage Dick runs at the Public’s Shiva Theater (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday July 29, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m., including Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1:30 p.m. For tickets and information: visit publictheater.org, or call 212-967-7555. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Tiffany Villarin and Gregg Mozgala in “Teenage Dick.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 14, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe” at the Duke on 42nd Street (Through Sunday August 26, 2018)

Photo: Timothy Doyle, Vance Barton, Ginger Grace, LaTonya Borsay and Pippa Pearthree in "The Saintliness of Margery Kempe." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe” at the Duke on 42nd Street (Through Sunday August 26, 2018)
By John Wulp
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Margery Kempe was an English Christian Mystic during the 14th and 15th centuries who was tried for heresy multiple times but never convicted. During the late Middle Ages, the task of interpreting the Bible and God was restricted to ordained priests but interpretation through the senses and body became the dominion of woman mystics. Kempe’s autobiography is the first written in the English language and she is honored in the Anglican Communion, but sainthood was never recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. It is believed she gave birth to fourteen children, left her husband and family to follow her calling to achieve a “greater intimacy with Christ,” and made a pilgrimage to Venice, Jerusalem, and Rome to visit various Holy sites. During her travels, she was tempted by the devil, had conversations with and had visions of God, and repeatedly tried to attain saintliness through performing miracles. This all alludes to an interesting recollection of an historical figure, filled with twists and turns that are complicated and compelling.

Written by John Wulp, “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe” was presented for the first time by the Cambridge Massachusetts Poet’s Theatre in 1958 and is presently being revived at The Duke on 42nd Street. According to an Author’s note in the program, director Austin Pendleton rediscovered the text and being struck by its contemporaneity decided to remount the show. This present incarnation would fare much better if it had remained undiscovered, left lying dead with no attempt at revival. It is historically inaccurate, filled with tedious twists and turns that are insignificant and is complicated because it is difficult to decide if it is meant to be a comedy, drama, farce, spoof or a play of historical fiction. Following the cryptic life and journey of Marjorie Kempe as depicted through endless scenes and vignettes brought to life by actors playing multiple roles (including a horse), registers close to non- coherent, with no apparent continuity, timeline, or purpose. Weighing in at two hours and fifteen minutes the most notable and well received line comes when an actor appears center stage to exclaim “It’s a miracle, it’s intermission.”

The production may have a few comic moments; but, they are far and few between the laborious and dull script that the actors must flounder through to get an exuberant response from the audience. The cast is overly competent and diligently attempts to transcend the material with minor success. Andrus Nichols (Margery Kempe) leads the medieval troupe with steadfast determination and a wacky mentality which befits the character, but the antics wear thin as the plot progresses despite her admirable efforts. Jason O’Connell is solid as the husband (John Kempe) but hits his stride as the tour guide to the Holy Land (Friar Bonadventure), trying to pacify his motley group from the hysterical outbursts of the self- proclaimed mystic. Timothy Doyle is delightful in various roles, with expressions that communicate more than the pretentious poetic dialogue.

There is an interesting historical narrative in the life of Margery Kempe and her ambition to be recognized as a strong, viable female and not oppressed by the male domination of the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, in this revival, that profound persona is construed as lunacy all for the sake of humor.

THE SAINTLINESS OF MARGERY KEMP

The cast of “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe” includes Vance Quincy Barton, LaTanya Borsay, Timothy Doyle, Michael Genet, Ginger Grace, Andrus Nichols, Jason O’Connell, Pippa Pearthree, and Thomas Sommo.

The Saintliness of Margery Kempe features scenic design by John Wulp, lighting design by Multiple Tony-winner Jennifer Tipton and Matthew Richards, costume design by Barbara Bell, and sound design and original music by Ryan Rumery. Casting by Stephanie Klapper. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“The Saintliness of Margery Kempe” runs at The Duke on 42nd Street (229 West 42nd Street) through Sunday August 26, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Thursday at 8:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets for “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe,” ranging in price from $55.00 to $85.00, are available for purchase online at www.margerykempe.com. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.

Photo: Timothy Doyle, Vance Barton, Ginger Grace, LaTonya Borsay and Pippa Pearthree in "The Saintliness of Margery Kempe." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 14, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Carmen Jones” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday August 19, 2018)

Photo: Justin Keyes, Soara-Joye Ross, Anika Noni Rose, Erica Dorfler, and Lawrence E. Street in “Carmen Jones.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Carmen Jones” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday August 19, 2018)
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Music by Georges Bizet
Directed by John Doyle
Choreographed by Bill T. Jones
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Because opera enthusiasts would be seduced by the music of Bizet and musical theater aficionados would savor a work that contained the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein ll, it seems only logical to combine the talents of both to create a Broadway show. It was done in 1943 when Mr. Hammerstein adapted Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” moving it from a tobacco plant in Spain to an ammunition factory during World War ll in Charleston, South Carolina with an all African American cast. Although “Carmen Jones” was a moderate success with over five hundred performances, there has not been a full-scale revival on the New York stage until the present undertaking by director John Doyle at The Classic Stage Company. A film version surfaced in 1954 which was not well received by the press and social critics such as James Baldwin, especially since the civil rights movement was on the forefront and the content did not accurately identify the plight of African Americans at the time. The plot is a morality time bomb with a short fuse of seduction and betrayal, which triggers an explosive tragedy.

Mr. Doyle has assembled an incredible cast that can do nothing wrong as they forge through the streamlined nine-five-minute, minimalist adaption, performed on the nearly bare wood planked playing area, which seems to have become a signature of the company this season. They are accompanied by six amazing musicians who fill the cavernous space with the beautiful orchestrations of music supervisor Joseph Joubert. This fast-paced version, albeit vocally superior, finds its fault in the lack of emotional connection between the characters, who are not afforded the necessary time or content to develop substantial relationships, which is paramount to the dramatic plot. Each actor competently defines their individual character with depth and passion. The sparse set design by Scott Pask comprised of ammunition boxes and parachute fabric sometimes makes it difficult to decipher exactly where the action is taking place if it were not for the dialogue and lyrics.

The moment that Anika Noni Rose steps onto the stage as the sexually charged Carmen, you are spellbound by her sultry mezzo soprano and alluring presence. Ms. Rose never loses command of the stage in a beguiling performance that is the pulse of the production. Clifton Duncan portrays Joe with a boyish charm, failing to subdue his manly ardor and falling prey to the seductive temptress. His sweet tenor is enchanting and robust supporting his vulnerability and rage. Hometown sweetheart Cindy Lou is impeccably captured by the delightful Lindsay Roberts who melts your heart with her vibrant authenticity to be supported by her pure and controlled vocals in “You Talk Just Like My Maw.” Soara-Joye Ross infuses Frankie with vivacious energy in a rousing rendition of “Beat Out Dat Rhythm on A Drum” always appearing solid and real. Prizefighter Husky Miller comes alive with the powerful bass of David Aron Damane as he leads the cast in the exhilarating “Stan’ Up An’ Fight.” The remainder of the cast is equally engaging playing multiple roles and supporting the production.

This ninety-five-minute adaption of the rarely revived “Carmen Jones” is tightly constructed by Mr. Doyle, with a remarkable cast of ten extremely talented and tenacious actors who embody their characters but also develop their souls. Purists may miss the values of a big Broadway production for which this was written but will certainly experience the intimate essence of a small chamber musical. The production is not perfect but do not miss this opportunity to see this obscure musical brought to life by this impressive cast.

CARMEN JONES

The cast of “Carmen Jones” includes David Aron Damane, Erica Dorfler, Clifton Duncan, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Justin Keyes, Lindsay Roberts, Anika Noni Rose, Soara-Joye Ross, Lawrence E. Street, and Tramell Tillman.

Scenic design for “Carmen Jones” is by Scott Pask, costumes by Ann Hould-Ward, lighting by Adam Honoré, sound by Dan Moses Schreier and casting by Telsey + Company. Music supervision and orchestrations are by Joseph Joubert. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Carmen Jones” runs at Classic Stage Company (136 East 13th Street) through Sunday August 19, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Thursday 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 are $65.00 weekdays/$70.00 weekends. Prime seats are $125.00. For tickets, visit www.classicstage.org, call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111, or in person at the box office. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Justin Keyes, Soara-Joye Ross, Anika Noni Rose, Erica Dorfler, and Lawrence E. Street in “Carmen Jones.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” at Irish Repertory Theatre on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage (Through Sunday August 12, 2018)

Photo: Craig Waletzko, Melissa Errico, and William Bellamy in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” at Irish Repertory Theatre on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage (Through Sunday August 12, 2018)
Music by Burton Lane
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Adapted and Directed by Charlotte Moore
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Both upper-east-side resident Daisy Gamble (Melissa Errico) and psychiatrist Dr. Mark Bruckner (Stephen Bogardus) need clarity in their lives. Daisy lives in the Barbizon Hotel for Women and is applying for a job at Latimer and Latimer and has “until the afternoon” to quit smoking to meet the company’s policies. She is down to her “last month’s rent. Daisy does have a special knack with plants and seems to know when the phone is going to ring. Daisy’s friends Janie Preston (Caitlin Gallogly) and Muriel Bunson (Daisy Hobbs) would not object to some clarity in their lives either. Janie is not so good at plants and not only dates gay men but imagines she can “change” them. Muriel needs to trim three inches off her hips in two days. Muriel has had some success with Dr. Bruckner and invites Janie and Daisy to join her group to address their issues.

Mark Bruckner does not fully realize he needs clarity in his life and practice until he meets Daisy when she visits his group with her friends. After Daisy is hypnotized “by mistake,” Mark discovers she “is a natural. One in a billion.” Daisy is a plant whisperer and has ESP – and a secret past. During further regressive hypnotic sessions, Mark discovers Daisy had a former life in 18th century England as Melinda Welles. Obsessed with Melinda and her “affair” with Edward Moncrief (John Cudia), Mark insists on meeting with Daisy even after his colleague Dr. Conrad Fuller (Craig Waletzko) threatens to have Mark removed from the clinic if he publishes his “research” on Daisy and Melinda.

The regressive hypnotic sessions are the “grit” of the musical comedy. Initially unaware of Mark’s intrusive techniques (wouldn’t these be abusive?), Daisy cooperates with Mark and enjoys the attention and time he gives her. But whom does Mark admire? Daisy or Melinda? Realism or romanticism? The relationships in the 19th century parallel those in the 1960s in many ways and Daisy exhibits the resilience and strength of the “modern woman.” Melissa Errico gives her “split personalities” depth and authenticity and Stephen Bogardus serves as a formidable chauvinistic foil to both women.

Much of “On a Clear Day’s” book music is uninspired; however, buoyed up by its lyrics, the musical comedy is enjoyable and provides a glimpse into layers of relationships often left unexplored. Many of the “thousands and thousands of little pieces” in the lives of women and men Lerner explores are captured and captivate the audience. Most heartening of course are the performances. Melissa Errico’s Daisy brings pathos and ethos to her solo “He Wasn’t You” and later to her duet “She Wasn’t You”
with John Cuida’s Edward Moncrief. Stephen Bogardus gives the good Dr. Bruckner that character’s own style of dual personalities: he longs for the “imagined” Melinda in “Melinda” and yearns to reconnect with Daisy in the plaintive “Come Back to Me.”

Director Charlotte Moore, who also adapted the musical comedy, deftly moves the action to and from the 1960s and the 1900s and successfully uses every square inch of Irish Rep’s compact stage and one of the staircase landings for the opening and closing musical numbers (with superb scenic design and projection art by James Morgan and projection design by Ryan Belock). Under her direction, the uniformly competent cast members deliver energized performances and pleasing renditions of the music and lyrics.

There are several important questions raised in “On a Clear Day,” some specific to the musical comedy and some more enduring and rich. Charlotte Moore’s staging gives from the perspectives of history and contemporary discussions of sexual status and free will.

ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER

The cast of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” includes Florrie Bagel, William Bellamy, Stephen Bogardus, Rachel Coloff, Peyton Crim, John Cudia, Melissa Errico, Caitlin Gallogly, Matt Gibson, Daisy Hobbs, and Craig Waletzko.

The cast of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” includes Florrie Bagel, William Bellamy, Stephen Bogardus, Rachel Coloff, Peyton Crim, John Cudia, Melissa Errico, Caitlin Gallogly, Matt Gibson, Daisy Hobbs, and Craig Waletzko.

“On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” features music direction by John Bell, choreography by Barry McNabb, orchestrations by Josh Clayton, and will be conducted by Gary Adler. The production team includes scenic designer James Morgan, lighting designer Mary Jo Dondlinger, projection designer Ryan Belock, and sound designer M. Florian Staab. Casting is by Deborah Brown. Arthur Atkinson serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” runs at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage through Sunday August 12, 2018 on the following schedule: Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. To purchase tickets, please visit https://irishrep.org/. Running time is 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Craig Waletzko, Melissa Errico, and William Bellamy in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Log Cabin” at Playwright’s Horizons (Through Sunday July 15, 2018)

Photo: Cindy Cheung, Dolly Wells, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Phillip James Brannon. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Log Cabin” at Playwright’s Horizons (Through Sunday July 15, 2018)
Written by Jordan Harrison
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Ezra’s (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) stories about his father’s reaction to the news that Ezra was marrying Chris (Phillip James Brannon) and then, later, that they were going to have a baby serve as bookends for Jordan Harrison’s LGBTQ themed new play about “our origins” and how “denying our origins is not healthy nor is denying our children the right to discover who they are and how the will relate to the world.” Friends Jules (Dolly Wells) and Pam (Cindy Cheung) quickly “judge” Ezra’s father; yet, as the ninety-minute play moves forward, the audience – LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ – understands these two married couples are far from having grappled with the complexities of where they are, where they have come from, and where they are going as members of the LGBTQ community that barely understand their small niches let alone understanding “the other.”

Whatever their prior “struggles,” these two couples are now successful, comfortable, and mostly enjoying their assimilated lives. Jules and Pam want to have a baby and hope Ezra can be the sperm donor. “A short year later,” Ezra and Chris visit their friends and their baby Hartley and are ready to parent! They convince their pre-op trans (female-to-male) Henry (Ian Harvie) to carry their baby to term. Henry admits, “Technically. I mean I have a uterus. But it’s not really [an option]. I’d have to go off the T.” Eventually Henry agrees to carry the baby and to co-parent.

During this drama, Jules cheats on Pam, Chris cheats on Ezra and Myna (Talene Monahon) leaves Henry. Postmodern LGBTQ success tumbles in upon itself and the underbelly of the commonality of humanity is unmasked. Infidelity, falling out of love, divorce, inequality, sexism, racism, homophobia, and the history of the struggle for equality are parsed ad infinitum without resolution. The attempt at metacognition and grappling with how these five “outsiders” arrived at their “present” is mostly lost on griping. Nonetheless, the arguments themselves are relevant and timely. The problem is that these five do not want to deal with their pasts – the “log cabin” in all our histories – in any significant way. Adlai Stevenson once bragged: "I wasn't born in a log cabin. I didn't work my way through school nor did I rise from rags to riches, and there's no use trying to pretend I did." That “confession lost the presidential election to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Pretense does not lead to victory.

Under Pam MacKinnon’s direction, the superb cast enlivens Jordan Harrison’s script as he meanders through perhaps too many issues for one play. The strength of his play lies not in the bickering of the adults, but in the musings of the Babies. When the Babies chatter with their parents, with one another, or think to themselves, the script sparkles and the action on the stage brightens. The convention of having adults play the parts of infants and being able to “hear” their thoughts works well in “Log Cabin” and it is out of the mouths of these babes that the significant conversations erupt.

Jules’s Baby and Henry’s Baby “understand” the future of the LGBTQ community might look much different than it does currently. Jules’s Baby says, “Hardly. Because then another sort of pair came along. New sorts of pairs. And they weren’t boy and girl exactly. Or they weren’t but also they were.” The infant’s wisdom deepens: “But then something happened, and they remembered. Something awful happened and the floor fell away. And the boy and the boy, and the girl and the girl, were reminded how far there was to go.”

Humankind believe sincerely that it currently understands and accepts “the another” and the global community marches with that intent. “Log Cabin” raises the rich and enduring questions that dig deeply with surgical precision and exactitude: “What are the stories we have created, are creating? What are our children’s stories going to be like as they watch us struggle for meaning, acceptance, and civility?” It seems that unless these questions are addressed, the future itself might “fall away.”

LOG CABIN

The cast of “Log Cabin” features Phillip James Brannon, Cindy Cheung, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ian Harvie, Talene Monahon, and Dolly Wells.

The production features scenic design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by Russell H. Champa, and sound design by Leah Gelpe. Production Stage Manager is Amanda Spooner. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Log Cabin” plays at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues) on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Single tickets, $44.00-$99.00, may be purchased online via www.phnyc.org, by phone at 212-279-4200 (Noon-8:00 p.m. daily) and in person at the Box Office. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Cindy Cheung, Dolly Wells, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Phillip James Brannon. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, June 30, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Mint Theater Company’s “Conflict” at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Saturday July 21, 2018)

Photo: Jessie Shelton and Jeremy Beck in “Conflict.” Credit: Todd.
Off-Broadway Review: Mint Theater Company’s “Conflict” at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Saturday July 21, 2018)
By Miles Malleson
Directed by Jenn Thompson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The themes of Miles Malleson’s “Conflict,” currently running at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, could not be more relevant and the playwright’s treatment of these themes could not be more modern or progressive. The main characters, except for Tom Smith (Jeremy Beck), are early 1920s London elite – the one percent who have the most money, property, and power in society – and are staunch members of the Conservative Party. Tom is in the ninety-nine percent and lacks money, property, power, and self-esteem. The conflicts of these characters drive an engaging plot that eerily reminds one of America’s current socio-political environment.

The Lady Dare Bellingdon (Jessie Shelton) lives with her father Lord Bellingdon in his posh London mansion. Dare has been having an affair with Major Sir Ronald Clive (Henry Clarke) a protégé of her father and a staunch Conservative. As “Conflict” opens in the Bellingdon London residence’s morning-room, Dare and Clive are returning after 4:00 a.m. from one of their dinner-dance dates and just before Clive departs, he notices a man skulking around the outside of the house and Lady Dare hears someone moving around inside the house. Lord Bellingdon bursts through the doors with a pistol and soon the trio are confronted by a burglar who turns out to be Tom who discloses he was Clive’s University mate who has now fallen on hard times. Tom reaches out to Clive for help.

Tom also discloses that although he did not come to rob Lord Bellingdon and only wanted to ask help from his former university friend, he once did “buy” coffee using a pound note someone had left on the counter of a coffee stand and used the change for “breakfast and a bath and a bed.” Both Lord Bellingdon and Clive give Tom money “to get rid of him.” Eighteen months later, Tom revisits Clive and the Bellingdons to announce he plans to run against Clive as the Labor candidate for Parliament in the new government. In an attempt at civility, Clive and Lord Bellingdon promise not to use their knowledge of Tom’s past in the upcoming race for office.

If this sounds like the making of a brilliantly constructed farce, it is indeed. Writing in the 1920s, Mr. Malleson deftly utilizes the genre to explore the themes that interest him and that he feels are relevant to his generation. His point of view is refreshingly modern and decidedly progressive. Several weeks pass between Acts III and V, and the audience is treated to a delightful narrative that includes “discussions” of classism, sexism, gender equality, marriage, pre-marital sex, class inequality, and the status of women in English society. His writing is fresh, invigorating, and formidable.

Jessie Shelton and Jasmin Walker successfully portray what a couple of decades earlier than “Conflict” Bram Stoker called the “New Woman.” Ms. Shelton’s pristinely portrayed “Dare” is self-willed, does not need marriage to define her status, and challenges patriarchy at every turn. Though Dare is a member of the privileged class, she is intrigued by Tom Smith’s Labor policies, falls in love with him, and champions his Parliament victory. Jasmin Walker’s “Mrs. Tremayne,” although a privileged friend of Dare’s, challenges her to question Clive’s standing and politics and fits the bill as one of the early twentieth century “New Women.”

Jeremy Beck delivers a solidly engaging performance as the rogue Tom Smith turned political activist. Mr. Beck is delightful as he “seduces” Dare with knowledge and the realm of meta-politics. Henry Clarke’s Clive and Graeme Malcolm’s Lord Bellingdon epitomize all that Tom Smith abhors and that Dare comes to call into question. The pair’s characters are the true “base” of conservatism and their thinking reverberates through the decades to the present. Both actors explore the levels of Miles Malleson’s characters with pristine honesty. And James Pendergast, and Amelia White portray butler Daniells and landlord Mrs. Robinson with the challenging blend of servitude and disapproval.

“Conflict’s” creative team serves up excellence in every category. John McDermott’s period set beautifully contrasts the Bellingdon’s posh digs with Tom Smith’s utilitarian and modest bed-sitting-room. Martha Hally’s costumes bristle with realism and Mary Louise Geiger’s lights ensconce the audience in two disparate settings that could not sparkle with more naturalness. Jenn Thompson’s direction is astute and moves the action forward at a desirable pace.

Miles Malleson uses his characters’ alluring conflicts to construct a dramatic narrative that utilizes the rich smorgasbord of rhetorical devices. As “Conflict” catapults to the final scene, heightened farce serves to bring the audience members to question all of what they held to be true and have been seduced into believing was false/fake.

CONFLICT

The cast of “Conflict” includes Jeremy Beck, Henry Clarke, Graeme Malcolm, James Prendergast, Jessie Shelton, Jasmin Walker, and Amelia White.

The creative team includes John McDermott (sets), Martha Hally (costumes), Mary Louise Geiger (lights), and Toby Algya (sound). Kelly Burns serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Mint Theatre Company (Todd).

“Conflict” runs at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street) through Saturday July 21, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., and Wednesday July 18th at 2:00 p.m. Tickets at $65.00 are available by visiting www.telecharge.com or http://minttheater.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Jessie Shelton and Jeremy Beck in “Conflict.” Credit: Todd.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “A Blanket of Dust” at the Flea Theater Mainstage (Through Saturday June 30, 2018)

Photo: L to R - Angela Pierce and James Patrick Nelson. Credit: Sharon Kinsella.
Off-Broadway Review: “A Blanket of Dust” at the Flea Theater Mainstage (Through Saturday June 30, 2018)
By Richard Squires
Directed by Christopher Murrah
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“All they need now is to find an enemy.” – Senator Walter Crane in “A Blanket of Dust”

After her husband Sam was killed (murdered?) when the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, Diane Crane (Angela Pierce) becomes appropriately obsessed with finding out who was responsible for the destruction of the Towers. Unconvinced that it was a foreign adversary or a clear act of terrorism, Diane becomes more convinced the horror was somehow the responsibility of the government of the United States to advance its own interests or to justify Islamophobic politics. This is the "stuff" of Richard Squires' “A Blanket of Dust” currently running at the Flea Theater Mainstage.

Like her 5th Century BCE sister-in-arms Antigone, Diane’s stubborn loyalty to her brother and her unwillingness to defy the government leads her into a dangerous conflict with FBI Agents Sturgis and Staulk (Kelsey Rainwater and Peter J. Romano), DC neocon policy operative Jim Mason (Joseph Dellger), Former Director of the CIA Adam Black (Brad Bellamy) and his wife Esther (Peggy J. Scott) all who accuse her of conspiracy against the government and attempt to silence her. “Burying” her husband’s memory and honoring his life prove to be difficult and life-threatening.

Supported by her parents Senator Walter Crane (Anthony Newfield) and Vanessa Crane (Alison Fraser), her brother Charlie (James Patrick Nelson), longtime friends Andrew Black (Tommy Schrider) and Justice Department Attorney Melanie Hobson (Jessica Frances Dukes), and DC Attorney Gideon Levy (Brennan Caldwell), Diane – over decades – pushes back against the accusations and threats and is determined to find out who murdered her husband whatever the cost.

Under Christopher Murrah’s deft direction, Angela Pierce leads a brilliant ensemble cast whose intricate conflicts drive a mysterious and often challenging plot with enough twists and turns to keep the audience members in suspense and keenly aware of their own political commitments and doubts. Each member of the cast stands out in delivering multi-layered, authentic, and believable performances.

“A Blanket of Dust” raises difficult and enduring questions. Is there a deep state within the government conspiring to weaken the Constitution of the United States? What is truth and Is it possible to ever discover what the truth is in any given situation? What is trust and who can be trusted and why? Are there causes worth giving one’s life for?

Mr. Squires’ play is worth seeing and is especially relevant in the current political environment. Be prepared to have firmly held opinions questioned and loyalties deeply challenged. The blanket of dust created on September 11, 2001 has never lifted and perhaps never will. This play keeps the conversation alive and engaging.

A BLANKET OF DUST

The cast of “A Blanket of Dust” includes Brad Bellamy, Brennan Caldwell, Joseph Dellger, Jessica Frances Dukes, Alison Fraser, James Patrick Nelson, Anthony Newfield, Angela Pierce, Kelsey Rainwater, Peter J. Romano, Tommy Schrider and Peggy J. Scott.

The creative team includes Brendan Boston (scenic design), Christopher Metzger (costume design), Daisy Long (lighting design), and Jim Petty (sound design). Elizabeth Ann Goodman serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Sharon Kinsella.

“A Blanket of Dust” runs at the Flea Theater Mainstage (20 Thomas Street, NYC 10007) through Saturday June 30, 2018 on the following schedule: Mondays through Saturdays at 7:00 p.m., matinees Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. No shows Sundays. Tickets at $20.00-$40.00 are available at www.ablanketofdust.com or by calling Ovation Tickets at 866-811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: L to R - Angela Pierce and James Patrick Nelson. Credit: Sharon Kinsella.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 22, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “All I Want Is One Night” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 1, 2018)

Photo (L-R): Rachel Austin, and Jessica Walker in “All I Want Is One Night.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “All I Want Is One Night” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 1, 2018)
By Jessica Walker
Music Direction by Joseph Atkins
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Once again, a stage at 59E59 welcomes the wonderful Jessica Walker to Brits Off Broadway with her new show “All I Want Is One Night,” a somewhat bio-musical about the openly lesbian French chanteuse Suzy Solidor who opened her own nightclub La Vie Parisienne in the 1930s. Solidor’s claim to fame erupted from a publicity stunt to be recognized as the “most painted women in the world.” She posed for some of the most celebrated artists of her time and the only stipulation for sitting was that she be given the painting to hang in her nightclub. She survived the Nazi occupation but was convicted as a collaborator and had to leave France after the war. She traveled to the states to continue her career and ultimately returned home in 1960 to settle in Haut de Cagnes in the south of France, running a bar in her basement and eventually opening an Antique shop. This is where the peevish, elderly Solidor is found in 1980, dressed in an Admiral’s uniform to conceal her now unflattering figure at the start of the performance.

It is somewhat of a memory play as she tells the story of her youth and transforms into the sexy, bawdy cabaret singer, clad in an elegant gown, flirting with the audience, as she engenders them with provocative lyrics. Ms. Walker certainly captures the intriguing beauty of the chanteuse and deftly delivers each of the eight musical numbers intoxicating the audience with her pure, seductive soprano vocals. This is all well and good but what is missing is the guttural passion, husky timbre and vulnerable vibrato that were trademarks of Solidor and very similar to Piaf of the same era. The portrayal does not seem dark or tough enough and quails a sweet buoyancy that contrasts with the bold, crusty Solidor who tells the story. The bits of bio are not enough to reveal the complex character or paint a clear picture of her daring and incendiary escapades.

The supporting cast (Rachel Austin and Alexandra Mathie), play multiple roles adequately but are not given enough presence to develop real or interesting characters, which leads to some confusion as to their emotional relationship to Solidor. Kate Ashton’s lighting design creates a Bohemian mood for the quasi cabaret setting of tables with red tablecloths that is overcrowded, unnecessary and produces terrible sight lines for the audience. The musical numbers are the core of the production and there should be more, perhaps with a verse or two sung in the original French language to enhance the ambience and support the character’s personality. The sixty-five-minute production is an interesting evening of entertainment that shines a glimmer of light on the fascinating chanteuse but does not qualify or succeed at being a bona fide piece of theater.

ALL I WANT IS ONE NIGHT

“All I Want Is One Night” is written by Jessica Walker, with music director Joseph Atkins. It is produced by Jess Walker Music Theatre, in association with Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester. Joining Jessica Walker are cast members Rachel Austin and Alexandra Mathie. Lighting design is by Kate Ashton and the production stage manager is Sofia Montgomery. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“All I Want Is One Night” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, July 1st at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:15 p.m.; Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:15 p.m. The single ticket price is $25.00 - $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.59e59.org. Running time is 65 minutes without intermission.

Photo (L-R): Rachel Austin, and Jessica Walker in “All I Want Is One Night.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 21, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Founder’s Project’s “First Love” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday July 8, 2018)

Photo: Angelina Fiordellisi, Michael O’Keefe, and Taylor Harvey in “First Love.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: Founder’s Project’s “First Love” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday July 8, 2018)
By Charles Mee
Directed by Kim Weild
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

With a nod to magical realism, Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story,” and a splash of the surreal – specifically the world of René François Ghislain Magrritte – Charles Mee provides a mostly realistic narrative about the experiences of an older couple who fall in love for the first time. Currently running at Cherry Lane Theatre, Mr. Mee’s “First Love” is a kaleidoscopic montage of the emotional fallout when Harold (Michael O’Keefe) meets Edith (Angelina Fiordellisi) on a park bench. This is not the most pleasant of meetings. Harold, having given up on love or any approximation to love, is asleep on that bench. Edith arrives and immediately instructs Harold to “shove up” so she and her radio can occupy the same bench.

Harold relents and, after Edith joins him, he accepts her offer of a sip of sherry and the pair engage in conversation about the opera, the symphony, having lost a lot when they lost communism and the opposition, dying from neglect and indifference, their personal histories, former spouses, and beat poets – things one typically might discuss on any “first date?” Harold and Edith go back to Edith’s home and the bench becomes a couch, a table, a bed and the conversations deepen. Courting continues, there is talk of settling down and marriage, Harold and Edith have a falling out and fall out of love, and eventually decide to “start over” where they began – back on the bench.

Angelina Fiordellisi and Michael O’Keefe are wonderful together and give their respective characters a depth and authenticity that often rises above what they are given in Mr. Mee’s script. When the playwright excels, Ms. Fiordellisi and Mr. O’Keefe are magical in their performances. When the script weakens, as it does in some scenes, the seasoned actors still make legerdemain seem a felicitous exercise. Taylor Harvey provides convincing performances as a variety of “real” and “magical” characters and the trio gives the audience a glimpse into the vicissitudes of humanity’s attempts to find meaning and love in all its manifestations.

Kim Weild directs with the necessary allegro tempo and gives the actors plenty of room to find levels of performance and nuance of character. Edward Peirce’s set works well and allows the play’s realism to gently counterpoint with it’s surreal undertones. Theresa Squire’s delightful costumes make it clear why the couple misses Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti. And Paul Miller’s lighting and Christian Frederickson’s sound make “First Love” easy on the eye and ear.

There is only one unfortunate misstep. When one’s writing, sufficient as it is, does not approximate the rhetorical skills of an Albee, a Toni Morrison, or a Gabriel García Márquez, it might be better for Mr. Mee not to discredit one of America’s iconic theatre critics in an exchange meant somehow to celebrate the “good old days” when members of the theatre community “knew each other.” A cheap shot at a theatre critic does not make a kinder, gentler generation.

See “First Love” for what it is: a satisfying look into the eyes and minds of a couple trying to figure out what it means to be in love and what it means to have one’s life “completely changed” by another human being.

FIRST LOVE

“First Love” stars Angelina Fiordellisi and Michael O’Keefe.

The show will feature set design by Edward Pierce, costume design by Theresa Squire, lighting design by Paul Miller, and sound design by Christian Frederickson. Nicole Kuker serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

“First Love” runs through Sunday July 8, 2018 at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) on the following performance schedule: Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. with additional performances on Monday, July 2 at 7:00 p.m., Tuesday June 12 and June 19 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 1 and July 8 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $65-$95 and are available at www.cherrylanetheatre.org or by calling Ovation Tix at 866-811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Angelina Fiordellisi, Michael O’Keefe, and Taylor Harvey in “First Love.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, June 17, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Secret Life of Humans” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 1, 2018)

Photo L-R: Andrew Strafford-Baker, Andy McLeod, Olivia Hirst, Stella Taylor, and Richard Delaney in “Secret Life of Humans” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Richard Davenport.
Off-Broadway Review: “Secret Life of Humans” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 1, 2018)
Written by David Byrne
Directed by David Byrne and Kate Stanley
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is difficult to parse David Byrne’s “Secret Life of Humans,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, without issuing spoiler alerts. As the eighty-five-minute play unfolds, three “stories” – one lasting a single night, one across a lifetime, and one that spans humanity’s sixty-million-year history, collide in a cathartic resolution that jangles the senses. Inspired by Yuval Harari's “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” David Burns tackles the essential questions about science, philosophy, and what it means to be human. Produced previously at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Mr. Burns’ play arrives at 59E59 at part of its annual Brits Off Broadway series.

The characters are interesting enough and their conflicts drive a complex, multi-layered plot that begins strong in the first thirty minutes, but then becomes less focused and less engaging as the play winds down to its resolution. Lonely hearts Ava (Stella Taylor), an anthropology academic, and Jamie (Andrew Strafford-Baker), in town to clear out his recently deceased grandmother’s house, meet in a local restaurant after turning to Tinder to swipe away their solitude. Their one night together reveals the power of greed and the longing for meaningful relationships.

David Byrne’s script is non-linear and traverses past and present in what seems seamless transitions in space and time. The playwright and Kate Stanley co-direct the piece with a keen eye for detail and connection. Ava serves as the “narrator” between scenes and breaks the fourth wall bringing the audience into her lecture hall at the university where she is about to lose her position. So, meeting Jamie is fortuitous since his grandfather Jacob Bronowski (Richard Delaney) narrated the popular BBC television series “The Ascent of Man” and left all records of his “secret” research with mathematician George (Andy McLeod) locked up in an alarmed room in the house Jamie is about to clear out.

Mr. Byrnes’ script does address the promised issues of the ascent of man, including snippets of BBC’s Michael Parkinson’s 1970s interviews with Jamie’s grandfather who affirmed the constant upward progression of human development. Without disclosing the secret in his locked room, Bronowski also was concerned about a specific event in modern history that just might disrupt man’s ascent. Jamie proffers his own theory about humankind’s “ascent” that includes farming wheat as “where it all started to go wrong, becoming “history’s biggest fraud.”

Most significant, however, are the themes that surround digging through Bronowski’s secret treasure trove. Jamie allows Ava into the room and their discoveries are intriguing, horrific, and provide a path for research and writing that would reinstate Ava in her teaching position. In this latter part of the play, time again moves from past to present and the audience “listens in” to the past and the intrigue in the library of University of Hull where Bronowski assures George they “will not be disturbed by any students.” What were Bronowski and George working on? What did Jacob’s wife Rita (Olivia Hirst) know about the secret research and the collaboration with others involved in World War II projects? And what about the newspaper clipping Jamie and Ava find showing a “photograph of a young man, crying over his suitcase?”

Deception, dissemblance, disingenuous behavior, greed, self-serving and political motivation are examined in this important play. The drama raises rich questions that endure and demand answers – questions that are keenly relevant to the political machinations in Washington currently. Why do political leaders deceive, prevaricate, dissemble and engage the people they serve in disingenuous dialogue? What secrets lie at the heart of the political machine in American and globally? What “projects” are governments involved in to “solve” what they perceive to be the world’s “important problems? How will this part of the twenty-first century influence the “ascent of humankind?” The cast of “Secret Life of Humans” successfully grapples with these questions with the assistance of a splendid creative team. Jen McGinley’s set design, Catherine Webb’s lighting, and Zakk Hein’s projections draw the audience into the action with effects that are at once astounding and puzzling. “Secret Life of Humans” is worth the time. See it before its limited run ends.

SECRET LIFE OF HUMANS

The cast features Richard Delaney, Olivia Hirst, Andy McLeod, Andrew Strafford-Baker, and Stella Blue Taylor.

The design team includes Jen McGinley (set designer); Geoff Hense (lighting designer); Ronnie Dorsey (costume designer); Zakk Hein (projection designer); Yaiza Varona (composer and sound designer); and John Maddox (aerial designer). The Production Stage Manager is Raynelle Wright. Production photos by David Monteith Hodge and Richard Davenport.

“Secret Life of Humans” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, July 1st, 2018. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Friday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison Avenues). The single ticket price is $25.00 - $70.00 ($25.00 - $49.00 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.59e59.org. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.

Photo L-R: Andrew Strafford-Baker, Andy McLeod, Olivia Hirst, Stella Taylor, and Richard Delaney in “Secret Life of Humans” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Richard Davenport.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, June 16, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Desperate Measures” at New World Stages (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 9, 2018)

Photo: Conor Ryan as Johnny Blood in “Desperate Measures.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Desperate Measures” at New World Stages (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 9, 2018)
Book and Lyrics by Peter Kellogg
Music by David Friedman
Directed and Choreographed by Bill Castellino
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After its previous three-time extended sold out run at the York Theatre Company, “Desperate Measures” is back Off-Broadway and the antics of rabble-rousing Johnny Blood are as bodacious and bawdy as ever. Although billed as being “loosely based” on the classic Shakespearian comedy, “Desperate Measures,” currently playing at New World Stages, has the “guts” of “Measure for Measure” with the charm and appeal of a traditional Broadway musical. Peter Kellogg and David Friedman are to be commended for achieving this feat and bringing this clever retelling back to the stage.

Somewhere out West in the late 1800s, Johnny Blood (Conor Ryan) has been jailed for shooting and killing a man in a fight over Bella Rose (Lauren Molina) the chanteuse at the local saloon. Johnny is scheduled to hang and reaches out to his cell mate Father Morse (Gary Marachek) who has been jailed for intoxication and gives more credence to Friedrich Nietzsche than to the Deity. Johnny’s only hope is his sister Susanna (Sarah Parnicky) who is just days away from becoming a nun – Sister Mary Jo. Hopefully the good Sister can convince Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (Nick Wyman) to pardon her brother and allow Sheriff Martin Green (Pater Saide) to set Johnny free.

The parallels to Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” genuinely please the audience in this rollicking romantic retelling. Susanna and the Sheriff have a crush on one another. The Governor has a crush on Susanna (or is it Bella?). Johnny and Bella want to marry and start a family. And Father Morse just wants to get drunk and correspond with the now dead Nietzsche.

The discerning Shakespeare aficionado will recognize (in addition to the bare bones of the plot): Vincentio the Duke (Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber); a morally unambiguous Angelo the Deputy (Sheriff Green); a Claudio (Johnny Blood); his sister Isabella – with a bit of the Nun (Susanna); Claudio’s Beloved Juliet – with a bit of Mistress Overdone (Bella Rose); and the Duke’s alter ego Friar Peter (Father Morse).

Also present are the engaging themes of “Measure for Measure.” This retelling manages to address law and order, justice, hypocrisy, and moral ambiguity in comedic ways without dismissing their importance in the Wild West and in the current socio-political environment. There’s even a not-so-veiled jab at the current occupant of the White House as well as mistaken identity and Peter Kellogg’s rhyming iambic pentameter. There is enough here for many of the audience members to have seen the musical more than once.

This is a pleasant musical that celebrates the enduring themes of love, commitment, and “being alive.” The cast is uniformly engaging – all triple threats with vocal, acting, and movement skills. They stay true to their characters and deliver authentic and believable performances. The eighteen musical numbers range from the comedic to the sublime. Mr. Friedman’s music is varied in style and inspiration and complements Mr. Kellogg’s lively book and lyrics perfectly. Favorites are Susanna’s “Look in Your Heart,” Johnny’s “Good to Be Alive,” and “The Way You Feel Inside” the trio by Susanna, Bella, and the Sheriff. Peter Saide, Sarah Parnicky, Lauren Molina, and Conor Ryan have exceptionally fine voices with extensive ranges and can interpret and deliver lyrics with sensitivity and nuance.

Will Sheriff Green and Susanna unite and marry? Will Bella and Johnny get hitched? Will Father Morse discover the truth about the letter he received from Friedrich Nietzsche? Will the Governor show any remorse for his despicable behavior? Perhaps Bella and Susanna’s duet “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Lifelong Commitment” provides a hint. See “Desperate Measures” before it pulls up stakes and leaves town – again.

DESPERATE MEASURES

Directed and choreographed by Bill Castellino and with music direction by David Hancock Turner, the six-member cast of “Desperate Measures” features Sarah Parnicky as Susanna/Sister Mary Jo, Gary Marachek as Father Morse, Lauren Molina as Bella Rose, Conor Ryan as Johnny Blood, Peter Saide as Sheriff Green, and Nick Wyman as Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber with Celia Hottenstein and Tom Souhrada.

The creative team includes James Morgan (scenic design), Nicole Wee (costume design), Paul Miller (lighting design), Julian Evans (sound design), Tommy Kurzman (wigs, hair, and make-up design. David Hancock Turner serves as musical director. Casting is by Carol Hanzel and the production stage manager is CJ LaRoche. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

“Desperate Measures” plays New World Stages (340 West 50th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues). Performances are Monday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $59.00 - $89.00 (including a $2 facility fee). Premium seats are available. Call https://www.telecharge.com/ at 212-239-6200. For more information, please visit http://desperatemeasuresmusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with an intermission.

Photo: Conor Ryan as Johnny Blood in “Desperate Measures.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 14, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Elevator Repair Service’s “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” at Abrons Arts Center (Through Saturday June 30, 2018)

Photo: Vin Knight and Annie McNamara in “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: Elevator Repair Service’s “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” at Abrons Arts Center (Through Saturday June 30, 2018)
By Kate Scelsa
Directed by John Collins
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In Act III of Edward Albee’s classic play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (The Exorcism), George and Martha are alone following Nick and Honey’s departure. The deception that has haunted their marriage has been “exorcised” and the couple wonders what their future holds: Will things get better? Can they survive without the deception? Will they be all right? Albee’s dense text is to be parsed on several deep levels and through a variety of critical lenses, including the historical and psychological. Albee is deeply concerned about the future of America and his rich tropes and deep questions surround that primary theme. One would have to stay on the surface of the text to find misogyny and patriarchy as significant themes or relevant traits of the playwright or his male characters.

Apparently, playwright Kate Scelsa has chosen to identify those exact themes in her deconstruction of Albee’s play. Billed as “a loving homage and a wildly hilarious feminist take-down of an American classic,” Elevator Repair Service’s “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf,” currently playing at Abrons Arts Center, rarely rises above an attempt to reinvent that classic. Ms. Scelsa’s retelling is, at times, funny – particularly in the “First Act.” There are well-written allusions to Albee’s play and quite funny recitations of George’s (the implacable Vin Knight) favorite Tennessee Williams soliloquies. Martha (the irrepressible Annie McNamara) has invited Nick (the obsequious Mike Iveson) and Honey (the unabashed April Matthis) – from an earlier party – for drinks, debauchery, and “diriculous” sexual escapades. And the familiar party begins.

It is all here really for anyone looking to find the bones of the 1962 novel in this 2018 riff. There is heavy drinking, though George drinks more than Martha who tosses her alcohol on the unsuspecting (and now quite dead) plants. There are arguments that cut deeply into Martha and George’s sense of well-being, though George comes across a tad more caustic and unforgiving. There are references to their “baby boy not coming home for his birthday,” though the importance of the “imaginary” child is never addressed by Ms. Scelsa. And there are multiple references to Honey’s “hysterical pregnancies” without any attempt to explore the importance of these events. Of course, Nick deals with his own attempts at giving birth in his “slash fiction, which is fan fiction where you make everyone gay even if they're not.” Now who is being exploited?

The playwright’s attempt to find Martha at the end of Albee’s play “destroyed by this idea of motherhood, of not living up to this very traditional idea of what it means to be a woman” and the promise of delivering the ferocity of Martha’s revenge on an unsuspecting patriarchy are not sustained in Ms. Scelsa’s script. Further, the rich homoerotic themes in Albee’s work are trivialized beyond meaning in “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf.” And the “vampiric” Third Act with Carmilla the PhD candidate (the irrepressible Lindsay Hockaday) completely derails.

Kate Scelsa wrote “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” for the Elevator Repair Service as “a very passionate love letter to the company that has been [her] theatrical home for the past fifteen years.” Had “the letter” been written in collaboration with that company, the deep and enduring question Albee raises through Martha’s weltanschauung might have found answers – or at least approximations to those resolutions. See “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” if you enjoy riffs of classic American plays and arcane references to those plays in snippets of dialogue. Refrain from engaging the play if you are seeking a thoughtful deconstruction of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Truth be told, we all should be fearful. Go ask Albee’s Martha who profoundly understood the fine line between reality and illusion.

EVERYONE’S FINE WITH VIRGINIA WOOLF

The cast for “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” features Elevator Repair Service veterans and includes Annie McNamara as Martha, April Matthis as Honey, Mike Iveson as Nick, Vin Knight as George, and Lindsay Hockaday as Carmilla. The creative team includes Louisa Thompson (sets), Kaye Voyce (costumes), Ryan Seelig (lights), Ben Williams (sound), Amanda Villalobos (props), Maurina Lioce (production stage manager) and Ariana Smart Truman (producer). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Performances of “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” run through June 30th at Abrons Arts Center (466 Grant Street) on the following schedule: through June 24th, Wednesday–Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Extension, June 27 – 30 at 8:00 p.m.; June 30 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $65.00-$75.00, June 12–24 general admission; $65.00-$85.00, June 27-30 general admission; $40.00 for artists, $25.00 for students; and $20.00 general rush. Tickets can be purchased by visiting everyonesfine.com or by calling 866-811-4111. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Vin Knight and Annie McNamara in “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Abingdon Theatre Company’s Production of “Fruit Trilogy” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Saturday June 23, 2018)

Photo: Kiersey Clemons in “Avocado.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
Off-Broadway Review: Abingdon Theatre Company’s Production of “Fruit Trilogy” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Saturday June 23, 2018)
By Eve Ensler
Directed by Mark Rosenblatt
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Eve Ensler’s commitment to ending violence against cisgender, transgender, and gender non-conforming women and girls globally (V-Day: A Global Movement to End Violence Against Women) has been unwavering since “The Vagina Monologues” premiered at HERE in 1996. Ms. Ensler attempts to continue that commitment in “Fruit Trilogy,” Abingdon Theatre Company’s final mainstage production of its twenty-fifth anniversary season. Currently in its “New York premiere” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, “Fruit Trilogy” was produced outside of New York City as early as 2016 in Leeds, England.

The trilogy includes three short plays “Pomegranate,” “Avocado,” and “Coconut” that deal respectively with issues of degradation, oppression, and emancipation. In the first twenty-minute play, Pomegranate,” two talking heads chatter to one another on a shelf in a warehouse. Ms. Ensler chooses to write here in an odd post-absurdist style which tends to obfuscate the piece’s important conversation about sex workers and the dishonor of their profession (chosen or otherwise). At the beginning of the piece, the pair – Item 1 and Item 2 – (Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mike) observe the arrival of more pomegranates, foreshadowing what is to come in the second short play “Avocado.”

“Avocado” features Kiersey Clemons in a twenty-minutes non-linear monologue that addresses a multitude of issues of oppression and violence against women and girls, including human trafficking, child prostitution, and slavery. Her character is being transported in a container of avocados (perhaps to the warehouse in “Pomegranate?”) where she has been placed against her will and, apparently, at the direction of her father and with the complicity of her mother. Is she on her way to some Asylum proffered by the traffikers (the “whackers”) or, more likely, to sexual slavery, forced labor, or commercial sexual exploitation? Her pleas for release ring with fear that overshadows any chance of redemption and release. Ms. Clemons, assumedly following Mark Rosenblatt’s direction, delivers her monologue in a monochromatic frenzy that, overall, detracts from the strength of the rhetorical argument.

The final play of the trilogy, “Coconut,” begins with Liz Mike’s character setting up an “altar” in her bathroom. She warns, “Some people go to church. Some people go to mosque or a temple. I come here. Yes, I realize it’s a bathroom. But don’t underestimate the mystical implications of the bathroom.” She proceeds to massage her right foot for the first time in front of observers (the audience). The “rubbing” triggers a hallucinogenic “trip” into layers of the speaker’s past, including the day her dance teacher asked, “How can you dance when you’re so fat?” These memories result in a “cathartic” disrobing and dance (unfortunately, not balletic) of “emancipation.” As she strips off her top and gets undressed and begins to oil her arms and breasts, neck and stomach, the speaker cautions, “Oh no, please don’t do that. Don’t get in your head now.” The audience does not need that censure and, further, the nudity is gratuitous and unnecessary.

The trilogy suffers from performances that seem – given the strength of the cast – oddly disconnected from the material. And some of the arguments addressed in the material itself seem dated. Issues of self-image, for example, overshadow the contemporary pandemic of bullying and cyber-bullying that effect the cisgender, transgender, and gender non-conforming community of vulnerable women and girls. This disconnect might be the result of Mr. Rosenblatt’s erratic direction or the script itself.

“Fruit Trilogy,” though timely, does not thoroughly address – or fully counterpoint with – the MeToo Movement founded in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke that went viral in 2017 after the allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein. The powerful issues of entitlement and sexual misconduct in the workplace are not addressed and for that reason, despite its important, relevant, and compelling themes, it falls short of making the strongest case for emancipation.

FRUIT TRILOGY

The cast of “Fruit Trilogy” features Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mike.

Fruit Trilogy features a scenic design by Mark Wendland, costume design by Andrea Lauer, lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, and sound design by Matt Hubbs. Production photos by Maria Baranova.

“Fruit Trilogy” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday June 23rd, 2018 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street, NYC) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday - Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 :00 p.m., with matinees on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. There is no matinee on Sunday June 10th.) Tickets are $65.00 and available at http://abingdontheatre.org/ or by calling Ovationtix at 212-352-3101. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Kiersey Clemons in “Avocado.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 8, 2018

Broadway Review: “Saint Joan” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Through Sunday June 10, 2018)

Photo: Condola Rashad in “Saint Joan.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Saint Joan” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Through Sunday June 10, 2018)
Written by Bernard Shaw
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“No sir: we are afraid of you; but she puts courage into us. She really doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. Perhaps you could frighten her, sir.” - Robert de Baudricourt’s Steward, Scene 1, “Saint Joan”

George Bernard Shaw has had a successful run on Broadway in the 2017-2018 season. Shaw’s “Pygmalion” lies at the heart of Lerner and Lowe’s “My Fair Lady” currently on at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont Theater and Shaw’s engaging “Saint Joan” is currently on at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. In addition to his “appearance” on Broadway, three of the iconic Irish playwright’s plays are included in this summer’s Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Before “Saint Joan” closes on its scheduled June 10, 2018 date, it is important to remember the significance of Shaw’s 1923 play in the current Broadway season. “Saint Joan” received a single Tony Award nomination for Condola Rashad’s brilliant performance in the title role: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play. Additionally, the production featured a stunning set by Scott Pask and highly effective lighting by Justin Townsend and sound design by Obadiah Eaves. Most important, however, are the rich enduring questions Shaw raises in his drama.

In his parsing of the history of Joan of Arc from the castle of Vaucouleurs to the fictional epilogue in 1456 in the bedchamber of King Charles the Seventh of France (Adam Chanler-Berat), Bernard Shaw grapples with questions as relevant in the 15th century as in the 21st century. Is war even an option to solve international differences or threats? If so, what circumstances warrant a declaration of war? Is fear a way to govern? What role should one’s religion or faith play in making political decisions? What is a hero? How was Joan of Arc a hero? What role does sexual status play in the ability to make military decisions, including serving in the armed services? Has the “church” become an unreliable moral barometer?

Under Daniel Sullivan’s guiding hand, the cast addresses Shaw’s concerns and themes with welcomed rigor. Some might find the length of the monologues to be challenging; however, each of these is filled with interesting historical detail that adds to the understanding of the importance of Joan of Arc and her contemporaries and the complicated matrix of establishing national identity. These “arguments” are of the utmost importance in current conversations around America’s national identity and place in the global political community. Shaw’s blending of present, past, and future in the final scene of “Saint Joan” reminds us of Shaw’s willingness to “experiment” in tackling historical themes.

Condola Rashad explores the layers of Saint Joan’s character with a finesse that leaves little of “The Maid’s) personality undefined. The journey from soldier to prisoner to saint is beatified by Ms. Rashad’s authentic performance. The entire cast supports that remarkable transformation with consummate skill and grace.

SAINT JOAN

The cast of “Saint Joan” features Walter Bobbie, Adam Chanler-Berat, Jack Davenport, John Glover, Maurice Jones, Russell G. Jones, Max Gordon Moore, Patrick Page, Condola Rashad, Matthew Saldivar, Robert Stanton, Lou Sumrall, and Daniel Sunjata. The company also includes Tony Carlin, Ben Horner, Mandi Masden, Howard W. Overshown, Michael Rudko, and RJ Vaillancourt.

The design team includes Scott Pask (scenic design), Jane Greenwood (costume design), Justin Townsend (lighting design), Obadiah Eaves (sound design), Christopher Ash (projection design), Tom Watson (hair and wig design), Tommy Kurzman (make-up design), Bill Frisell (original music), and Deborah Hecht (dialect coach). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets are available at www.Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. Ticket prices are $65.00-$145.00. For more information about “Saint Joan,” including the performance schedule, please visit https://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Condola Rashad in “Saint Joan.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 1, 2018

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