Broadway Review: “Derren Brown – Secret” at the Cort Theatre (Through Saturday January 4, 2020)
Broadway Review: “Derren Brown – Secret” at the Cort Theatre (Through Saturday January 4, 2020) Written by Andy Nyman, Derren Brown, and Andrew O’Connor Directed by Andrew O’Connor and Andy Nyman Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
The one and probably only thing you may be sure of when you leave the Cort Theatre after viewing the recent production of “Derren Brown: Secret” is that Mr. Brown is a very likable and convincing fellow, along with being a wonderful entertainer. He assures you that he cannot read your mind, that there is nothing contrived and there are no “plants” in the audience to deceive you. A true skeptic will wonder if he consequently manipulated you into believing that to reinforce what is to follow during the next couple of hours. As he takes the stage he appears quite normal and comfortable in a casual three piece suit. He introduces himself and takes a seat stage left to begin telling us about his personal life, secrets that he might only tell his close friends. He confides in you and gains your confidence so you feel as comfortable as he is and that is where the trust begins, or ends. Next he asks the audience to stand and participate in somewhat of a test. It is not to measure your intelligence but to merely evaluate your susceptibility in order to reveal how prone you may be to manipulation. It is after this introductory proceeding that the fun begins.
The reason for being so vague is that Mr. Brown has requested of any person that was present to review his performance not to divulge the “Secret” in their publication, so future audiences are given the opportunity to enjoy the festivities without knowing the outcome. It is only righteous to oblige and respect this request.
There is quite a bit of audience participation even before the show begins. You are asked to fill out little cards disclosing a personal secret or chosen to be facially photographed. During the show there are Frisbees tossed throughout the theater to procure random volunteers to grace the stage and participate in one of the many mind boggling scenes. To further insist there is no collusion, audience members are chosen to choose other audience members to participate in certain activities, assuring they have no possible connection to the production. There are Gorillas that may or may not be seen, locked boxes from the past and large portraits painted before your eyes.
What can be said, is that Mr. Brown is an amazing showman and talented performer. Acts of prestidigitation have enthralled audiences throughout the ages but Mr. Brown has brought this form of entertainment to a new level. It is intelligent, skillful, manipulative, intriguing, beguiling and captivating, but most of all it does what theater is meant to do. It allows you to forget your troubles, it prompts you to think, forces you to pay attention and provides delightful entertainment for a couple of hours. Mr. Brown swears that he is not a mind reader but I would disagree. He certainly knew what every member of the audience was there for and that is what he gave them. A magical, mind boggling experience and a phenomenal evening of entertainment.
DERREN BROWN – SECRET
The creative team for “Derren Brown – Secret” includes Takeshi Kata (scenic design), Ben Stanton (lighting design), Jill BC Du Boff (sound design), and Caite Hevner (production design). Cynthia Cahill serves as production stage manager.
“Derren Brown – Secret” runs at the Cort Theatre (138 West 48th Street) through Saturday January 4, 2020. For more information, to purchase tickets, and for the full performance schedule, visit the show’s official website at https://derrenbrownsecret.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including one intermission.
Photo: Derren Brown in “Derren Brown – Secret.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, September 28, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Fern Hill” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday October 20, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Fern Hill” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday October 20, 2019) Written by Michael Tucker Directed by Nadia Tass Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Part group therapy, part intervention, part Doctors Phil and Ruth, “Fern Hill,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters through Sunday October 20, 2019, rehearses the events at Sunny’s (Jill Eikenberry) and Jer’s (Mark Blum) country farmhouse (Fern Hill) that take place with their close couple friends and frequent guests Vincent (John Glover) and Darla (Ellen Parker) and Billy (Mark Linn-Baker) and Michiko (Jodi Long). On this visit, the “gang” has gathered to celebrate Jer’s birthday, to finalize plans for the couples’ Commune Project, and an unexpected act of infidelity on the part of the “birthday boy.”
For over four months, the couples have been discussing moving in together at the farmhouse so they can support on another as they continue to advance in years – they range from 60 years old (Billy) to almost 80 years old (Vincent). Sunny affirms the need for the commune because, “no one left to take care of us but ourselves.” Darla concurs, “And watch out for each other and care for each other until the day we die.” Jer, however, is against the commune and prefers his privacy. He also prefers spending time with a young female student at the university where he teaches. With Jer’s infidelity taking precedence, the “rules” of the commune retreat into the background.
Act One ends with a protracted discussion between Sunny and Jer (the Sunny and Jer Show) about Jer’s infidelity, their relationship leading up to the infidelity, and a host of therapeutic talk-show-type couple therapy diagnoses about what’s missing in their relationship, what needs to be changed, and what the possibility of survival might be. The act ends with Darla deciding to attend her photography show in Austria with Michiko accompanying her, the discussion of Vincent’s upcoming hip surgery, and Sunny and Jer promising to pick him up from the hospital and caring for him until Darla returns home.
The Second Act picks up three weeks later after Vincent returns to Fern Hill and Darla and Michiko’s return to the commune. This act focuses on Sunny’s career and her relationship with Jer. Sunny must decide whether to ask Jer to leave or to attempt reconciliation, and the others struggle to determine how to keep their longtime friends together. Unfortunately, after Vincent’s earlier engaging conversation with Sunny about the difference between intimacy and sex and the importance of intimacy, the intervention collapses into a series of lackluster monologues about sex and fidelity and how these have played out in each of their relationships. Michael Tucker seems to have lost his way here, leaving the actors seemingly ill at ease as they struggle to suddenly have sex the focus of the piece, abandoning the concern for relationship and community extant in Act One. Act Two simply fails to deliver, particularly in the last couple of scenes.
The playwright seems to want to cover an extensive range of topics without focusing on one primary theme. Is the play about intimacy? About sex? About communal living and support? About rock bands and drugs? About infidelity? There are lengthy conversations about recipes, one for the clam sauce Billy acquired from an Italian grandmother “in a little trattoria on the shores of the Adriatic” during his band’s Farewell Tour Number Seven, and the other for Fra Diavlo. This, along with extensive sections of exposition about each character, add a significant amount of dialogue and time which seems unnecessary and not entirely relevant to the advancement of the plot. Act Two of “Fern Hill” is overlong and overwrought.
The playwright effortlessly introduces themes; however, he does not allow many of these themes to develop to the point of exposing the important underbelly of rich and enduring questions. Why do couples fail to or cease to “know” about one another? How does motivation effect levels of disclosure and transparency in intimate relationships? Who do individuals and couples ignore glaring signs of discord in the ability to relate honestly? Why do broken relationships often engender self-abuse? Does infidelity necessarily cause not hearing one’s spouse or considering one’s mate “incidental?” These are the questions one wishes Michael Tucker would parse, not Michiko’s “addiction to her computer, or Billy’s being “high all the time.”
That said, it was exhilarating to see this amazing cast assembled on one stage. Under Nadia Tass’s direction, each of these iconic actors delivered believable performances that authenticated their characters’ unique conflicts in ways that successfully advanced the play’s plot. One wishes for a more coherent story with a more cathartic and realistic ending. A story more fitting for the assembled “rock stars” of the theatre.
The cast of “Fern Hill” features Mark Linn-Baker, Mark Blum, Jill Eikenberry, John Glover, Jodi Long, and Ellen Parker. Philip Hoffman and Pilar Witherspoon are the understudies.
The design team includes Jessica Parks (scenic design); Kate McGee (lighting design); Patricia Doherty (costume design); Kenneth Goodwin (sound design); and Addison Heeren (prop master). The Production Stage Manager is Stephanie Clark.
“Fern Hill” runs at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street) through Sunday, October 20 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Single tickets are $25 - $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call the 59E59 Box Office at 646-892-7999 or visit www.59e59.org.
Photo (L-R): Mark Linn-Baker, John Glover, Mark Blum, Jill Eikenberry, Jodi Long, and Ellen Parker in Michael Tucker’s “Fern Hill at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 19, 2019
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island” at The Producers Club (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island” at The Producers Club (Through Sunday September 29, 2019) Written by Richard Roy and Eric C. Webb Directed by Thomas G. Waites Theatre Reviews Limited
A grizzly and wisened Richard Roy emerges from the darkness at the beginning of “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island,” currently running at The Producers Club, to introduce his autobiographical “guide” to surviving the prison environment he shared for six months of his young adult life on Rikers Island on a charge of negligent homicide. Roy then steps off the stage, surrendering its stark bareness to the young Richard (Connor Chase Stewart) who brings the audience “up to date” on how the trip to Rikers played out and ended.
The engaging and energetic Mr. Steward rehearses in detail how his character commits the horrible crime that results in the death of a young Latino man, the details of his arrest and experience in the holding cell, how he easily affords bail, and how two years later he is able to cop a deal that reduces his prison time from a minimum of 10 years for manslaughter to a year on Rikers Island. All of these “steps” to the doorstep of Rikers are based on Richard’s white privilege – born to a wealthy white suburban family in Sparta, New Jersey and raised with privilege all his life. The playwright here, as he does throughout the piece, makes no effort to hide how this privilege benefitted him.
All vestiges of his privilege evaporate when Richard finally is assigned to his cell block and he realizes he is in the racial minority. Richard shares that “92% of the population of Rikers Island is Black or Hispanic. Which makes me and you, oh new, melanin deprived, recruits into the System of Corrections a minority. Congratulations!” There is something othering about this affirmation which this review will address later. Our protagonist begins “The Guide” with a short history of Rikers, its population, and describing “a day in the life” at the facility.
With his transgender cellmate Shivon and his block mate Saddam and with the “blessing” of his CO Dillis, Richard establishes a successful juggling business, undercutting the Puerto Rican Express and its leader Hector Lopez. Hector not only does not tolerate being undercut; he discovers that the young man Richard killed is his nephew. Richard is threatened, harassed, and sometimes doubtful he will make it out of Rikers alive.
Roy and Webb never lose site of the significance of the young Richard’s crime. The “Guide” is not about claiming innocence. It is about Richard’s sense of entitlement. His constant refrains, his mantas are: “I don’t belong here.” “I’m not like these guys.” “I’m better than this.” “I just need to get through this.” “What did I do to deserve this?” Remorse and rehabilitation get lost on mere regret and denial. Connor Chase Stewart embodies his character’s struggle with self and other with authenticity and utter believability. Under Thomas G. Waites His performance is riveting and unforgettable.
Back to the issue of othering. Although the writers make it clear that most of the problems addressed in “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island” are the result of white privilege, corporate greed, and systemic racism, there is something missing in the script that is amplified further by Mr. Stewart’s impressive performance. These missing elements are probably best addressed in the form of rich and enduring questions. Questions like: “What about the fears of the black and Latino prisoners.” “Why should a convicted white prisoner feel he or she does not belong in a prison populated by inmates who do not look like them?” “Where does privilege end and responsibility begin?”
This is not only a guide for the white prison population. This is a guide for the White Man who builds, staffs, and operates prisons in America and profits from those institutions of incarceration. “The big irony of this place, though? 85% of the folks there… haven’t even been convicted of anything yet. They’re all the folks who can’t afford to pay their bail, and so are stuck while they await trial… likely to only return to Rikers, or worse.” Hopefully Richard Roy’s and Eric Webb’s commendable effort will result in a heightened awareness of the deplorable brokenness and systemic racism of America’s prison system.
A WHITE MAN’S GUIDE TO RIKERS ISLAND
The cast of “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island” includes Richard Roy and Connor Chase Stewart.
“A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island” runs at The Producer’s Club (358 West 44th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues) through Sunday September 29 on the following performance schedule: Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $25.00, available at 212-315-4743 or www.producersclub.com. For more information, visit www.awhitemansguidetorikersisland.com. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
Photo: Connor Chase Stewart in “A White Man’s Guide to Rikers Island.” Credit: Jacob Goldberg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, September 16, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Only Yesterday” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Only Yesterday” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday September 29, 2019) Written by Bob Stevens Directed by Carol Dunne Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Writing a play about two iconic figures like Paul McCartney and John Lennon is risky business. Detailed information about their lives, their work, and their relationships is abundant and readily available. For a script about the famous pair to be engaging and relevant, the writing needs to include either new information or it needs to attempt to bring some new perspectives to the massive body of knowledge that has been previously explored in film, theatre, and documentaries. Bob Stevens’s “Only Yesterday” currently running at 59E59 Theaters falls victim to taking such a risk.
“Only Yesterday” begins with the radio broadcast interview during which Sir John McCartney discusses his poem to John Lennon – “A Song for John.” Unfortunately, it is a full forty-five minutes into the seventy-minute play that the playwright begins to address the emotional conversation between McCartney and Lennon in their Key West hotel room, the conversation so significant McCartney later describes it as “an important emotional landmark.” Even in the final twenty-five minutes, the reenacting of this “talking” (as McCartney characterizes it) by actors Tommy Crawford (McCartney) and Christopher Sears (Lennon) is superficial and lifeless.
What of the first forty-five minutes? Bob Stevens chooses to spend far too much time on unpacking suitcases and guitars, deciding what song McCartney and Lennon might record (they are due to write songs for a new album and seem totally blocked), ordering food, watching television, and dealing with screaming fans including one stuck in the air vent in their hotel room. The actors play eight (8!) songs as possible covers for the new album and the pre-teen girl Shirley Knapp (Olivia Swayze) chatters on for far too long (inside the vent obviously) adding absolutely nothing to the advancement of the plot. A cover song is not chosen, and Olivia is dragged away by a security officer with the promise of receiving a “confirmation letter” via mail from John attesting to her “vent visit” with her favorite Beatles.
“Only Yesterday” is Bob Stevens’s first play. Prior work has focused on producing, writing, and consulting for television sitcoms. His lack of experience is evident here. It is difficult for Mr. Crawford and Mr. Sears to tackle this anemic script with any chance of overcoming its myriad deficiencies. And director Carol Dunne is not able to move her cast around with any convincing authenticity. Sadly, “Only Yesterday” seems like a community theatre production gone terribly wrong. Even the unnamed Road Manager’s (Christopher Flockton) comedic interludes (calling Paul and John “bloody tossers”) cannot rescue the overall effort.
Why the playwright chooses to highlight an important moment in Beatles lore and then fails to deliver is a mystery. Hopefully, the playwright, director, and creative team will re-evaluate “Only Yesterday” carefully before producing it in the future. The concept is good; the execution is disappointing.
The cast features Tommy Crawford as Paul McCartney and Christopher Sears as John Lennon with Christopher Flockton and Olivia Swayze.
The design team includes Michael Ganio (set designer); Allison Crutchfield (costume designer); Dan Kotlowitz (lighting and projections designer); and Jane Shaw (sound designer). The Production Stage Manager is Danielle Zandri.
“Only Yesterday” runs at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) through Sunday September 29, 2019 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. Single tickets are $25.00 - $35.00 ($26.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call the 59E59 Box Office at 646-892-7999 or visit http://www.59e59.org. Running time is 70 minutes with no intermission.
Photo (L-R): Tommy Crawford and Christopher Sears in “Only Yesterday” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 12, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: Colt Coeur’s “Eureka Day” at Walkerspace (Through Saturday September 21, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: Colt Coeur’s “Eureka Day” at Walkerspace (Through Saturday September 21, 2019) Written by Jonathan Spector Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
What could go wrong at a private school whose board of directors (all five of them) make all decisions based on consensus and have only what benefits the community at heart. A board so committed to inclusion that the school’s cultural identity drop-down menu for prospective parents offers eleven choices. And if Eli (Brian Wiles) has his way, because of his “deeper learning” around the issue of inclusivity, the list would include “transracial adoptee.” What could go wrong? The undercurrents in this opening discussion foreshadow fissures in the Eureka Day primary school’s foundations of “social-emotional learning, social justice and developing the whole child” and an open pathway to moral ambiguity.
Jonathan Spector’s “Eureka Day,” currently running at Walkerspace through Saturday September 21, is a complex and thoughtful trope for the upside and downside of such moral ambiguity and challenges the audience to come to terms with issues of “fact-based” decision making, inclusion, feeling seen and not othered, gender neutral pronouns and how these important concepts factor into dealing with a crisis in the community. What happens, indeed, when a mumps outbreak at the school forces the board to examine the facts about vaccinating infants and herd immunity? And what happens when two children of board members contract the mumps, the memory of one child of a board member who dies after inoculation years ago surfaces, and the Alameda County Health Officer suggests quarantine for the affected students and highly recommends vaccination for the student population?
After grappling with the issue as a board – and not being able to reach consensus – Eli suggests it is time for “Community Activated Conversation.” Don (Thomas Ray Ryan) and Suzanne (Tina Benko) concur. New board member Carina (Elizabeth Carter) – a black lesbian who just moved back west with her wife from the east coast – rightly questions what the CAC might be and Meiko (K.K. Moggie) – late to the discussion because her daughter Olivia has a fever and a swollen face – demurs to scheduling the event for the following day. The Conversation transpires on the Facebook Live platform so all parents can “be part of” the conversation.
Any semblance of unanimity about vaccinations and herd immunity that was present in the board discussion, quickly evaporates during the Community Activated Conversation when the “community” begins to flood the discussion with everything but the assigned topic. The comments run the gamut from the typical, “But I heard” intrusions to completely meanspirited and offensive posts. It is a risky business to write an entire scene in which the actors are upstaged by the silence of the hilarious stream of comments from a Facebook Live session projected on the school library’s back wall. However, playwright Jonathan Spector succeeds, and the FB Live scene successfully serves as the crisis of the play.
The heightened action in the final scenes would require multiple spoiler alerts. It is enough to know that the provenance of facts, the veracity of facts, and all of the honorable goals of the Eureka Day community are challenged, some upended – all of this with considerable casualties, racism, othering, and a host of other” unthinkable” atrocities. Under Adrienne Campbell-Holt’s astute direction, the cast brings authenticity and honesty to their complex characters. As they crisscross John McDermott’s realistic set, the characters challenge any and all preconceptions of truth, justice, and the American way.
The cast of “Eureka Day” features Tina Benko, Elizabeth Carter, KK Moggie, Kate Cullen Roberts, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Brian Wiles.
The scenic design for “Eureka Day” is by John McDermott; projection design is by Kate Ducey; costume design is by Lux Haac; lighting design is by Grant Yeager; sound design is by Amy Altadonna. Sean McGrath serves as Production Manager and Technical Director. Avery Trunko is Production Stage Manager and Katie Cecil Cairns is Assistant Stage Manager. Casting is by Anne Davison. Mehr Kaur serves as the Associate Director.
Colt Coeur’s “Eureka Day” runs at Walkerspace (46 Walker Street, between Broadway and Church Street) through Saturday September 21, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays and Mondays at 7:00 p.m. Two 3:00 p.m. matinee performances have been added on Saturday September 14th and Thursday September 19th. Tickets start at $25 and are general admission. For more information and tickets, visit https://www.coltcoeur.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with one intermission.
Photo: The cast of “Eureka Day” at Walkerspace. Credit: Robert Altman.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: Red Bull Theater’s “American Moor” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Tuesday October 8, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: Red Bull Theater’s “American Moor” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Tuesday October 8, 2019) Written and Performed by Keith Hamilton Cobb Directed by Kim Weild Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Keith Hamilton Cobb has been on an urgent mission, crisscrossing the United States since 2013 performing his “American Moor.” Mr. Cobb’s almost-one-man-show is a trope, here an extended metaphor, for the pressing need for dialogue around the systemic racism and other “false securities that our society rests on” (Rachel Elizabeth Cargle). Keith Hamilton Cobb makes it clear that unless we take his cautionary tale seriously, we risk opportunities for meaningful and transparent dialogue: and this at the peril of creating an even greater divide in our culture, our nation, and the global community.
Mr. Cobb’s engaging monologue about his experiences auditioning for the role of Othello includes the “real time” audition with a younger white director, “asides” that comment on the audition process, and challenging flashbacks that illuminate his experiences as a strong black man struggling against being silenced and ignored. His language is powerful, engaging, and deeply infused with the need for truth telling and transparency. Silencing and truth are inextricably woven into the issues of systemic racism.
“Silencing happens when, for white people, hearing the truth is too much; when the truth hangs so painfully heavy on their shoulders that they’d rather get rid of the weight, than actually face the issue head on” (Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, “Bazaar,” January 2019) In “American Moor,” the entitled white director (Josh Tyson) is unable to handle the truth-telling that the American Moor Cobb reveals in his parsing of the character of Othello, a reading completely unfamiliar to the director and antithetical to his world view.
In her article in “Bazaar,” Ms. Cargle continues, “Because when the truth is held up, it reflects the false securities that our society rests on: the elitism, the capitalism, the racism, the ableism, the sexism, the homo/transphobia, the xenophobia, the anti-blackness.” Keith Hamilton Cobb, under Kim Weild’s sagacious direction, takes on these societal false securities with an enormous passion and a deep desire for healing.
During the curtain call, the audience at this performance quickly rose up on their feel to deliver enthusiastic applause. One wonders if this apparent sign of “having heard the truth” might really be, in the throes of fear, saying to Keith Hamilton Cobb, “Thanks for coming.” If one thing is clear from revisiting the significance of the Moor, it might be to remain mindful of the “fear and trembling unto death” that threatens the hearing of the truth that could ultimately set us free from the ravages of systemic racism in America.
Produced by Red Bull Theater and directed by Kim Weild, “American Moor” is written by and stars world-renowned Shakespeare actor Keith Hamilton Cobb. He is joined by Josh Tyson as the Director.
The creative team for the production includes Dede Ayite (costume design), Wilson Chin (set design), Alan C. Edwards (lighting design), and Christian Frederickson (sound design).
Photo: Keith Hamilton Cobb in “American Moor.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, September 8, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Dust” at New York Theatre Workshop in the Fourth Street Theatre (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Dust” at New York Theatre Workshop in the Fourth Street Theatre (Through Sunday September 29, 2019) Written and Performed by Milly Thomas Directed by Sara Joyce Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s groundbreaking “On Death and Dying” was first published in 1969. The Grief Cycle outlined in this book remains the standard for understanding the “stages” of bereavement for those survivors of death. Milly Thomas’s “Dust” currently running at New York Theatre Workshop in the Fourth Street Theatre provides a new standard of understanding the stages of grief, one for those who have “passed on.” The power of this perspective cannot be underestimated, nor can the sheer emotional catharsis of Ms. Thomas’s performance be underappreciated or forgotten.
Unable to escape the depression that had already led Alice (Milly Thomas) to an earlier attempt at taking her own life, she commits suicide and undergoes twelve stages of grieving her own loss, beginning with the post-death awareness of her body being placed in a body bag in the hospital and then at the mortician’s as her body is being prepared for viewing. This unique perspective allows Alice to convey to the audience how she understands the significance of her death and how her life experiences might have contributed to her death. The protagonist is “allowed” to see afterward what might not have been seen (or denied) when living.
It is significant that Ms. Thomas has expanded Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief: this bereavement is for the dead not the living and takes on the importance of any twelve-step program. There is anger at her mother, denial of the turning point she experienced, bargaining as she makes the decision about taking her own life (as her boyfriend Ben confuses prurience with compassion), and the acceptance of her choice to end her life – depression has been ever present for Alice in life, in death, and in life beyond death. There are also eight other stages (or scenes) of bereavement for Alice that would require a bevy of spoiler alerts and better experienced in the confines of the NYTW’s Fourth Street Theatre.
Much of the success of Ms. Thomas’s spellbinding monologue results from her impressive mastery of rhetorical skills. Mining the depths of logos, ethos, and pathos, the playwright uses a treasure trove of literary devices to parse the stages of grief experienced by her parents, her addicted brother Robbie, her best friend Ellie, her (cheating) lover Ben, and others who impacted her life – and continue to counterpoint her postmortem “existence.” The same techniques are used as Alice evaluates the meaning of her death and if suicide accomplished what she thought it might during her decision process. Further contributing to the success of the performance is the exacting and transmutive direction by Sara Joyce, Anna Reid’s surreal design, Jack Weir’s moody yet moodless lighting design, and Max Perryment’s ethereal sound design.
Additionally, there are rich allusions throughout the text, including the biblical references to death and resurrection: the gave cloth (body bag); the three days “in the tomb;” and the resurrection (“A Beginning”) itself. Milly Thomas’s script allows for a variety of interpretive lenses which allows for differing understandings and a variety of responses to the playwright’s enduring questions and the meanings of life and death and beyond.
Milly Thomas is a brilliant performer. It is impossible not to become deeply involved in her process of evaluating both her death and her life and how her suicide has impacted the lives of those she left behind and how those survivors think of her now that she has “passed.” “Dust” is both a memory play with Alice as the narrator and a psychological thriller that places the protagonist at the epicenter of a therapeutic session that spans present, past, and future. Just as Ms. Thomas is “watching” what her survivors are doing “without her,” she is transported through flashbacks to discover how those present behaviors are anchored in her past. This convention is brilliant and evolves over the course of the performance.
“Dust” is a remarkable vehicle for understanding some of the dynamics of suicide and should not be missed during its limited run in New York City. Perhaps the most clarifying – and yet disturbing – insight offered here is Alice’s recognition before her “decision” is rehearsed that, “All I wanted to say. All I really wanted to say is I can’t talk to anyone. I’m so very frightened of everyone. Because they’re healthy. Because they’re happy.” Exactly how profound that “confession” might take forever to comprehend.
“Dust” features design by Anna Reid, lighting design by Jack Weir, and sound design by Max Perryment and is produced by Ceri Lothian and Ramin Sabi for DEM Productions.
“Dust” runs at New York Theatre Workshop in the Fourth Street Theatre (79 East 4th Street) through Sunday September 29, 2019. Tickets can be purchased online at nytw.org, by phone at 212-460-5475, or in person the New York Theatre Workshop box office. For further information, visit https://www.nytw.org/show/dust/. Running time is 75 minutes with no intermission.
Photo: Milly Thomas in “Dust.” Credit: Richard Southgate.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 5, 2019
Broadway Review: “Sea Wall / A Life” at the Hudson Theatre (Through Sunday September 29, 2019)
Broadway Review: “Sea Wall / A Life” at the Hudson Theatre (Through Sunday September 29, 2019) Written by Simon Stephens and Nick Payne Directed by Carrie Cracknell Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
After a successful run at the Public’s Newman Theater earlier this year, “Sea Wall / A Life” by Simon Stephens and Nick Payne opened at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre on August 8th, 2019. Both are haunting and unforgettable plays, each performed by a brilliant actor. In Simon Stephens’ “Sea Wall,” Tom Sturridge portrays Alex, a photographer on a holiday with his wife Helen and their eight-year-old daughter Lucy at Helen’s father Arthur’s house in the eastern suburbs of Toulon in a town called Carquerraine in the south of France. In Nick Payne’s “A Life,” Jake Gyllenhaal depicts Abe, a music producer with a baby on the way and a father’s life hanging in the balance.
Neither monologue is linear which makes it difficult for the actors to convey a sense of continuity in their performances. The stories move quickly from present to past and back again. There are more than one setting in each play and the moods in each monologue shift mercilessly without warning. In this incarnation of “Sea Wall / A Life,” Tom Sturridge masters this feat with consummate skill. One can see his thinking outpacing his speaking as he tries to make sense of what befalls him and his family while his wife shops locally, his daughter plays by the sea, and his father-in-law relaxes and reads by her side.
Two major differences in the scripts determine the style and impact of the performances. Because playwright Stephens gives his characters names and more developed traits, Tom Sturridge can dig deeply into each character’s development and it is also easier for the actor to develop the non-linear exposition and plot development. And because playwright Payne juxtaposes pathos with humor, Jake Gyllenhaal can exercise his comedic flair in his monologue delivery from the first line, “When she tells me she might be pregnant I’m in the middle of roasting a chicken.” Unfortunately, it is easy to lose the sense of pathos when an actor hands over emotional control of delivery to the audience early on in a performance.
Under Carrie Cracknell’s astute direction, both actors mine the depths of the scripts given them with a consummate authenticity and rhetorical strength. Logos, pathos, and ethos collide in their telling of two tragic stories of love, family, strength, disappointment, and the vicissitudes of birth, life, and death. The characters in these two short plays and their universal conflicts resonate powerfully with audience members and the connections of the rich plot these conflicts develop to the self and the other are riveting.
Laura Jellinek’s expansive two-level scenic design and Guy Hoare’s moody and ominous lighting design enhance the actors’ interpretations of the plays. Projections have been added to the Broadway production which do nothing to add to the sense of the universality of the monologues. The work of the two actors is enough to portray the necessary pervasiveness of the themes without visual sleight-of-hand.
The themes of the two short plays are so congruent and the conflicts of the two protagonists so parallel, it often seems to be one co-authored play in two acts. Each actor delivers compelling performances that bring his character to a level of believability and authenticity rarely achieved in solo performances. It is not difficult to believe that these are the stories of the actors themselves performed for the audience as their gifts of catharsis and redemption.
SEA WALL / A LIFE
“Sea Wall / A Life” features Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge.
The creative team for “Sea Wall / A Life” includes Laura Jellinek (scenic design), Kaye Voyce, and Christopher Peterson (costume design), Guy Hoare (lighting design), Daniel Kluger (sound design), Luke Halls (projection design), and Stuart Earl (original music).
“Sea Wall / A Life” runs at the Hudson Theatre ((141 West 44th Street) through Sunday September 29, 2019. Tickets are on sale by visiting www.seawallalife.com,www.hudsonbroadway.com, or by calling 855-801-5876. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
Photo: Tom Sturridge in “Sea Wall.” Credit: Richard Hubert Smith.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, September 4, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: Chatillion Stage Company’s “Tech Support” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday September 21, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: Chatillion Stage Company’s “Tech Support” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday September 21, 2019) Written and Directed by Debra Whitfield Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Chatillion Stage Company’s “Tech Support,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, begins with the play’s protagonist Pamela Stark (Margot White) frantically pacing around in her West Village well-appointed apartment as she remains on hold waiting for tech support for her malfunctioning printer. Pamela deals in antique books and when she finally reaches tech support, she tells Chip, “I need to pack these invoices with the antique books I’m shipping today – also there’s this weird sound.” Pamela is not tech savvy – she cannot even operate her one-cup coffee maker. Nor has she been terribly man savvy. Her ex-husband texted her the divorce papers (ironically) and she is glad to have tech-Chip to talk to even though his male voice “is outsourced” (One cannot make this up – nor the apparent fact that Chip’s “East Indian accent” is provided by a white actor.)
Pamela’s conversation with Chip gets cut short when he begins to transfer her call and suddenly a different tech support voice offers her a menu of time travel options: for example, “For 1998 press 1 now, for 1919 press 2 now.” Pamela presses somewhat randomly and begins her trips back in time. The protagonist’s time travel from the New York City of 2020 to the same location in 1919, 1946, and 1978 ostensibly addresses a range of issues: suffrage; enfranchisement; a woman’s right to choose; equality in the workplace, in relationships and in politics; independence; and the Equal Rights Amendment. Each of these important issues is handled not only glibly but in a highly charged didactic style. Pamela manages to help someone during each “stop,” even falling in love with a different Chip (Ryan Avalos) eventually leaving him behind as she hopes to get back to the present where predictably she hopes to find help for herself. Knowing whether she goes forward in time or back to Chip would require a spoiler alert.
Throughout this endeavor, Ms. Whitfield piles one cliché atop another, fails to provide any satisfactory humor, and corrals actors into prolonged dance sequences (to provide for the longer scene and costume changes), all in an apparent effort to dramatically “explore the female experience.” If this vague phrase is meant to include ‘feminism’ or ‘feminist theatre,’ the play addresses neither and, in at best an ephemeral manner, proffers only issues of equality and human rights that have affected women globally for decades. The thought that in 1919 two women could not engage in a romantic relationship is held in disdain by one of the characters. Apparently, Ms. Whitfield is not aware of the active lesbian community at the beginning of the 1900s. Unfortunately, the playwright offers no new solutions or insights into these important issues for women and for their causes of freedom.
Natalie Taylor Hart’s stunning but cramped set design leaves little room for movement or backstage access. The members of the cast make their entrances and exits through the same door that serves as the entrance to Pamela’s apartment in the 21st century and other time-travel portals. Ms. Whitfield chooses to direct her play with less than successful results. Even the qualified cast of five (Mark Lotito, Laurel Friedman, and Leanne Cabrera in addition to Ms. White and Mr. Avalos) cannot be expected to develop authentic characters from the playwright’s flat characters written with predictable or implausible conflicts.
This critic has not had the opportunity to see or review previous Chatillion Stage Company productions; however, “Tech Support” – despite its well qualified and talented cast – barely rises above the rigorous and well-established standards for community theater.
The cast of “Tech Support” features Ryan Avalos, Leanne Cabrera, Lauriel Friedman, Mark Lotito, and Margot White.
The design team includes Natalie Taylor Hart (scenic design); Deborah Constantine (lighting design); Janice O’Donnell (costume design); Ed Matthew (sound design); Carlene Stober (sound design consultant); Elliott Forrest (projection design); Cyrus Newitt (props master); and Inga Thrasher (hair and makeup design). Casting is by Stephanie Klapper Casting. The production stage manager is Emely Zepeda.
“Tech Support” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday, September 21st on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison). Single tickets are $25.00 ($20.00 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling the 59E59 Box Office on 646-892-7999 or by visiting www.59e59.org. Running time is 85 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, September 1, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: Ma-Yi Theater Company’s “Felix Starro” at Theatre Row (Through Sunday September 15, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: Ma-Yi Theater Company’s “Felix Starro” at Theatre Row (Through Sunday September 15, 2019) Book and Lyrics by Jessica Hagedorn Music by Fabian Obispo Directed by Ralph B. Peña Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Currently running at Theatre Row, Ma-Yi Theater Company’s “Felix Starro” launches the Company’s 30th Anniversary Season. The musical is based on Filipino-American writer Lysley Tenorio’s short story of the same name that appeared in his 2012 collection “Monstress” in which “a famous Filipino faith healer and his grandson Junior conduct an illicit business in San Francisco, though each has his own plans for their earnings.” Jessica Hagedorn and Fabian Obispo have transformed Mr. Tenorio’s “powerful and haunting” story into a musical and marks the first time ever a musical created by Filipino Americans is presented off-Broadway.
Despite the significance of Ma-Yi Theater Company’s effort, “Felix Starro” the musical loses the nostalgic undertones of Tenorio’s short story. Here the elder Felix (a diabolical and unpleasant Alan Ariano) has come to San Francisco to continue his unlawful Blessed Extraction of Negativities through psychic surgery which requires “strong, pure, fervent and absolute” faith on the part of the participant. His visit to the Filipino community in the United States is not altruistic: Felix comes to the west coast to escape prosecution in the Philippines for the same illicit “healing” procedures. Any nostalgia for his home is overshadowed in the musical by overbearing greed and abuse of his reputation and standing in his community.
Since Junior (a charming and innocent Nacho Tambunting) – Felix “the third” – was a child observing his grandfather perform psychic surgery in the Philippines, he knew his father’s father was a fraud. At ten years old, he observed his grandfather “extract” chicken parts from his subject’s abdomen while the “incision” oozed fake blood. Junior, at nineteen, was to continue in this family tradition of faith healing. However, he accompanies his grandfather to the United States with plans to remain in San Francisco, using money collected from the “healings” (at $200 a session) to secure a new identity from Filipino ex-patriot “fixer” Flora Ramirez (a cunning and convincing Ching Valdes-Aran) using the identification code “ready to buy roses” he secured in the Philippines from his girlfriend Charma (a mysterious and morally ambivalent Diane Phelan).
This morally ambiguous act (both illicit and redemptive) does not redeem the overall structure and content of the musical. The cast is uneven, perhaps resulting from their efforts to navigate the overwrought and overlong script. There are confusing scenes like the one with sex workers in the background writhing around while Charma connects to Junior telepathically. The direction by Ma-Yi’s Producing Artistic Director Ralph B. Peña is equally uneven often leaving actors in vacant spaces seeming not to know where to turn on Marsha Ginsberg’s multi-purpose set. Brandon Bieber’s choreography is robotic and bears no resemblance to his work on FX’s “Fosse/Verdon.”
One wishes the new musical successfully highlighted the parallels between the efforts of Felix and his grandson to escape their pasts and “start over.” Unfortunately, the writers seem to have taken on too much. Unwilling to let Junior’s desire for a new life in America to be heroic, his decision becomes an overworked connection to the current immigration difficulties for not only “illegal” immigrants but for all immigrants in general despite their status. For surely, Junior’s “illicit” choice does not compare to his grandfather’s deplorable misuse of authority as he convinces Mrs. Delgado (a stunning and powerful Francisca Muñoz) she is really free from all negativities, tricks the hotel maid Crystal (a broken and determined Caitlin Cisco) into thinking he “fixed” her unwanted pregnancy, and refuses to treat Bobby Santos (a fractured and resilient Ryan James Ortega) the young man suffering from symptoms of HIV/AIDS on lofty but hypocritical moral grounds.
The cast for “Felix Starro” includes Alan Ariano, Caitlin Cisco, Francisca Muñoz, Ryan James Ortega, Diane Phelan, Nacho Tambunting, and Ching Valdes-Aran.
The creative team includes Marsha Ginsberg (scenic design), Becky Bodurtha (costume design), Oliver Wason (lighting design), Julian Evans (sound design), Paulo K Tiról (orchestrations), Ian Miller (musical director), Cristina Sison (production stage manager), and Jorge Z. Ortoll (executive producer)
Performances of “Felix Starro” will take place through Sunday September 15 at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street). Tickets, priced at $52.00–$102.00, can be purchased by visiting www.ma-yitheatre.org or by calling Telecharge at 212-239-6200. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Ching Valdes-Aran and Nacho Tambunting in “Felix Starro.” Credit: Richard Termine.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, September 1, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Make Believe” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday September 22, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Make Believe” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday September 22, 2019) Written by Bess Wohl Directed by Michael Greif Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
The nature-nurture psychological debate and the predestined-free will theological debate collide in Bess Wohl’s “Make Believe” currently running at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, resulting in the brave and somewhat disturbing exploration of the blurred boundaries between what is perceived to be real life and what is perceived to be make-believe. The playwright raises several enduring questions, including whether there is a difference between make-believe and real life or if they are perhaps the same phenomenon, and whether one can ever escape the specter of dysfunction and childhood trauma.
“Make Believe” begins in the 1980s in the attic (a stunning and expansive design by David Zinn) of the Conlee family home, the playroom of the four Conlee children aged 5 to 12 years old. The children’s playlist alternates between typical children’s games and the more serious role-playing of the Conlee family that reveals the intricacies of the family’s dysfunction. “Make Believe” is not just another play about a dysfunctional family. Bess Wohl scrapes away at the underbelly of the dysfunction, carefully revealing the provenance of the Conlee family’s fractured and pernicious family system. This revelation begins when the children realize they have been abandoned in the attic of their family home and when one of them, Chris, decides to act.
In these family make-believe role-plays, older brother Chris (an intense and mysterious Ryan Foust) and older sister Kate (a determined and astute Maren Heary) play husband and wife and Dad and Mom to their younger siblings Addie (an introspective and imaginative Casey Hilton) and Carl (a lonely and somewhat ignored Harrison Fox) who is most often assigned the role of family dog. As the family pet, it is worth noting that Carl doesn’t speak much – something that will become relevant later on in the second half of the play (thirty-five years later) when four adults appear in the same attic with the same names, apparently to escape the repast downstairs following a funeral service at church.
In the first forty minutes of “Make Believe,” under Michael Greif’s careful direction, the young cast of four successfully provides the needed exposition for the success of the final 40 minutes populated by the adults. The children’s make-believe parallels the reality of their lives and their make-believe morphs into a twisted and sardonic reality. These are children older beyond their years. Their “family meals” with plastic food and dinnerware become shockingly real when Chris comes home with not only candy but bags of food.
Where he got the money to buy the food is revealed in the second half with the grim discovery disclosed by his adult namesake (a solid and deeply reflective Kim Fischer) who is attending the same funeral. Where Chris Conlee might be during this gathering needs to be discovered by the audience but he’s not in the attic during this unfortunate reunion where the audience discovers that the trauma the children experienced has had a deleterious effect on their adult lives.
At the funeral, the adult Kate (Samantha Mathis - a successful gastroenterologist living in Seattle - drinks a lot of wine and needs sedatives to make it through the day just as the child Kate imitated her mother’s often inebriated presence. The young Kate reveals overhearing her mother say, “she wishes their father were dead” and the older Kate has filed for divorce. Similar parallels are disclosed for Addie (a broken but hopeful Susannah Flood) and for Carl (a distracted and depressed Brad Heberlee). Being alone in the attic as children because one’s mother left you while your father was on a “business trip” can have deep psychosocial consequences. But do these consequences totally define the dysfunction of adulthood? Chris, the surprise guest at the funeral, serves as a foil to the belief that one cannot escape the trauma of one’s past. How is this Chris related to Chris Conlee and will his surprise revelation give the Conlees a second chance at redemption and release? Will there be catharsis for the audience?
“Make Believe” features Kim Fischer, Susannah Flood, Ryan Foust, Harrison Fox, Maren Heary, Brad Heberlee, Casey Hilton, and Samantha Mathis.
The creative team for “Make Believe” includes David Zinn (scenic design), Emilio Sosa (costume design), Ben Stanton (lighting design), and Bray Poor (original music and sound). Justin Scribner serves as production stage manager.
“Make Believe” runs at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (305 West 43rd Street at 8th Avenue) through Sunday September 22, 2019. Tickets are available by calling the Second Stage Box Office at 212-246-4422, visiting the company’s website, www.2ST.com or at the Tony Kiser Theater Box Office. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Casey Hilton, Ryan Foust, Maren Heary, and Harrison Fox in “Make Believe.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 30, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: Final Thoughts on the Engaging “Rinse, Repeat” at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Saturday August 24, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: Final Thoughts on the Engaging “Rinse, Repeat” at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Saturday August 24, 2019) Written by Domenica Feraud Directed by Kate Hopkins Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Performances of a new off-Broadway play begin with previews, advance through opening night and reviews, and settle into a run of some indeterminate length depending on original projections of success and extensions, finally closing leaving the play’s actors and creative team in the beginnings of yet another post-closing bereavement process. But what of the play itself? Did the run of the play mean anything? Did the playwright proffer any rich and enduring questions that resonate beyond the play’s run? What might the play’s legacy be?
In her somewhat autobiographical play “Rinse, Repeat” which will end its extended successful run at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center on Saturday August 24, 2019. Domenica Feraud plays Rachel the anorexic high school student who has been in extensive treatment at Renley a facility specializing in the treatment of eating disorders. After fighting for her life there with the therapeutic guidance of staff member Brenda (a commanding and intuitive Portia), Rachael believes she is ready for a trial weekend back home with her mother Joan (a self-absorbed and toxic Florencia Lozano), her father Peter (an ineffective and weak Michael Hayden), and her brother Brody (an honest and authentic Jake Ryan Lozano).
Ms. Feraud uses foreshadowing early in her play to handily short circuit the process of exposition. No one picks Rachel up to bring her home: Rachel must find her own way home for the weekend trial visit. This could not be a more emphatic example of what is to come in the remainder of the play. Rachel is reentering the toxic environment that contributed to her illness. Her family system is broken and has only become worse in her absence. Her mother Joan is highly competitive and controlling and her father Peter does nothing but collude with the dysfunction. Only Rachel’s brother Brody seems to be the only family member able to escape the maelstrom of denial and co-dependence.
After a series of compelling flashbacks and the playwright’s skillful use of magical realism, it becomes clear that Rachel cannot stay with her parents and allow them to determine her future, her academic and career choices, and her well-being. She decides to return to Renly with Brenda. This is her only choice if she wants to choose life over death and wellness over the binging and purging cycles of anorexia. Joan and Peter are not even willing to fulfill the requirement of one parent being present when Rachel eats and assuring her meals are substantial including the required amounts of carbohydrates and proteins. Both are too self-absorbed and narcissistic to have the required ethos and pathos to have the needed concern for “the other.”
The rich and enduring questions raised in “Rinse, Repeat” transcend the content of this important play and are relevant to all decisions that affect the sustainability of life and the integrity of the ego strength required to experience healthy psychological growth. “What happens when the people you love most, the ones you believe want the best for you, are the ones causing the most damage without even knowing it?” “Where do you go when the place you feel you most belong might be the place that almost killed you in the first place?” No questions could be more profound or more existentially necessary. These are the questions that ultimately allowed Rachel to maintain a holistic and healthy control of her life and abandon the pernicious type of control that was slowly eroding her chance to live.
“Rinse, Repeat” features Domenica Feraud, Florencia Lozano, Jake Ryan Lozano (Mary Stuart) as Brody, Portia (Queen for a Day) as Brenda, and Michael Hayden as Peter.
“Rinse, Repeat” features set design by Brittany Vasta, costume design by Nicole Slaven, lighting design by Oona Curley, and sound design and original compositions by Ien DeNio. Casting is by Andrew Femenella, CSA.
Photo: Domenica Feraud and Florencia Lozano in “Rinse, Repeat.” Credit: Jenny Anderson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Broadway Review: “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (Open Run)
Broadway Review: “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (Open Run) Book by John Logan Music Supervision, Orchestrations and Arrangements by Justin Levine Directed by Danny Burstein Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
Although the new Broadway musical “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” takes place in Paris in 1899, it is without a doubt a “Cabaret” for the 21st Century. It captures the sounds of Lady Gaga, Katie Perry, Patti Labelle, Beyonce, Elton John and an endless host of others as they are woven into the plot with unequivocal brilliance. Those all familiar high-octane vocals perfectly match the glitz and purely decadent glamour that surrounds them and echoes their sentiment. As you await the show to begin, revel in the pre-show antics of the family of actors, singers and dancers that occupy this louche house of entertainment. That will only happen if you stop your eyes from gorging themselves on the visual feast that scenic designer Derek McLane has placed before you, complete with signature windmill and elephant that peer over your shoulder from the now defunct boxes high above. Immerse yourself in the kaleidoscope of color that blankets the stage and adorns the sexy costumes by Catherine Zuber that are bathed with washes of warm and inviting lighting designed by Justin Townsend. Snap pictures with your phone like an enthusiastic tourist, mill around the theatre amongst the crowded aisles of the orchestra and feel the energy of the devoted congregation. They are not there to pray. It seems worth whatever the cost as you are transported to a place that is foreign but familiar, sleazy but safe and tempting but tragic, because, you want to be there. This is “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”
The story is simple and a somewhat dark, Brechtian romance. An ageless scenario depicting a lover’s triangle that does not end well. Christian (a convincing and magnetic Aaron Tveit) who has fled his restrained life in America, to join the bohemian artists of Paris and become a song writer finds his way to the Moulin Rouge and meets Satine (the incomparable and intoxicating Karen Olivo) the outlandish diva of the cabaret. Enter the Duke (an evil and beguiling Tam Mutu) who is there to save the club from bankruptcy in exchange for an introduction to the beautiful and alluring Satine. Harold Zidler (the outstanding Danny Burstein) is the owner of the cabaret who officiates over the devilish proceedings. That is where the story begins. Where it ends is the heartbreaking tragedy.
Mr. Tveit uses all his charm to create a genuine character that is under written and supports his effort with his mesmerizing baritone vocals. Ms. Olivo is no less than a wonder entering the show in a glittering gown on a trapeze teasing the audience with a tempting rendition of “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend”. This is just the spark that ignites her performance as she shatters the house with her impeccable vocal ability. The superb Mr. Burstein portrays the father of this family of misfits with honesty and practicality while managing to serve up his dual personality as ringmaster of the decadent circus with a sonorous style and forlorn energy.
Director Alex Timbers with a keen eye for detail, galvanizes his cast, inspiring them to participate in the debauchery of the musical extravaganza but never lose sight of the tragic story. The choreography of Sonya Tayeh is the heartbeat of the production, pumping life into musical numbers and challenging dancers to turn emotions into movement. Orchestrations, arrangements and music supervision by Justin Levine is the cohesive element that supports, invigorates and fortifies every creative aspect of the performances. Categorized as a jukebox musical this production gives new meaning to the adverse classification by weaving the musical catalogue of mega hits into the straightforward book by Jonathon Logan. Call this opulent, over the top, musical extravaganza anything you like but be aware it will never diminish the incredible work of a first-rate creative team or depreciate the entertainment value that it delivers. Get used to it, because “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” will be a glittering fixture on Broadway for quite a while.
MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL
The cast includes Karen Olivo as Satine, Aaron Tveit as Christian, Danny Burstein as Harold Zidler, Sahr Ngaujah as Toulouse-Lautrec, Tam Mutu as The Duke of Monroth, Ricky Rojas as Santiago, and Robyn Hurder as Nini.
The ensemble and swings include Amber Ardolino, Jacqueline B. Arnold, Olutayo Bosede, Kyle Brown, Sam J. Cahn, Max Clayton, Karli Dinardo, Aaron C. Finley, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Bahiyah Hibah, Ericka Hunter, Holly James, Evan Kinnane, Reed Luplau, Jeigh Madjus, Morgan Marcell, Caleb Marshall, Brandt Martinez, Jodi McFadden, Kaitlin Mesh, Kevyn Morrow, Fred Odgaard, Dylan Paul, Khori Michelle Petinaud and Benjamin Rivera. Ashley Loren is the Standby for Satine.
The design team for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” includes Derek McLane (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes), Justin Townsend (lighting), Peter Hylenski (sound), David Brian Brown (wig and hair design) and Sarah Cimino (Make-up design). Casting is by Jim Carnahan and Stephen Kopel.
Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com and in person at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th Street. “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” offers a $29 (plus $5 service charge) “Lucky Seat” lottery. For more information go to https://moulinrougemusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes including one intermission.
Photo: The Company of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 19, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Little Gem” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday September 1, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Little Gem” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday September 1, 2019) Written by Elaine Murphy Directed by Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Over the period of a year, three generations of Irish women share their stories ad seriatim while in a medical office waiting room. Amber (a spitfire Lauren O’Leary) rehearses her life from taking her beau Paul to a wedding, to his abandoning her after discovering she is pregnant with his child. Amber’s “ma” Lorraine (a pensive and seemingly broken Brenda Meaney) shares the story of her anxiety, her need for psychotropic meds, and her developing relationship with “hairy” Niall. And Amber’s mom Kay’s (Marsha Mason) narrative spans detailing her angry itch “down there” to a hilarious sexual wakening, to the loss of her beloved husband Gem. Kay says she has spent most of her life in waiting rooms and playwright Elaine Murphy uses the waiting room as an apt metaphor for the often-unwelcome vicissitudes of life.
Over the course of six “scenes,” the women’s seemingly disparate monologues begin to first counterpoint then morph into a transformative trio that reaches its crescendo mid play and its resolution in the sixth “scene.” Themes of loneliness, anxiety, desperation, and despair are layered with themes of forgiveness, reconciliation, acceptance, and hope. The members of the cast deliver authentic performances and manage to transform their characters’ conflicts into a believable series of sub plots. Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing new in these stories and their too comfortable content makes the one-hundred minutes seem much longer.
Director Marc Atkinson Borrull skillfully brings the play’s characters into the same virtual space and time as they first deliver their monologues without recognition of the other actors sharing the waiting room, to delicate points of awareness through subtle glances, to actually existing in the same place at the same time after the old Gem’s death and the new Jaime’s birth.
Meredith Ries’s stark waiting room set allows the actors to develop their characters without distraction and Christopher Metzger’s costumes are appropriate and non-invasive. Michael O’Connor’s lighting needs to be tweaked so the actors are not left standing in darkness where and when there should be pools of light.
Despite the challenges of the script, the three fine actors transcend the material to offer glimpses into the often-undisclosed problems facing three generations of women caught in restrictive matrices of expectation and oppression. It was wonderful to see Marsha Mason’s craft coalesce the threads of the three women-in-waiting to a settling down to sleep and all that metaphor encompasses.
The cast of “Little Gem” will include Marsha Mason Kay, Brenda Meaney as Lorraine, and Lauren O’Leary as Amber.
“Little Gem” will feature set design by Meredith Ries, costume design by Christopher Metzger, lighting design by Michael O’Connor, and sound design by Ryan Rumery. Arthur Atkinson serves as Production Stage Manager.
“Little Gem” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage through September 1, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets to “Little Gem” range from $45.00 - $70.00 and are available through Irish Rep’s box office at 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 100 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Marsha Mason in “Little Gem.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 25, 2019
Opera Review: “Stonewall” at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center (Through Friday June 28, 2019)
Opera Review: “Stonewall” at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center (Through Friday June 28, 2019) Music by Iain Bell Libretto by Mark Campbell Directed by Leonard Foglia Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
To celebrate its third year of presenting an LGBTQ+ opera in the month of June – and the 50th Anniversary of the Riots at Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn - the New York City Opera commissioned the opera “Stonewall” currently running at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center for five performances through Friday June 28, 2019. The one act opera in three parts celebrates the lives of ten disparate and, in a variety of ways, desperate characters who, having each reached their tipping points, decide to visit the mob-owned Stonewall Inn which is about to reach its own tipping point during the pre-ordained and politically motivated raid on the only “safe haven” for the members of the LGBTQ+ communities.
Although Mark Campbell’s characters are “fictional,” each is authentic and embodies believable and recognizable conflicts that drive “Stonewall’s” compelling dramatic arc to its cathartic resolution. in Part I, “clothed” in Iain Bell’s prescient orchestrations, the ten City residents introduce themselves and share their reasons for heading “downtown” on this soon to become iconic night at the bar. While heading to the Village on the subway, a “micro-dick” straight man calls butch lesbian Maggie (heroic mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez) a “cock-sucking dyke” and spits in her face. Although Maggie manages to deck him, the police have no interest in apprehending him. Undeterred by the abuse of the stranger and the shame her father feels for her, Maggie heads downtown to hit “the dance floor, chug a couple of brews, let it all hang out, and [be herself].” Ms. Chavez tackles the text with the same bravado and strength her character summons to subdue her attacker.
Under Leonard Foglia’s powerfully spiritual direction, the remaining nine “Stonewall” characters describe in chilling detail their stories of “profligacy” and persecution. Their distinctive voices display strong interpretive skills, exquisite tonal quality, and controlled vocal modulation. Carlos’s (a passionate baritone Brian James Myer) “lifestyle” results in his termination from a Catholic all-boys school. Andy (seductive tenor Andrew Bidlack) is a teenager who is punched in the face and kicked out of his Buffalo home by his parents and now embraces the life of a hustler on the streets of New York City. Troy (husky bass-baritone Joseph Charles Beutel) is straight go-go boy at the Stonewall, a hustler and a drug addict who, with the help of Sal (gruff baritone Michael Corvino) a manager at the club with ties to the Mafia, shakes down Edward (rich baritone Justin Ryan) the closeted financial advisor from Greenwich, Connecticut with a wife and kids who spent a night with Troy.
Renata (androgynous tenor Jordan Weatherston Pitts), Leah (haunting soprano Jessica Fishenfel), and Sarah (charming mezzo Liz Bouk) complete the roster of ten societal “misfits” headed to the Stonewall. Late-teen Maynard is more comfortable as Renata. Renata allows him to “banish” the “queerness” and “blackness” that single him out at his job at City Hall and “feel good in a dress.” Leah, a Jewish lesbian who was forced to undergo aversion therapy by her parents, heads downtown, “To groove on some music, /Try to talk with people,/Hang out.” Choosing to celebrate her status, Leah hopes to meet “a woman friend.” Sarah, a transgender hippie woman who is celebrating the one-year anniversary of her transition, lights a candle on “the squiggle of a Hostess cupcake” to eulogize the release from “the body that wasn’t mine./Just not mine.”
In Part II of the opera, the ten protagonists have gathered at the Stonewall Inn with other Village denizens to celebrate their identity. They are “happy, drunk, flirting, making out, having a great time.” The popular song on the jukebox sums up the mood: Feel the joy and how it’s spreading,/Happy tears we’ll soon be shedding,/Sugar dumpling, /today’s the day /I start my life with you.” The mood changes quickly when the police officers Larry (tenor Marc Heller), Hennessy (tenor Michael Boley), Giordano (baritone John Allen Nelson), and Cahn (baritone Peter Kendall Clark) arrive demanding IDs from all the patrons and barking racial and homophobic slurs. The iconic riot follows with the climactic “Resist, refuse./You got nothing to lose./Resist, refuse./You got nothing to lose.”
“Stonewall” ends on Christopher Street, right before dawn. Leah, Andy, Carlos, Sarah and Renata are in separate spaces, but come together on one building’s stoop to ask, “What now?/Where do we go from here?” Realizing they have been harassed and harmed, as the “light begins filling the sky,” they determine going forward to say, “No! Just No!” to any further attempts to “beat them down.” However, not knowing “what will happen now,” they are joined by the entire principal and ensemble cast in a grand chorus that tempers hope with realism. With unbridled vocal and emotional cathartic power, the chorus crowds Ricardo Hernandez’s set and asks, “What now?/What will happen?/What should we be doing?/Does it even matter?/There’s no way of knowing,/No sure way of knowing./What happens now?”
“Stonewall” is a stirring tribute to the movement that began on a night in June 1969 when many of New York City’s disenfranchised and despised just said ‘No!” Hopefully this hypnotic and passionate opera will return to the stage soon for a much longer run.
NEW YORK CITY OPERA’S STONEWALL
New York City Opera's “Stonewall” plays at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center (Time Warner Center at 10 Columbus Circle) for only five performances. For more information about New York City Opera's “Stonewall,” including the cast, creative team, and ticketing information, please visit https://nycopera.com/stonewall/. Running time is 75minutes without intermission.
Photo (From L to R): Brian James Myer, Jessica Fishenfeld and Liz Bouk. Credit: Sarah Shatz.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, June 24, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson” at A.R.T./ New York Theatre’s Mezzanine Theater (Through Saturday July 6, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson” at A.R.T./ New York Theatre’s Mezzanine Theater (Through Saturday July 6, 2019) By Rob Ackerman Directed by Theresa Rebeck Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson” a new play by Rob Ackerman is based on the actual making of an ill-fated television commercial by AT&T that discredits the cell phone coverage of rival Verizon’s network. In that commercial, actor Luke Wilson (a convincing Jonathan Sale) stands in front of a Verizon network map covered with red dots to represent their coverage areas. The red dots start disappearing from the map as red gumballs begin to very slowly fall on Wilson’s shoulders until, at the end, he opens an umbrella to protect himself from getting plummeted by the final deluge of gumballs. Famed documentary director Errol Morris (a sedate but tyrannical David Wohl) had a different brainstorm when he sees Wilson wince in pain during one of the takes, after he accidently gets hit on the head by a hard gumball misguided by Rob (a competent but confused George Hampe) the young prop man. Mr. Morris proceeds to instruct the first assistant director Alice (a confident and thorough Ann Harada) to have the gumballs fall on Wilson’s head purposely without the umbrella, to which she objects but must do to keep her job. She then informs the young prop man who is morally opposed to hurting the famous actor and putting his union job in jeopardy when his senior prop man Ken (a committed Dean Nolen) walks off the job in fear of the penalties. All this as intern Jenny (an innocent but mindful Reyna de Courcy) looks on in disbelief as she witnesses the unscrupulous debacle.
One of the many problems that plagues this production is that there are almost as many platitudes strewn across the stage as gumballs, some more prevalent than others. The play does not have enough substance to address the endless workplace problems that erupt and challenge the employees morally and intellectually. The many takes become repetitive and boring even though each has a different twist and elevates the perplexity of the dilemma. This contributes to the feeling that the play goes on much longer than its seventy-five-minute length. Issues are established but never resolved leaving a void that is created by ignorance.
Director Theresa Rebeck keeps the action moving on the sleek, modern television studio set, created by scenic designers Christopher Swader and Justin Swader, but is undertaking turning a one trick pony into a three-ring circus. The fact of the matter is the characters are too shallow and once the gumballs drop, the play is over, left with nothing to say.
DROPPING GUMBALLS ON LUKE WILSON
The cast includes Renya De Courcy, George Hampe, Ann Harada, Dean Nolen, Jonathan Sale, and David Wohl.
The “Gumballs” design team includes Christopher and Justin Swader (Scenic Designers), Mary Ellen Stebbins (Lighting Design), Tricia Barsamian (Costume Design), Bart Fasbender (Sound Design), Yana Biryukova (Video Design), Geoff Josselson, CSA (Casting Director) and Avery Trunko (Production Stage Manager).
“Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson plays at A.R.T./ New York Theatre’s Mezzanine Theater (502 West 53rd Street) through Saturday July 6, 2019 on the following schedule: Mondays through Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; and Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available at TheWorkingTheater.org, or by calling the Box Office (Ovationtix) at 866-811-4111. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
Photo: (l to r) Dean Nolen, Reyna de Courcy, George Hampe and Ann Harada in “Dropping Gumballs on Luke Wilson.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 21, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “The Plough and the Stars” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Saturday June 22, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “The Plough and the Stars” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Saturday June 22, 2019) By Sean O’Casey Directed by Charlotte Moore Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Irish Rep’s “The Plough and the Stars” (1926) closes after the Sunday June 22nd performance. Part of the Sean O’Casey Cycle (the Dublin Trilogy) at Irish Repertory Theatre, the groundbreaking play ran in repertory with O’Casey’s “The Shadow of a Gunman” (1923) and “Juno and the Paycock” (1924) and was the company’s debut production in 1988. Artistic Director Charlotte Moore directed that performance, the 1997 revival, and this Irish Rep 30th Anniversary Season production.
In “The Plough and the Stars” newlywed Nora Clitheroe (an engaging and fragile Clare O’Malley) is the talk of her tenement as she tirelessly works to lift her family out of their impoverished circumstances. She tries to keep her husband Jack (a stoic and somewhat abusive Adam Petherbridge) from the revolutionary fervor sweeping through Dublin. But Jack becomes a Commandant in the Irish Citizen Army, and when the Easter Rising of 1916 begins, he leaves a pregnant Nora to help lead the fight. The disparate, quarrelsome tenement residents are forced to shelter together as urban warfare makes their home nearly as treacherous as the streets. Passions and ideals rise and converge, but in the end, loss and devastation triumph over the promise of a new Ireland.
O’Casey’s themes of nationalism, divisiveness, religious freedoms and “rights,” the merits of socialism, and fantasy versus reality (fake news, alternate facts) counterpoint powerfully with the current political climate in the United States and throughout Europe.
Charlotte Moore directs the cast with a passionate commitment to excellence. Her staging brings out the best in each actor and assures that each actor’s character is fully developed and differentiated. Irish Rep regulars Charlie Corcoran (scenic design), Linda Fisher and David Toser (costume design), and Michael Gottlieb (lighting design) enhance the staging with the kind of stark realism that would please playwright Sean O’Casey.
In addition to Ms. O’Malley and Mr. Petherbridge, “The Plough and the Stars” features Úna Clancy as Mrs. Gogan, Terry Donnelly as Woman from Rathmines, Rory Duffy as Ensemble, Meg Hennessy as Mollser, John Keating as Capt. Brennan, Robert Langdon Lloyd as Peter Flynn, Ed Malone as Lieut. Langon, Michael Mellamphy as Fluther Good, Maryann Plunkett as Bessie Burgess, James Russell as The Young Covey, Harry Smith as Bartender/Sgt. Tinley, and Sarah Street as Rosie Redmond.
THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS
The creative team includes Charlie Corcoran (scenic design), Linda Fisher and David Toser (costume design), Michael Gottlieb (lighting design), Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab (sound design), Ryan Rumery (original music), Robert-Charles Vallance (hair and wigs). April Ann Kline serves as production stage manager.
“The Plough and the Stars” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) through Saturday June 22, 2019. For more information, including the performance schedule and ticketing information, visit https://irishrep.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.
Photo: Maryann Plunkett and Clare O'Malley in “The Plough and the Stars.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 20, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “A Strange Loop” at Playwrights Horizons (Through Sunday July 7, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “A Strange Loop” at Playwrights Horizons (Through Sunday July 7, 2019) Book, Music, and Lyrics by Michael R. Jackson Directed by Stephen Brackett Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Last season, two off-Broadway plays – “Daddy” and “Slave Play” (both by Jeremy O. Harris) – highlighted significant issues about the self-identity of young black gay and queer men and raised rich and enduring questions about the role of family, friends, culture, and “indifferent yet fetishizing white gays” in that process of discovery. This season, Michael R. Jackson’s original musical “A Strange Loop,” currently playing at Playwrights Horizons, similarly “sorts through layers of self-perception and the perceptions of the world around him” as his protagonist Usher (an impressive and transparent Larry Owens) explores “what it can feel like to be a ‘self’ in general and a black queer self in particular.” Usher’s quest is further complicated by his thoughts that interrupt his writing of a musical about his self-perception.
Usher’s inner cogitations are shared with the audience through the words and songs of six on stage “Thoughts” (Antwayn Hopper, James Jackson, Jr., L Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, and Jason Veasey). This gifted ensemble cast batters Usher with his obsessive reflections about self and world as both individual and cacophonous choral thoughts and creates a fascinating and original “conversation” with the one having the apprehensions. The actors not only sing through Usher’s thoughts but portray all the characters inhabiting those thoughts. Montana Levi Blanco’s costumes bring appropriate energy to each character.
Usher “thinks” about changing his life forever, his relationship with his loving religious mother who worries for Usher’s soul, his homophobic and verbally abusive alcoholic father, his “inner white girl,” his doctor who thinks he should have more sex, online sex sites, sex role stereotypes, fetishes, HIV/AIDS in the black community, Tyler Perry constructs of black “America,” the white Inwood Daddy who likes boys of color, and the possibility that his “sense of self is just a bunch of meaningless symbols moving from one level of abstraction to another but ending up back where they started” (cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter’s “strange loop”).
Usher’s self-identity “crisis” is parsed by layers of rich and enduring questions that reverberate with deep authenticity and believability. Under Stephen Brackett’s direction, Larry Owens and the cast of “Thoughts” determine whether Usher is capable of change, needs to change, or is simply “stuck” with who he is. They raise the rich question of whether Usher’s struggles are unique to the black queer community or have connections and relevance beyond that specific community. Arnulfo Maldonado’s “multiple doors” set, and Jen Schriever’s lighting give the “Thoughts” the perfect to “express” themselves.
Despite the importance of the discussion Michael R. Jackson initiates with “A Strange Loop,” the play’s repetitive style and content and its dependence on what might seem unnecessary vulgarity often detract from the inner strength of the script. The final scenes in Usher’s home and in the church are overwrought and depend too heavily on lavish and expensive sets. There is enough genuine grit in Michael R. Jackson’s script to carry his important conversation with the minimalism suggested by the multiple subtle explosions across Usher’s cranial synapses that bring his inner world to outer examination.
A STRANGE LOOP
The cast of “A Strange Loop” features Antwayn Hopper, James Jackson, Jr., L Morgan Lee, John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, Larry Owens, and Jason Veasey.
The creative team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (Scenic Designer), Montana Levi Blanco (Costume Designer), Jen Schriever (Lighting Designer), Alex Hawthorn (Sound Designer), Cookie Jordan (Hair, Wig and Makeup Designer), Charlie A. Rosen (Orchestrator), Rona Siddiqui (Music Director), Michael R. Jackson (Vocal Arrangements), Tomoko Akaboshi (Music Coordinator), and Erin Gioia Albrecht (Production Stage Manager).
“A Strange Loop” runs at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street) through Sunday July 7, 2019. For more information, including the performance schedule and ticketing information, visit https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Jason Veasey and Larry Owens in “A Strange Loop.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, June 17, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Enter Laughing: The Musical” at York Theatre Company (Through Sunday June 22, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Enter Laughing: The Musical” at York Theatre Company (Through Sunday June 22, 2019) Book by Joseph Stein Music and Lyrics by Stan Daniels Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
As it finally filtered down to find its resting place on the stage of the York Theatre, the result has the sense and feel of a good old-fashioned musical comedy drenched with broad humor of a certain distinctive genre. The plot is predictable, the characters are stereotypical and some of the humor is questionable in the present socio-political climate, but when all is said and done, it is just harmless fun created in a different era with no underlying message but created for pure entertainment.
The plot follows David Kolowitz (a waggish Chris Dwan) and his dream to leave the Bronx to become a famous actor and movie star. He joins an acting school and is cast in a production by the owner and director Marlowe (an exasperated David Schramm) because his daughter and leading lady Angela (a frolicsome Farah Alvin) thinks he is cute. When his parents (the delightful Alison Fraser and solid Robert Picardo) discover why he is coming home so late they forbid him to do the play and force him to go to Pharmacy school. To complicate the situation David is a bit girl crazy having a steady girlfriend Wanda (a supportive Allie Trimm) and a huge crush on the clerk at the hat store Miss B (a seductive Dana Costello). Quite a few scenes just happen in David’s head as he imagines what it will be like when he becomes a Hollywood star. Of course, everything works out in the end as it always does in musical comedy.
The reason this production works much better than the original is because it is scaled down and certainly plays better as a small intimate musical. The downside is that it is difficult to keep the energy up without those big production numbers and the weak book becomes more front and center. The cast must be perfect, committed to the broad and physical humor of the genre. This current revival certainly comes close, but the vivacity and spirit are too erratic and rely too much on the musical numbers to keep on pace. Mr. Dwan is a joy to watch and is reminiscent of a young Jerry Lewis with a rubber face and fluid movement taking advantage of every possible opportunity to use his comic skills and agile physicality. The cast rounded out by Raji Ahsan, Ray DeMattis and Joe Veale are more than competent but need to ramp it up a notch to match and support the indefatigable and agile David Kolowitz.
The cast of “Enter Laughing: The Musical” features Raji Ahsan, Farah Alvin, Dana Costello, Ray DeMattis, Chris Dwan, Alison Fraser, Robert Picardo, David Schramm, Allie Trimm, and Joe Veale.
The creative team includes James Morgan (sets), Tyler M. Holland (costumes), Ken Billington & Jason Kantrowitz (lights), Julian Evans (sound), and Brooke van Hensbergen (props). The Production Manager and Production Stage Manager is Chris Steckel with Assistant Stage Manager Kayla Santos. The Casting Director is Michael Cassara, CSA.
“Enter Laughing: The Musical” runs at York Theatre Company (East 54th Street and Lexington Avenue) through Sunday June 22, 2019. For more information, including the performance schedule and ticketing information, visit https://yorktheatre.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
Photo: Chris Dwan and Alison Fraser in “Enter Laughing: The Musical.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, June 16, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Nomad Motel” at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 (Through Sunday June 23, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Nomad Motel” at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 (Through Sunday June 23, 2019) By Carla Ching Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
With a nod (intentional/unintentional) to the genre of disillusioned youth represented by Kenneth Lonergan’s 1996 “This Is Our Youth,” Carla Ching’s “Nomad Motel” currently running at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 dives headlong into the lives of a triangle of vagabond California youth yearning to belatedly separate and individuate from adults who have been less than successful in providing safe and secure environments and unconditional-nonjudgmental love.
Alix (a languid and defeated Molly Griggs) and her mother Fiona (an equivocating and frenzied Samantha Mathis) are kicked out from pay-by-the-day motels for not meeting payment. Mason (a charming and sensitive Christopher Larkin) is an undocumented Asian teenager living in fear of being deported and equally fearful of his domineering father James (a strident and cagey Andrew Pang) who lives and works in China or Japan or wherever his special brand of “making collections” might take him. And Alix’s ex-boyfriend Oscar (a spirited and flawed Ian Duff) is homeless, having recently lived in a group home, and most recently kicked out of his new girlfriend Lila’s place. Three lost children and two ineffective adults at odds with visions of the future.
The two teenagers meet obstacle after obstacle in their efforts to move forward with their lives, and many of those obstacles are of their own making. Alix’s skipping weeks of school results in grades that do not allow her to matriculate at Pratt in New York City. Instead, she plans to follow Oscar there – plans that “go astray.” Mason (and Oscar) face the ravages of racism, and Mason battles unsuccessfully with his overbearing (and abusive) father James and sees no future in accepting financial support and housing as the expense of his physical and emotional health (Mason suffers from severe anxiety attacks).
Throughout the play, Mason nurtures a baby bird he finds and brings into the house his father provides for him “to save it.” Mason cradles the bird and changes the dressing on her wing – he’s convinced the bird is female. The bird is an obvious trope for the brokenness shared by Mason and Alix and their need to be set free from their current impairments and entrapments. After discovering their love for one another, and after cradling one another and mending each other’s brokenness, it is time to run. Although this provides a modicum of catharsis, playwright Carla Ching takes too long to reach that resolution.
Under Ed Sylvanus Iskandar’s lackluster direction, the cast – with obvious commitment to the script – cannot overcome competing with one cliché after another and Carla Ching’s less than fully developed characters. Additionally, both playwright and director make some odd choices. For example, in an early conversation between Mason and his father, James undresses and, instead of putting on a bathrobe as the script suggests, sits in his underwear throughout the call. Also, instead of allowing Fiona’s and James’s faults to reveal themselves over time, both characters are treated heavy-handedly.
There is nothing new in “Nomad Motel” and the important themes the play shrouds are ineffectively and weakly developed. The young actors give the play their very best and cannot be held accountable for “Nomad Motel’s” wandering off course.
The cast of “Nomad Motel” features Ian Duff, Molly Griggs, Christopher Larkin, Samantha Mathis, and Andrew Pang.
“Nomad Motel’s” creative team features scenic design by Yu-Hsuan Chen, costume design by Loren Shaw, lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, sound design and original compositions by Emily Gardner Xu Hall, fight direction by Ryan-James Hatanaka, dialect coaching by Joy Lanceta Coronel, and casting by TBD Casting: Stephanie Yankwitt, CSA; Margaret Dunn.
“Nomad Motel” runs at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street) through Sunday June 23, 2019. For more information about the production including the performance schedule and how to purchase tickets, visit https://atlantictheater.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes including one 10-minute intermission.
Photo: Molly Griggs and Christopher Larkin in “Nomad Motel.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 13, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Dying City” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday June 30, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Dying City” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday June 30, 2019) Written and Directed by Christopher Shinn Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
With renewed concerns about an escalation of conflict in Iraq and the possibility of a new war initiative there, one would tend to believe that the revival of Christopher Shinn’s “Dying City,” currently playing at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, would provide new insights into the earlier Iraq War and its effects on the soldiers who served here and on their families at home. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Under the playwright’s direction, the cumbersome play raises more questions than it answers and leaves the inquiring audience member desperately flipping through The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to sort out the dysfunction displayed on stage.
In the early scenes of Christopher Shinn’s “Dying City,” one is led to believe that the physical and emotional detritus scattered across Kelly’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) Manhattan apartment results from the scars left by the death of her husband Craig (Colin Woodell) in Iraq, the Iraq war itself, and the lingering shadows of the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. However, at the plays end, one becomes aware that Kelly’s plan to flee her apartment has more to do with uncovered secrets about her husband – living and dead – and about his gay twin brother Peter (also played by Colin Woodell) who appears on the anniversary of Craig’s death at her apartment door unannounced and unprepared to handle Kelly’s less than warm welcome.
During the initial stages of Peter’s visit, it is uncertain why Kelly might have been so averse to responding to the letter Peter sent after Craig’s funeral. After all, apparently, they were close while Craig was alive. However, as the play progresses, Peter’s motivation for wanting to reconnect with Kelly becomes clearer, more sinister, and deeply disturbing. Peter makes a deliberate choice to move to Manhattan and seek work as an actor there. That choice involves being closer to Kelly and, as he reveals in his unanswered letter, to ask her “to have a baby.” Is there any doubt Kelly would start packing?
Throughout the play, there are flashbacks that reveal more about Kelly’s relationship with her husband Craig before his death in Iraq. These flashbacks also reveal more about Craig and his lack of self-worth, his misogyny, and the real reason for his untimely death. To say more about any of these issues would require spoiler alerts. It is enough to know that both Craig and Peter exhibit the symptoms of a narcissistic personality disorder and are dangerous young men. Witness Peter’s insistence on sharing his brother’s email to Kelly, emails that reveal Craig’s infidelity and toxic self-absorption.
Although Christopher Shinn’s characters are well developed and their conflicts believable enough, the plot developed by those “problems” is not as believable and suffers from a lack of pathos, ethos, and logos. It is difficult to care for characters who fail to care for themselves or for one another, behave in ways that connect to reality only tangentially, and make choices that defy logic. Mr. Shinn’s turn as director lacks the ability to elicit strong performances from the two relatively inexperienced actors. Colin Woodell fares better than Mary Elizabeth Winstead who is making her theatre debut with this performance.
It is difficult to understand fully why Second Stage chose to reprise this flawed drama that fails on every count to provide a satisfying dramatic arc that results in a much-needed catharsis.
The Cast of “Dying City” features Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Colin Woodell.
The creative team of “Dying City” includes Diane Laffrey (scenic design), Kaye Voyce (costume design), Tyler Micoleau (lighting design), and Bray Poor (sound design). Laura Smith serves as production stage manager.
“Dying City” runs at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (305 West 43rd Street at 8th Avenue) through Sunday June 30, 2019. For further information, including performance schedule and ticket purchase, visit https://2st.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Colin Woodell in “Dying City.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, June 10, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Octet” in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Though Sunday June 30, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Octet” in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Though Sunday June 30, 2019) Music, Lyrics, Book, and Vocal Arrangements by Dave Malloy Directed by Annie Tippe Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts in Dave Malloy’s a cappela musical “Octet” currently playing in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center. A group of eight “addicts” meets regularly (summoned by the mysterious Saul) to share the dynamics of their various addictions, hoping to achieve the recovery attainable through the support and encouragement typically found in similar twelve-step programs. They hold their meetings in a drab church basement, setting up a circle of chairs to replace the church’s Bingo paraphernalia. “Against the wall” of Amy Rubin and Brittany Vasta’s impressive set “is a stack of chairs, an old piano, a cabinet, and a table with a coffee maker, electric kettle, and Styrofoam cups. A pile of old broken electronics gathers dust in the corner. A small wooden box sits near the door.” Like the eccentricities of the group members’ addictions, the paraphernalia in the basement seem immutable.
While some of the addictions rehearsed are readily recognizable and make strong connections to the audience members (ego surfing, dating apps, dieting apps), others like Velma’s (Kuhoo Verma) arcane references to Tarot and other addictive and destructive online spirituality communities become elitist and pretentious. Equally obscure is Toby’s (Justin Gregory Lopez) protracted thread on intelligence and the evolution of humanity (and himself). There are times when some of the threads seem without any meaningful content and become, unfortunately, lost on the audience.
Dave Malloy’s music is exquisite in every way reflecting various styles composed and arranged with tight harmonies that support Malloy’s lyrics. As previously mentioned, the individual threads highlighting a variety of digital/binary addictions are not as strong as the communal “Hymns,” the “Fugue State” closing Part One, and the “Tower Tea Ceremony” in Part Two.
Under Annie Tippe’s direction, the eight-member cast moves – sometimes almost miraculously – around the set with Jungian synchronicity and the grace displayed in synchronized swimming. There are so many detailed and repetitive moves and notes and sounds that it is remarkable the members of the cast are never in the wrong place at the wrong time or ticking off binary beats in the wrong dimension. Whether battling OCD or obsession with self or conspiratorial constructs, these actors’ characters are believable and reflect authentic struggles with “mass media opiate haze” and “content overstimulation” and “dopamine desensitization.”
Aided by what group facilitator Paula (Starr Busby) describes as “a powerful group psychedelic that induces a 5-minute coma, in which your consciousness is transported back to its original, pure, pre-technological limbic state,” the group emerges from “The Tower Tea Ceremony” having found “something they needed for their journey.” Or did they? And why doesn’t Velma imbibe? And how does she discover she is “beautiful” without falling into unconsciousness? Find out, perhaps, by listening to her song “Beautiful” and the final “Hymn: The Field.”
Kudos to Adam Bashian as Jim, Kim Blanck as Karly, Starr Busby as Paula, Alex Gibson as Peter, Justin Gregory Lopez as Toby, J.D. Mollison as Marvin, Margo Siebert as Jessica, and Kuhoo Verma as Velma for grappling with this new way of “working a script.”
The cast of “Octet” includes Adam Bashian as Jim, Kim Blanck as Karly, Starr Busby as Paula, Alex Gibson as Peter, Justin Gregory Lopez as Toby, J.D. Mollison as Marvin, Margo Siebert as Jessica, and Kuhoo Verma as Velma. The cast also includes Jonathan Christopher and Nicole Weiss.
The creative team includes Or Matias (Music Director), Marisa Michaelson (Vocal Coach), Amy Rubin & Brittany Vasta (Scenic Design), Brenda Abbandandolo (Costume Design), Christopher Bowser (Lighting Design), and Hidenori Nakajo (Sound Design). The Production Stage Manager is Jhanaë Bonnick and Casting is by NAME.
“Octet” runs through June 30, 2019 in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues). For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.signaturetheatre.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.
Photo: The Cast of “Octet” by Dave Malloy and directed by Annie Tippe. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 6, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: Primary Stages “Little Women” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday June 29, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: Primary Stages “Little Women” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday June 29, 2019) Written by Kate Hamill, Based on the Novel by Louisa May Alcott Directed by Sarna Lapine Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“I can’t abide seeing a body stuffed into the wrong role.” – Jo to Meg in “Little Women”
Kate Hamill’s retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” plays at Primary Stages at an auspicious time. Amid unprecedented national and political division, issues of gender identity, gender equality, and gender protection continue to be critically important. Individual rights and freedoms are eroding at a dangerous pace. Religious rights are becoming more significant than the rights of individuals to make choices about their bodies, their relationships, and about their futures.
Jo (a spirited and persuasive Kristolyn Lloyd) and Beth (a fragile and shy Paola Sanchez Abreu) are two of the four March sisters who live with their mother Marmie (a dedicated and nurturing Maria Elena Ramirez) and the family’s longtime housekeeper Hannah (a strident yet compassionate Ellen Harvey) in the suburbs. Their father Robert March (a hapless and lethargic John Lenartz) has been wounded in the Civil War. Jo feels that she is “a body stuffed into the wrong role” and Beth lovingly support’s her sister’s quest to “be what she wants to be.” Jo’s quest is at the core of “Little Women” and her journey includes her struggles with her less than supportive sisters Meg (a dedicated and romantic Kate Hamill) and Amy (an opinionated and spoiled Carmen Zilles) and her friendship with Laurie (a thoughtful and caring Nate Mann) the boy next door who is also struggling with his “mis-stuffed” body.
Kate Hamill gives her characters unique and authentic conflicts which the actors successfully employ to develop their characters with believability and develop the plot. Themes and conflicts counterpoint one another and the comparison and contrast of these provide enough dramatic progression. However, these are Alcott’s themes really and Kate Hamill has not seduced them into the present with enough relevance and energy to make this “Little Women” anything new or compelling. Even Laurie’s compelling arguments about gender identity – imagining a world where there is neither “boy” or “girl” nor “gentleman” or “lady” – fade into nagging normalcy.
There are only so many times an audience can be challenged to accept that individuals – particularly girls and women – need the space to be and do what they want to be and do, and struggle with obstacles of “reality” that suppress “fantasy.” No one wants to “pander to the wealthy” or have emotional strength confused with “hysteria.” But Kate Hamill’s “Little Women” does not seem to know how to develop these conflicts into anything transformative. Unfortunately, there are times this production seems like the effort of a substantial community theater and disappoints more than it succeeds.
I know that Kate Hamill considered these issues carefully; however, for this critic the period costumes play against making this retelling of “Little Women” relevant. Additionally, once the conventions of set locations are evident to the audience, there is no need for all the “fussing” with curtains and doors. These constant distractions diminish the impact of the work of the actors. These concerns, along with Sarna Lapine’s lugubrious direction, make for a slow-moving production so unlike Ms. Hamill’s previous retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” at Primary Stages.
No one should abide being a body stuffed into the wrong role. One wishes that Kate Hamill’s “Little Women” provided the kind of catharsis to bring that important tension to some meaningful resolution.
The cast of “Little Women” includes Paola Sanchez Abreu, Michael Crane, Kate Hamill, Ellen Harvey, John Lenartz, Kristolyn Lloyd, Nate Mann, Maria Elena Ramirez, and Carmen Zilles.
“Little Women” features scenic design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, costume design by Valérie Thérèse Bart, lighting design by Paul Whitaker, and sound design by Leon Rothenberg. Deborah Abramson serves as the composer.
Primary Stage’s “Little Women” runs at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Saturday June 29, 2019. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://primarystages.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes with one intermission.
Photo: Kristolyn Lloyd and Paola Sanchez Abreu in “Little Women.” Credit: James Leynse.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Broadway Review: “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” at the Broadhurst Theatre (Through Sunday, August 25, 2019)
Broadway Review: “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” at the Broadhurst Theatre (Through Sunday, August 25, 2019) By Terrence McNally Directed by Arin Arbus Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Pretend that we’re the only two people in the entire world, that’s what I’m doing, and it all falls into place.” – Johnny to Frankie
Moonlight – the kind of light that shines into Frankie’s (Audra McDonald) apartment window at night – provides the best light for pretending. The kind of pretending that has the chance of making an incursion into the blinding light of reality. Moonlight is more forgiving than sunlight which prefers clarity over moonlight’s ambiguity and judgement over moonlight’s forgiveness. Frankie hosts her coworker Johnny (Michael Shannon) at the apartment for their first date and their first sexual encounter.
Waitress and short order cook respectively, Frankie and Johnny bask in the nude in the moonlight after Johnny’s rather aggressive and noisy lovemaking and what was meant to be a one-night stand becomes a tour-de-force of relationship building. Despite protestations from both – mostly from Frankie – the newly launched “couple” begins to experiment with non-sexual intimacy, neediness, unconditional love, and the basic rhythms of life not usually experienced by coworkers. The moonlight (‘Clair de lune’) magically provides the kind of space and time for the pair to expose brokenness, insecurity, weakness, and a score of self-loathing epithets.
The space is the apartment that appears to be under scrutiny from the low-hanging light grid whose instruments – like glowing eyes – peer deeply into the inhabitants as they crisscross the cluttered place that has protected Frankie from too much exposure and allowed her to understand relationships by looking into two apartments “across the courtyard.” For eight years, ever since she moved in, Frankie watches “an old couple in bathrobes eat in total silence” and a second couple involved in a mutually satisfying masochistic relationship. She wants neither scenario but is too afraid to open herself up to the possibility for a healthier relationship.
Riccardo Hernandez’s set and Natasha Katz’s lighting) create a surreal environment that, like a third and fourth character, broods over Frankie and Johnny’s quest for authenticity and honesty as their relationship is created with rapid fire dialogue and staccato movement.
Under Arin Arbus’s exquisite direction (Broadway debut), Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon play to perfection the EveryMan, EveryWoman, EveryOne seeking to overcome their finitude and fallibility to connect with another person in a meaningful way and establish a non-judgmental relationship against all odds. These two actors are stunning together and support one another as they lay bare the layers of their characters and expose their deep and enduring conflicts. They could not be more comfortable in their skin and in their willingness to be completely transparent. There are no stereotypes here, just an abundance of normalcy that transcends the characters’ occupations or neighborhoods.
This is the best of the Broadway productions of “Frankie and Johnny” and Terrence McNally’s play is more relevant today that perhaps it ever was. At some point, Frankie and Johnny will need to go back to work. Will their emerging love and respect for one another survive in the light of day? Or will it be like the lives of occupants of the two apartments Frankie is able to see from her window. Will any of us survive in the glaring light of judgement and criticism? For Terrence McNally intends his tender play to be for all who are struggling for meaning in relationship and in self. The radio announcer Johnny calls to play a song for Frankie shares at the play’s end, “I’m still thinking about Frankie and Johnny. God, how I wish you two really existed. Maybe I’m crazy but I’d still like to believe in love.” Only time will tell whether Frankie and Johnny or any of us sharing the planet will find love.
FRANKIE AND JOHNNY AT THE CLAIR DE LUNE
The cast of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” features Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon.
The creative team of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” includes Riccardo Hernandez (Sets), Emily Rebholz (Costumes), Natasha Katz (Lighting), Nevin Steinberg (Sound), J. Jared Janas (Hair, Wig and Makeup), Claire Warden (Intimacy and Fight Director), Laurie Goldfeder (Production Stage Manager) and 101 Productions, Ltd. (General Manager).
“Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” runs at the Broadhurst Theatre (235 West 44th Street) through Sunday, August 25, 2019. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit FrankieAndJohnnyBroadway.com. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Photo: Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon in “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune.” Credit: Deen van Meer.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 31, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Something Clean” at the Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday June 30, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Something Clean” at the Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday June 30, 2019) By Selina Fillinger Directed by Margot Bordelon Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Charlotte and Doug Walker’s son Kai will be home from prison in three months to begin his court remanded probation. Kai is a white university student athlete who was convicted of raping a black female student behind a dumpster at the school and is half-way through his six-month sentence. Kai’s transgression has shaken the Walker’s world and rent any sense of normally asunder. Choosing not to focus on the survivor but rather on the family of the criminal, playwright Selina Fillinger walks a fine line between redemption and reclamation.
Kai’s mother Charlotte (a passionate and searing Kathryn Erbe) decides to escape from her “clean, lonely house in upper-middle class suburbia” and volunteer “undercover” at “an overstuffed, inner-city Center for Sexual Assault” to somehow assuage her guilt and discover her own path – and a path for her family – toward recovery. Charlotte begins to bind with the center’s director Joey (an intense and gentle Christopher Livingston) a twenty-something young black man who is a victim of rape.
Ms. Fillinger spins a tale of parallel lives – those of Charlotte and her estranged husband Doug (a listless and compliant Daniel Jenkins) and Joey and his boyfriend Tim – that often skirts the significant themes of systemic racism and white privilege that only occasionally find their way into the script’s conversation. The central theme here is “scrubbing” the reality of racism and privilege clean with spray bottles and wipes drenched in fantasy and fiction. The playwright wants the audience to somehow accept alternative facts – sexual predators and their families are more important than survivors and their trauma.
So, Charlotte “just call me Charlie” dons yellow rubber gloves and is determined to make “something clean” of the mess made by her son Kai. She scrubs so hard on the dumpster she fails to come clean herself. She is dishonest with Joey, with her husband, and with her own superego. Kathryn Erbe and Christopher Livingston bring authenticity and grit to their performances of Charlotte and Joey. Their craft manages to transcend the holes in the script and the audience leans into their portrayals of brokenness (Joey) and arrogance (Charlotte).
The script is problematic on many counts. Although Kathryn Erbe and Christopher Livingston attempt to flesh out their characters – Charlotte/Charlie and Joey respectively – those characters lack consistent authenticity and believability as does Daniel Jenkins’s Doug – the weakest of the characters and therefore the least compelling of the performances. Perhaps most problematic is believing that Joey would not immediately see through Charlotte’s insincerity and arrogance.
Margot Bordelon directs “Something Clean” with the briskness of a broom that sweeps across Reid Thompson’s relatively expansive set in the Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. She cleverly divides the spaces between the Center and the Walker homestead with carpet tiles of differing subdued colors and provides three exits for the actors to accommodate the play’s rapid-firing short scenes. The scene of the sexual assault, the dumpster on the university campus, is revealed behind sliding panels that comprise the wall of the Center.
Although all’s well that ends well for the play’s on-stage characters, the offstage nameless survivor and her rapist have miles to go before either will be restive of body, mind, or spirit. Kai will hopefully examine his life and his actions with care and the nameless survivor will spend the rest of her life wondering who next will pull her behind a dumpster and violate her body and soul. Unfortunately, “Something Clean” does not deal with these important issues choosing instead to whitewash trauma with the white picket fence that surrounds the Walkers and protects them from the incursion of grief and confession.
“Something Clean” features Kathryn Erbe as “Charlotte,” Daniel Jenkins as “Doug” and Christopher Livingston as “Joey.”
The creative team for “Something Clean” includes Reid Thompson (Sets), Valérie Thérèse Bart (Costumes), Jiyoun Chang (Lighting) and Palmer Hefferan (Original Compositions and Sound).
“Something Clean” runs at the Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street) through Sunday June 30, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Sunday evenings at 7:00 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 1:30P p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. All tickets for Something Clean are $30 General Admission tickets. Call 212-719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org for more information. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Christopher Livingston and Kathryn Erbe in “Something Clean.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, May 30, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “The Pink Unicorn” at the Episcopal Actors’ Guild (Through Saturday June 2, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “The Pink Unicorn” at the Episcopal Actors’ Guild (Through Saturday June 2, 2019) By Elise Forier Edie Directed by Amy E. Jones Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“I am gender queer, Ma. Look it up.” – Jolene Lee to Her Mother Trisha
The LGBTQ+ communities have undergone significant and healthy upheaval since Elise Forier Edie developed “The Pink Unicorn” in 2011 at The Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. Although the playwright has attempted to update the script, its present incarnation currently running at the Episcopal Actors’ Guild falls short of reflecting the rich complexities of gender identity and gender expression, choosing instead a barrage of stereotypes and sometimes offensive diction. This despite an impressive performance by Alice Ripley as a conservative Texas mom who daughter announces she is ‘gender queer.’
When Trisha Lee’s (Alice Ripley) daughter Jolene comes out as gender queer, her announcement shakes Trisha’s world to its core. However, she accepts Jolene’s challenge, and does her homework, depending opon her “research” in Wikipedia to begin her journey to understanding and acceptance. Unconditional and non-judgmental love serve as this devoted mother’s shield and her rear guard as she traverses the bumpy road toward embracing Jolene’s identity and status.
Trisha Decides to seek advice and guidance from her pastor – Pastor Dick. But before she can meet with him, he delivers a homophobic diatribe at Sunday worship concluding that, “We’re not going to let no LGBTQ into this church and we’re not gonna let them lead this church.” In response, Trisha delivers her own “sermon” in the form of a testimony to her daughter Jolene’s right to be gender queer. After making her escape from the church (and her disapproving mother who is in attendance), Trisha is followed by Enid McDonald the “only lesbian [she] knew at the time. Enid here is laden with stereotypes.
This encounter leads to the “planning party for the protest at [Trisha’s] house, with the Gay Straight Alliance brain trust and the Lesbian Underground Railroad in attendance. St. Peter in a sidecar!” The balance of “The Pink Unicorn” chronicles the protest and the aftermath. The audience discovers what victories are won and how they were won and how Jolene and Trisha become “heroes.”
Because the playwright chooses to include a compendium of LGBTQ history, the script becomes didactic and cumbersome. Elise Forier Edie would have been better off allowing Trisha to take center stage and rehearse her journey from naivete to a profound and believable realization that, “The world is a dark place, and we are all dumb and confused in it” and all she has to offer is her hand in solidarity. Alice Ripley is a formidable actor and the audience would benefit from her revealing Trisha’s growth, peeling back the layers of Trisha’s fears, hopes, and dreams as she struggles to place Jolene’s best interests above her doubts and misconceptions.
These misconceptions include two disturbing affirmations. Trisha reveals, “I had to look up LGBTQ. I did not know it stood for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer.” Trisha concludes, “They’re all different, evidently, like Chicanos, Latinos and Hispanics.” And her observation that “Gender is on a scale, just like autism, only at one end is Marilyn Monroe, and on the other end is Charles Bronson, and everyone else in the world just lands somewhere in between those two” offends the very heart of all those members of the LGBTQ communities struggling for justice and survival. One needs to accept “The Pink Unicorn” for what it is: the beginning of conversation and not the conclusion of the quest.
THE PINK UNICORN
“The Pink Unicorn” stars Alice Ripley. The production team for “The Pink Unicorn” includes Frank Hartley (production and lighting design), Hunter Dowell (costumes), Carrie Greenberg (wardrobe supervisor), Gaby Garcia (graphic design), Maggie Snyder (general manager), Cara Feuer (assistant general manager) and Ethan Paulini associate artistic director). Theresa S. Carroll serves as production stage manager.
“The Pink Unicorn” runs through Saturday June 2, 2019 at The Episcopal Actors’ Guild (1 East 29th Street between Madison and 5th Avenues). Tickets are $99.00 general admission, $29.50 partial view, or $159.00 for premium ticketing that includes complimentary beverages and reserved seating. For tickets and info visit available at www.ootbtheatrics.com. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Alice Ripley as Trisha Lee in “The Pink Unicorn.” Credit: Jazelle Artistry.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Original Sound” at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre (Through Saturday June 8, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Original Sound” at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre (Through Saturday June 8, 2019) By Adam Seidel Directed by Elena Araoz Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
What a pleasant surprise to walk into the Studio space at Cherry Lane Theatre and see a fresh, new look developed for the exciting new production “Original Sound” by Adam Seidel. Scenic designer, Justin Townsend has transformed the space into a multi-purpose set used for several different locations but always having the lingering aura of a contemporary, professional recording studio. Lighting by Kate McGee supports specific locations and has created a multi-colored neon tube installation as a focal point that pulsates during scene changes adding to the highly charged production and sleek design.
The plot revolves around young DJ Danny Solis (a convincing Sabastian Chacon) who is an aspiring songwriter posting his beats on the internet and Ryan Reed an established rock star on the brink of super stardom who is experiencing a creative block. Ryan is under pressure to write a hit single for her new album. She googles herself and finds the diss track that Danny posted but also listens to his latest post. Not difficult to see where this is going. Ryan steals the composition and it becomes a hit single which Danny hears on the radio and recognizes the similarity. So, let the games begin. It seems like a simple story, but it gets a bit complicated with some twists and turns that can keep you intrigued throughout the ninety minutes. Bring in Ryan’s unscrupulous manager Jake Colburn (a solid but transparent Anthony Arkin), Danny’s roommate (a coy Lio Mehiel), his sister Felicia (an honest and angry Cynthia Bastidas) and his estranged musician, father Tommy (an intense Wilson Jermaine Heredia) and the plot naturally unfolds and thickens before your eyes.
The question that Mr. Seidel can delineate seems to ask what is original or to extrapolate, is anything one hundred percent unprecedented. In recent years it seems that the music industry has had its share of high-profile cases of plagiarism that inherently make this a valid argument. What pushes this work beyond the familiar story are the layers and slow exposition that lends to the intrigue, the struggle for acceptance and notoriety and the compromises needed for success. It is truly ironic to create totally believable and likeable characters who all end up losing, never really getting what they want but understanding why. The dialogue is easy and natural giving a nice fluidity to each scene. It is not a perfect script and a bit more stage time and exposition for the sister and father would add some backstory and depth to the already fine interpretations.
The entire cast does a remarkable job juggling the small space and emphasizing the ever-changing locations under the meticulous direction of Elena Araoz. The production is clean, lean, and smart, drawing the audience into the story with words and music supported by raw emotion and transpicuous vulnerability. Take yourself to the Cherry Lane Theatre for an entertaining evening of theater. You will not be disappointed.
“Original Sound” features Anthony Arkin, Cynthia Bastidas, Jane Bruce, Sebastian Chacon, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, and Lio Mehiel.
The show features set design by Justin Townsend, lighting design by Kate McGee, costume design by Sarita Fellows, sound design by Nathan Leigh, with casting by McCorkle Casting, Ltd./ Pat McCorkle, CSA and Katja Zarolinski, CSA. The production stage manager is Christine Lemme and the general manager/producer is Julie Crosby.
“Original Sound” runs at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre (38 Commerce Street in Manhattan) through Saturday June 8, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Monday – Friday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. There are no performances on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27 and there are added shows on Friday, May 31 at 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Tickets are available by visiting www.CherryLaneTheatre.org, by calling 866-811-4111, or by visiting the Cherry Lane Theatre Box Office. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Jane Bruce and Sebastian Chacon in Adam Seidel's “Original Sound” at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre. Credit: Russ Rowland.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, May 19, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Happy Talk” at the New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Sunday June 16, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “Happy Talk” at the New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Sunday June 16, 2019) By Jesse Eisenberg Directed by Scott Elliott Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Happy talk – the type of verbal communication, replete with counterfeit smiles, that too often serves as a replacement for authentic connection between individuals – cascades across the stage at the New Group’s world premiere of Jesse Eisenberg’s “Happy Talk” at the New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre.
Lorraine (a broken and dangerous Susan Sarandon) is an actor whose career spans the performance spaces in Jewish Community Centers – currently playing Bloody Mary in “South Pacific” at one such venue. Lorraine has not only missed her chance to perform on Broadway: Lorraine has missed her chance to be an effective daughter, mother, and spouse. Her estranged daughter Jenny (a believable and enraged Tedra Millan) “hates her.” Her husband Bill (a sad and lonely Daniel Oreskes) has become debilitated by both the ravages of Multiple Sclerosis and Lorraine’s indifference. This same familial indifference is reserved for Lorraine’s offstage mother who is bed ridden and – hopes Lorraine – not long for this world.
Into this miasma of despair comes the undocumented Ljuba (an energetic and wizened Marin Ireland) who has come to the United States from Serbia to find a better life and bring her daughter to live with her. In Serbia, Ljuba was a pharmacy student whose studies were cut short when her daughter was born and her now ex-husband left her “for a hooker.” Lorraine has engaged Ljuba to care for her mother, her husband and herself. When Lorraine learns that Lubja has stashed away fifteen thousand dollars for an arranged marriage, the plot of “Happy Talk” changes course. What happens to Lubja’s proposed marriage to Lorraine’s acting partner Ronny (Nico Santos) and where Lubja’s money disappears to is at the center of the storyline spun by the play’s characters and their often less than believable conflicts.
Susan Sarandon delivers an authentic and believable performance as the narcissistic, self-centered, and selfish Lorraine who navigates through her disappointing life by ensnaring other in her poisonous web of self-absorption. One wishes for a more layered performance and it is not clear why that nuance is missing here. Will Jenny make it to Manuel Antonio in the western region of Costa Rica? Will Ljuba marry Ronny and reunite with her daughter? Will Bill and Lorraine’s mother be able to survive Lorraine’s destructive matrix of self-loathing? And what will happen to Lorraine: will there be catharsis, redemption, and release? The audience will find answers to these questions – and others – in Jesse Eisenberg’s somewhat thin “Happy Talk.”
Derek McLane’s appropriately sterile living room set serves as the backdrop for the more seditious shenanigans acted out between Lorraine and the victims of her narcissistic onslaught. Clint Ramos’s costumes successfully counterpoint the personalities of the play’s characters as do Jeff Croiter’s character specific costumes.
“Happy Talk features” Marin Ireland (Ljuba), Tedra Millan (Jenny), Daniel Oreskes (Bill), Nico Santos (Ronny), and Susan Sarandon (Lorraine). The production includes Scenic Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Clint Ramos, Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter and Sound Design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen.
“Happy Talk” runs through Sunday June 16, 2019 at The Pershing Square Signature Center (The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street). For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://thenewgroup.org/production/happytalk/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
Photo (L-R): Marin Ireland, Susan Sarandon and Tedra Millan in Jesse Eisenberg’s “Happy Talk.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 17, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “BLKS” in the Newman Mills Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (Through Sunday May 26, 2019)
Off-Broadway Review: “BLKS” in the Newman Mills Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (Through Sunday May 26, 2019) Written by Aziza Barnes Directed by Robert O’Hara Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Poet-playwright Aziza Barnes puts many ingredients into their script blender to whip up a “comedic look” at the lives of Octavia (Paige Gilbert), Imani (Alfie Fuller), and June (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, three twenty something black women living in New York City – a city where black lives seem not to matter and where, for that reason, it has become difficult for the trio to navigate the bumpy road to finding intimacy and purpose. The ingredients blended into Aziaza Barnes’s “coming to terms” tragicomedy include belonging; police mistreatment; sexual violence; interracial communication; white privilege; self-loathing; systemic racism; and genital moles. Unfortunately, because these items have been blended using the “SCREAM button, their importance is difficult to discern, and Aziza Barnes’s new and important voice is muffled considerably.
These discontents are exposed in a series of scenes that define the three main characters and their authentic conflicts. Octavia has a “partner” Ry (Coral Peòa) with whom she is making a movie and experiencing satisfying and frequent sex. Unfortunately, Ry is less concerned about Octavia’s genital mole and proves to be less than “committed” to their relationship. June is at the top of her game professionally but has a boyfriend who is a serial cheater. She explores “connecting” with Justin (Chris Myers) who appears at her bedroom window after a whispered profession of “love” at a local club. Imani struggles for recognition as a standup comic and wrestles to relate meaningfully with “that [white] bitch on the couch” (Marié Botha) she meets at the same club and who fails to understand the “rules” of interracial communication.
After it’s critically acclaimed runs at Steppenwolf in 2017 and 2018 and at the Wooly Mammoth earlier this year, “BLKS” has landed rather weakly on the stage of the Newman Mills Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space. The scenes play out in the “wedges” of a turntable that reveal confined sets of a living room, bathroom, and one bedroom. There are scenes beyond the apartment; however, like the apartment itself, the play’s latent but important themes appear cramped beyond recognition. With the expansive stage at the Mills, it is puzzling why Clint Ramos decides to design the set in such a restrictive manner.
The playwright’s message needs to land heavily and uncomfortably on the audience but much of what faces Octavia, Imani, and June and the black community for whom Aziza Barnes wrote BLKS, is subtle and insidious and does not lend itself to the ravages of heightened decibels. There are moments when director Robert O’Hara tones down the volume and allows the dialogue to take center stage; however, these moments are not frequent enough and the actors are relegated to shouting their worries rather than allowing them to move more quietly and more “seriously” over the minds and hearts of the audience. The members of the cast do what they can to expose their ennui and their pain. Unfortunately, the set and the direction often get in the way of Aziza Barnes’s seditious script.
This current iteration of “BLKS” – thirty minutes have been shaved off the current intermission less ninety-minute production – plays more like a sitcom than perhaps it should and the seriousness, the somberness of the play’s message becomes lost. The audience, for example, is coerced to know more about Octavia’s genital mole than about June’s facial bruise. Perhaps, because of the emphasis placed on the mole, Octavia’s medical crisis is meant to be a trope (here an extended metaphor) for the sense of hopelessness, rage, and exclusion felt by the roommates. If that is the intent, it fails to deliver the pathos and ethos necessary to ignite the needed catharsis.
The cast features Marié Botha, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Alfie Fuller, Paige Gilbert, Chris Myers and Coral Peòa. The creative team for “BLKS” includes scenic design by Clint Ramos, costume design by Dede Ayite, lighting design by Alex Jainchill, and sound design by Palmer Hefferan.
“BLKS” runs in the Newman Mills Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space (511 West 52nd Street-between 10th and 11th Avenues) through Sunday My 26, 2019. For performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://mcctheater.org/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Alfie Fuller, Paige Gilbert in “BLKS.” Credit: Deen van Meer.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 10, 2019
Broadway Review: “Tootsie” at the Marquis Theatre (Currently On)
Broadway Review: “Tootsie” at the Marquis Theatre (Currently On) Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek Book by Robert Horn Choreographed by Denis Jones Directed by Scott Ellis Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“Tootsie” has arrived and the lights on Broadway, especially those the Marquis theater where the musical is in residence, are shining much brighter because of the energy generated by the incredible cast that delights the audience and sparks uproarious laughter and spontaneous applause at every turn. This new production based on the 1982 movie starring Dustin Hoffman has transferred to the stage with intelligence and style that allows the updated version to enter the 21st century graciously. The revised storyline, with a book by Robert Horn, employs ingenious changes for the stage adaption and is effective in its ability to address gender issues and the current women’s movement, while also being pleasantly vulgar without insult. The signature score by David Yazbek is slightly reminiscent of earlier works but that’s fine since it provides that big Broadway sound associated with good old-fashioned musical comedy. Director Scott Ellis keeps the show moving at a fast, fluid pace, but enables his cast to take advantage of every opportunity to cash in on the constant one liners, showcasing their impeccable comic timing. Denis Jones uses his lively choreography to add a powerful charge and sometimes is the connective current that keeps the electricity flowing, covering for certain costume changes without breaking the circuit.
Now for those who do not know the story. Michael Dorsey (an awesome Santino Fontana) is a talented, arrogant, and narcissistic out of work actor in New York City. He lives with his roommate Jeff Slater (a priceless Andy Grotelueschen) who is a playwright who has not been able to finish a play or to elaborate, even start one. Along comes Sandy Lester (a perfectly neurotic Sarah Stiles) who is also a struggling actor going nowhere and Michael’s ex but now a good friend, with hopes of rekindling their relationship. As a last resort Michael decides he will pose as a woman (Dorothy Michaels) and audition for the same part as Sandy, in a new Broadway musical. He wins the role and the fun begins. He falls in love with the star of the show Julie Nichols (a strong-willed Lilli Cooper), who quickly befriends Dorothy as they plot to change the storyline of the play to a more feminist view. Of course, the show will be a success and Dorothy will become a star. Michael should be happy, but he decides to expose himself in hopes of beginning a relationship with Julie, regardless of the consequences. It is not so much the plot but the manner and skill in which it is executed that make this a seamless, hilarious, thrilling, joyride that never stops until the curtain falls. Even the curtain call is full of surprises!
It is difficult to describe the talent has been assembled on the stage of the Marquis Theater without sounding partisan. So, to keep it simple, the cast and creative team have nailed it. Mr. Fontana is lovable as the forlorn Michael and captivating as the indomitable Dorothy. He is indefatigable with hardly any downtime (except for insane costume changes), with an incredible baritone and impressive falsetto that deliver every song with strength and clarity. He gives a powerhouse performance. Lilli Cooper gives a strong, intelligent, interpretation of Julie, supported by a wide vocal range that captures her character. Sarah Stiles redefines neurotic, inventing a hilarious Sandy and stopping the show with her quick patter musical number “What’s Gonna Happen.” Andy Grotelueschen has the deadpan Jeff down to a science, never missing an opportunity to use silence as a tool for comedy. John Behlmann occupies the vacant mind of the inane Max Van Horn with charming ignorance and loving ineptitude. Reg Rogers fills Director Ron Carlisle with animated self-indulgence and despicable behavior that goes beyond stereotype. Julie Halston gives producer Rita Marshall panache and delivers her one liners with impeccable comic timing. Michael McGrath makes his mark as theatrical agent Stan Fields creating one of the most hilarious door-opening scenes in theater history without saying a word.
Kudos to the entire cast and creative team for bringing back that good old fashioned, blockbuster Broadway musical comedy that has graced the theaters of the great white way for decades. Treat yourself to a retreat from hectic schedules, the present chaotic, socio-political environment and disturbing news, to sit back, relax, laugh till your sides hurt and leave the theater feeling good. This is a show with remarkable performances that should not be missed.
“Tootsie” stars Santino Fontana, Lilli Cooper, Sarah Stiles, John Behlmann, Andy Grotelueschen, Julie Halston, Michael McGrath and Reg Rogers
The design team for “Tootsie” includes scenic designer David Rockwell, costume designer William Ivey Long, lighting designer Donald Holder, sound designer Brian Ronan, hair and wig design by Paul Huntley, and make-up design by Angelina Avallone.
“Tootsie” is currently on at the Marquis Theatre (210 West 46th Street). For information on performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://tootsiemusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Photo: Santino Fontana (right) and the Company of “Tootsie.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 3, 2019
Broadway Review: “Be More Chill” at the Lyceum Theatre (Open Run)
Broadway Review: “Be More Chill” at the Lyceum Theatre (Open Run) Music and Lyrics by Joe Iconis Book by Joe Tracz Based on the Novel by Ned Vizzini Directed by Stephen Brackett Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
It is difficult to separate “Be More Chill,” currently running at the Lyceum Theatre, from the hype surrounding what has become a teenage cult musical since its 2015 run at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey and its recent off-Broadway run at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center in 2018. This hype has been heightened by a cast recording and an extensive marketing campaign. What is this musical about and how successful is its current Broadway incarnation?
High school junior Jeremy Heere (an awkward and amiable Will Rowland) would like his chill factor to be higher. He does not want to be “special,” but he just wants “to survive.” From his opening number “More Than Survive” it is difficult to diagnose the suburban New Jersey teen’s precise source of anxiety. Is it missing his mother, the slow-loading porn on his laptop, his dad’s (Jason SweetTooth Williams) agoraphobia and disrespect for Jeremy’s privacy, his fear of arriving at school “reeking?” His generalized anxiety seems no different than that of any teenager navigating their way through high school’s pitfalls. What is it Jeremy is dreads so much?
There is some bullying by classmates Rich Goranski (a menacing but broken Gerard Canonico) and Jake Dillinger (a high school awesomeness personified Britton Smith) but Jeremy has a solid friend in Michael Mell (a balanced and authentic George Salazar) with whom he shares an interest in video games and music. What Jeremy does not have, besides more chill, is his love interest Christine Canigula (a sweetly dorky Stephanie Hsu). There is also the “noise” created by the most popular girl in school Chloe Valentine (a crass and confident Katlyn Carlson), the second most popular Brooke Lohst (an insecure Lauren Marcus), and sidekick Jenna Rolan (a prying and intrusive Tiffany Mann).
Rather than finding some safe and relatively sane resolution to the angst of adolescence, Jeremy takes the same “gray oblong pill from Japan” that Rich swallowed to up his chill. The pill – the Squip – is a super-computer that tells Rich and Jeremy what to do and say to be cooler. Sci-Fi replaces socializing. The “voice” of the Squip is the aesthetic space-overcoat-clad Jason Tam.
Jeremy’s Squip-fueled journey from sad to glad to “normalcy” is told in scenes accompanied by loud pop-rock, techno-rock beats composed by Joe Iconis (with lyrics also by Iconis) and a serviceable book by Joe Tracz. Few of the songs are memorable. However, “Michael in the Bathroom,” Michael’s existential lament after being ditched by the post-Squip more chill Jeremy, is perhaps the most carefully written and the most sensitively delivered by George Salazar.
The cast is uniformly outstanding and fully committed to their roles. The playwright does not give us enough exposition about the protagonist Jeremy or his best friend Michael. Nor do the creators disclose what motivates Rich, Jake, or the popular female trio; therefore, their characters often struggle to transcend caricatures. Stephen Brackett’s direction and Chase Brock’s choreography move the action along at an appropriate pace and with welcomed energy. Beowulf Boritt’s expansive techno-fueled set, Bobby Frederick Tilley II’s stunning costumes, and Tyler Micoleau’s mood-driven lighting complement the musical’s settings.
Unfortunately, there are no LGBTQ+ characters in “Be More Chill” and the only mentions of the sexual status of this disparate community are negative. When Jeremy decides to sign up to be in the after-school play – a post-apocalyptic zombie infused retelling of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – in order to spend time with his crush Christine – he worries that “it’s a sign-up sheet for getting called gay.” Predictably, and sadly, as soon as Jeremy signs up, Rich calls out “Gay! Hahaha!” Rich taunts Jeremy about being gay, suggesting that he and Michael are “boyfriends.” The fact that Michael has lesbian parents (“mothers”) does not offset the musical’s lack of strong LGBTQ+ characters. Yes, Michael has “two mothers,” but they are not characters in the musical. Rick’s post-Squip recovery bi-awareness does not qualify as redemptive or transformative; rather, it comes off as humorous and unimportant. Mr. Heere’s showing up fully panted garners more cred.
Joe Tracz’s book and Joe Iconis’s lyrics fail to address the depth of teenage angst and the tragic events that often erupt from deep despair and depression. The hype surrounding “Be More Chill,” including its extensive marketing campaign, and the musical itself cannot and should not be a substitute for the real work required to discover who one is and then grapple with how to achieve selfhood and self-acceptance in the midst of discrimination, bullying, and dehumanization. “Be More Chill” hopefully will not itself become the Squip that numbs the intensity of that process.
BE MORE CHILL
The cast of “Be More Chill” features Gerard Canonico, Katlyn Carlson, Stephanie Hsu, Tiffany Mann, Lauren Marcus, Will Roland, George Salazar, Britton Smith, Jason Tam, and Jason SweetTooth Williams.
“Be More Chill” features scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Bobby Frederick Tilley II, lighting design by Tyler Micoleau, sound design by Ryan Rumery, projection design by Alex Basco Koch, musical direction by Emily Marshall, orchestrations by Charlie Rosen, casting by Telsey + Company / Adam Caldwell, CSA and Rebecca Scholl, CSA, and production stage management by Amanda Michaels.
“Be More Chill” runs at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street). Performances are Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $49.00 - $165.00 and are on sale at Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400, and at the Lyceum Theatre box office. For more information, visit www.BeMoreChillMusical.com. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
Photo: The Cast of “Be More Chill.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, April 29, 2019
Broadway Review: “Oklahoma!” Fails to Measure Up at Circle in the Square (Through Sunday September 1, 2019)
Broadway Review: “Oklahoma!” Fails to Measure Up at Circle in the Square (Through Sunday September 1, 2019) Music by Richard Rodgers Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II Based on the Play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs Directed by Daniel Fish Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Buried somewhere beneath the myriad sheets of plywood neatly lining the walls and covering the floors of Circle in the Square is the original sheer splendor, strength, and – yes – the overwhelming darkness of the original production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” Alas, that poor “Oklahoma!” is dead and is unceremoniously buried in Daniel Fish’s pretentious and overwrought “Oklahoma!” – never to be resurrected from the detritus of hanging guns galore, rows of bright red crock pots, and more yodeling than might be found anywhere in the Matterhorn.
In an apparent attempt to create an “Oklahoma!” for the twenty-first century, Daniel Fish not only serves up chili at the interval, but provides the audience a bevy of the kind of theatrical tricks one might expect to find in Ali Hakim’s (Will Brill) traveling salesman’s kit bag of notions and laudanum. These gimmicks include important scenes played out in complete darkness with actors whispering to one another with their “actions” being “exposed” in images projected on the “back” wall of the performance space; two grueling acts with the houselights up most of the time; a “dream ballet” that barely challenges the skills of “Lead Dancer” Gabrielle Hamilton leaving the audience nonplussed; and singing that challenges the very definition of vocal craft.
It is a good thing to attempt to reimagine the classics and many retellings over the decades have been helpful in adding relevance to already relevant plays, musicals, novels, poems, and all other manner of creative expression. This reimagining of “Oklahoma!” adds very little – if anything at all – to the original musical or any of its previous revivals. So, what happened here? Why did what night have worked, not work? There are several important reasons.
Daniel Fish’s revival fails to deliver authentic characters with believable conflicts. Despite the admirable and important diverse casting choices, the characters are not interesting – they come across more as stock characters on the Vaudeville circuit: in fact, the placards of that era might have helped the audience figure out what was going on in this hapless production – especially those not familiar with the original “Oklahoma!” Because the characters and their conflicts are obscured, the plot is thinly developed, and the “darkness” Mr. Fish aims for seems more like “trickery” and sleight of hand. For example, there must be very good reason to give no credence to the importance of the suspension of disbelief. If not dimming the house lights is supposed to draw the audience into some “interactive” experience, that “new” convention had better work – and here it does not. If sitting in the dark is meant to expose the underbelly of characters’ motives, the result must be electrifying and not numbing.
If what was Jud Fry’s (Patrick Vaill) suicide morphs into murder and the murderers Curly McLain (Damon Daunno) and Laurey Williams (Rebecca Naomi Jones) – not the deceased – are sprayed in blood, the cathartic nature of that choice must be clear and not bewildering. It is not that the audience members do not “understand” Daniel Fish’s choices, they just are not sure they are good choices. The audience lives daily with news broadcasts about and personal experiences of systemic racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia (now male cowhands and farmers best not be kissing other male cowhands and farmers), hate crimes against indigenous peoples, injustice in the name of justice, expansionism, gentrification, and white privilege. If a musical is supposed to reverberate with these atrocities, the attempt should tear the plywood from the theater walls with splintering chords: it had better be mighty powerful. This “Oklahoma!” is not and just leaves far too much to be desired and the audience wondering if somehow, they had partaken of the flask Ali Hakim gives to Miss Laurey.
The cast of “Oklahoma!” includes Will Brill, Anthony Cason, Damon Daunno, James Davis, Gabrielle Hamilton, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Will Mann, Mallory Portnoy, Ali Stroker, Mitch Tebo, Mary Testa, and Patrick Vaill.
The creative team includes Daniel Kluger (Orchestrations, Arrangements and Music Supervision), John Heginbotham (New Choreography), Nathan Koci (Music Direction), Laura Jellinek (Scenic Design), Terese Wadden (Costume Design), Scott Zielinski (Lighting Design), Drew Levy (Sound Design), and Joshua Thorson (Projection Design). Casting by Will Cantler and Adam Caldwell/Telsey & Co.
“Oklahoma!” Is based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs, with original dances by Agnes de Mille and is currently on at Circle in the Square (1633 Broadway at 50th Street). For information about the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://oklahomabroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including one intermission.
Photo: Damon Daunno and Rebecca Naomi Jones in “Oklahoma!” Credit: Little Fang Photo.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 12, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater (Through Sunday May 5, 2019)
Photo: John Larroquette and Will Swenson in “Nantucket Sleigh Ride.” Credit: T. Charles Erickson.
Off-Broadway Review: “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater (Through Sunday May 5, 2019) By John Guare Directed by Jerry Zaks Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
In the 18th and 19th centuries, new phrases entered the language of the sailors who took to the sea off the island of Nantucket, one of the whaling capitals of the world during that period. One specific expression “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” describes what happens when a harpooned whale drags the sailors in their long boat across the surface of the water in the wake of waves until it dies. During this treacherous event, which was a fight to the finish, sometimes the sailors also perished. John Guare’s somewhat new play (revised from a previous 2012 production at McCarter Theater) is aptly titled since the audience is only given enough to trawl over the surface of the story and characters without any depth of understanding until the play dies or the audience gives up trying to comprehend it. The switching from reality to the surreal and absurd becomes too confusing and too big a whale of a tale to comprehend the message or purpose of the play. Stopping half way through the farcical memory ride for an intermission seemed unnecessary for a ninety-five-minute play.
It is a somewhat autobiographical play in the sense that the playwright has written about his personal experience and thoughts on creativity, memory, childhood abandonment and capitalism. It would not be beneficial to list the endless plot twists and turns that may lead to just as much confusion as experienced while watching the antics of this rapid-fire farce. Connecting “Jaws,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion,” Roman Polanski, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Jorge Luis Borges, Walt Disney, child porn, adultery, murder, and an electrified lobster to solve the puzzle of two abandoned amnesiac children, that results in a happy ending is no easy task.
What makes this production entertaining is the incredible cast led by veteran John Larroquette whose deadpan delivery and comic timing continue to be part of his legacy. Accompanying him on this bumpy ride is the ever so versatile Douglas Sills adding panache to several different characters. Stacey Sargeant gives a fine comedic turn in dual roles of the secretary and police woman Aubrey Coffin. Director Jerry Zaks moves things along at a very quick pace and an inventive multi- level set design by David Gallo produce a super sleek product for the Lincoln Center Mitzi E. Newhouse stage.
The utmost effort of the cast and creative team cannot overcome the pitch and roll of this tumultuous ride that never dives beneath the surface to discover the meaning of the contrived story. There must be hidden treasures of wit and wisdom buried somewhere in the script but they fail to be discovered in this current production. Mr. Guare will certainly be remembered as one of the great American playwrights but this current example of his unique style and humor in studying the human condition will soon be forgotten.
NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE
The cast of “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” features Clea Alsip, Tina Benko, Adam Chanler-Berat, Jordan Gelber, Germán Jaramillo, John Larroquette, Grace Rex, Stacey Sargeant, Douglas Sills, and Will Swenson.
The production features sets by David Gallo, costumes by Emily Rebholz, lighting by Howell Binkley, and original music and sound by Mark Bennett.
“Nantucket Sleigh Ride” runs in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center Theater through Sunday May 5, 2019. For more information on the production, including the performance schedule and how to purchase tickets, visit https://www.lct.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
Photo: John Larroquette and Will Swenson in “Nantucket Sleigh Ride.” Credit: T. Charles Erickson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 25, 2019
Off-Broadway Preview and News:
Photo: Malaika Uwamahoro in "Miracle in Rwanda." Credit: Mario Durane.
Off-Broadway Preview and News: "Miracle in Rwanda" Opens on April 9, 2019 and Will Play through May 11, 2019 at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row By Leslie Lewis and Edward Vilga Directed by George Drance Preview by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
MIRACLE IN RWANDA – the play by Leslie Lewis and Edward Vilga – scheduled to premiere Off Broadway following an acclaimed world tour, with preview performances beginning April 4 prior to an official opening night April 9 at the Lion Theatre on Theater Row (410 W. 42 St.) in Manhattan, will now play through May 11, 2019.
Directed by George Drance, MIRACLE IN RWANDA was previously scheduled through April 21, and extends its run due to popular demand.
“I am so thrilled at the response to our show, and I am so happy to give more people the chance to see Malaika Uwamahoro perform the Miracle. We also have some more shows for our wonderful understudy, Nisarah Lewis, who can show the world her acting chops. This story resonates with anyone who has ever found it hard to forgive. Come and see how Immaculée did it!” – Playwright, Leslie Lewis
MIRACLE IN RWANDA is the uplifting tale depicting the real-life events in Rwanda when Immaculée Ilibagiza survived — along with 7 others—three months in a 3×4 foot bathroom during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Through her story of sheer survival, compassion and the power of faith amidst unbelievable hardship, Immaculée has been referred to as “our generation’s Anne Frank,” yet one who thankfully survived. To those who know her story, the true miracle is Immaculee’s ability to forgive. This solo show stars Rwandan actress Malaika Uwamahoro, playing both killer and hunted; her performance lends redemption to this awful chapter of human history, bringing it full circle.
This engagement of MIRACLE IN RWANDA coincides with the 25th anniversary of the end of the genocide against the Tutsi, known as Kwibuka, which means ‘Remember’ in Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. The United Nations designated April 7 as an International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
MIRACLE IN RWANDA will perform Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets at Theatre Row are available now, with price from $39.00 to $59.00 and can be purchased by calling the Telecharge phone number at 212-239-6200 or online at www.telecharge.com.
Design credits for MIRACLE IN RWANDA include: Schele Williams (Dramaturgy), Donna Lea Ford (Costume Design), Erich Keil and Gina Costagliola (Lighting Design), and Taiwo Heard (Sound Design).
MIRACLE IN RWANDA is produced by Broadview Phoenix, Magis Theatre Company and Allen DeWane of Acuity Productions.
Photo: Malaika Uwamahoro in "Miracle in Rwanda." Credit: Mario Durane.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 25, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “The Mother” in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company (Through Saturday April 13th, 2019)
Photo: Isabelle Huppert and Justice Smith. Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Mother” in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company (Through Saturday April 13th, 2019) By Florian Zeller and Translated by Christopher Hampton Directed by Trip Cullman Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Somewhere in France, or perhaps in England in the nineteenth century, a young married woman is standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes after an evening meal. A dish slips from her hand, breaking I pieces as it hits the floor. The young woman begins to cry, sob really. Her husband not understanding any of this “odd behavior,” reaches out to the family physician who makes the diagnosis of hysteria and prescribes laudanum to “sedate” her. If the laudanum isn’t effective over time, this young woman – like many others of this time period – might be institutionalized for having “felt,” or “been sad,” or “not been a dutiful wife.”
Fast forward to the present somewhere in Manhattan, a middle-aged woman – married with two adult children no longer living at home – sits in her expansive living room in her even more expansive house all alone. This woman Anne (Isabelle Huppert) waits for her (probably) philandering husband Peter (Chris Noth) to come home, not to receive comfort from him, but to engage him in an ongoing battle of wits that reflect her desperation, her brokenness, her hope for reconciliation and release from deep depressive pain. But the only thing that could possibly offer surcease is the return to the nest of her son Nicolas (Justice Smith). In the first “act” of French playwright Florian Zeller’s “The Mother” currently playing in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company, Anne thinks she will get her wish when, in the middle of the night, Nicolas returns home after walking out on his current girlfriend Emily (Odessa Young).
As this scene plays repeatedly, just as things play repeatedly in Anne’s tortured psyche, the audience becomes aware of her manic-depressive disorder, her attempts to self-medicate, and her massive lode of rage that has festered in her since Nicolas and Emily have left home. But it is Nicolas’s absence that has caused the greatest pain for Anne. When he comes down for breakfast, shirt open, Anne caresses his bare chest, fondles and cuddles him to an obvious excess. The Oedipal juices are flowing.
As “The Mother” plays out, scene after scene – with scene/act changes indicated in projections on the back wall in French – Anne continues to give evidence of her shattered emotional state. This is not a woman we watch unravel, this is a woman who has already unraveled and the shrapnel from her dissolution has left mounds of detritus that have cluttered not only her life, but the lives around her. This clutter plays out in surreal and nonsensical scenes that mirror not only Anne’s warped weltanschauung, but the dysfunction of her husband, her son, and his girlfriend (or perhaps Emily is Peter’s girlfriend?) and how they have overtime contributed to her stark loneliness and persistent pain.
Unfortunately, Mr. Zeller’s script never even achieves the pathos of the young woman in the nineteenth century whose misdiagnosed “hysteria” plays out against the misogyny of the time. Ms. Huppert’s performance rarely reaches beyond the histrionic and her unbalanced command of the stage does not give the rest of cast opportunities to develop well-rounded characters. In short, while Mr. Zeller’s “The Father” is deeply cathartic, his “The Mother” comes off as pretentious, overstuffed, and devoid of ethos or pathos. The audience needs more substance and less weakly developed magical realism and surrealism.
“The Mother” features Isabelle Huppert, Chris Noth, Justice Smith, and Odessa Young.
“The Mother” features scenic design by Mark Wendland, costume design by Anita Yavich, lighting design by Ben Stanton, sound design and original composition by Fitz Patton, projections by Lucy MacKinnon, and casting by Casting by Telsey + Company, William Cantler, CSA; Adam Caldwell, CSA; Karyn Casl, CSA.
“The Mother” runs in the Linda Gross Theater at Atlantic Theater Company (336 West 20th Street) through Saturday April 13th, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon performances at 2:00 p.m. on 3/20, 3/27, 4/3, 4/10 and on Monday at 7:00 p.m. on 4/8. Tickets for “The Mother” begin at $70.00. Order online at www.atlantictheater.org, by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or in person at the Linda Gross Theater box office. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Isabelle Huppert and Justice Smith. Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 18, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka” in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (Through Sunday March 31, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka” in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (Through Sunday March 31, 2019) Written by Tori Sampson Directed by Leah C. Gardiner Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Once upon a time, in a not so very long time ago there was a beautiful young Nigerian woman named Akim (a self-absorbed yet fragile Níkẹ Uche Kadri) whose Ma (a stern but loving Maechi Aharanwa) and Dad (a somewhat subservient Jason Bowen) project their own flawed conception of what real beauty is (a thoroughly Eurocentric standard of beauty) upon Akim and keep her sheltered in their home. Akim meets Kasim (a delightfully charming Leland Fowler) and begs her parents to allow her to socialize outside their home. Akim’s friends at school Massassi (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy), Adama (Mirirai Sithole), and Kaya (Phumzile Sitole) are also beautiful; however, they believe they are not as beautiful as Akim and become jealous of her and plan ways to kill her. All the young women must experience the “refiner’s fire” to fully understand what beauty is.
This is the Nigerian folktale that playwright Tori Sampson bravely and boldly chooses to retell, update, modernize, and make more accessible to a contemporary audience. Ms. Sampson is to be commended for taking on this important project. Several theatrical genres have benefitted from the process of retelling and it is essential to include the African folktale in this process.
Thanks to Tori Sampson’s crisp writing style, it is evident from the start that the audience is being engaged in a retelling of an important Nigerian folktale. This retelling begins with a successful “transfer” to contemporary trans-cultural sensitivities. Louisa Thompson’s sparse, expansive, and “transparent” set allows for the magical realism and fantasy sequences inherent in a folktale. Dede Ayite’s costumes successfully bridge space and time. Matt Frey’s lighting and Ian Scot’s original music and sound design provide the realism-magical realism continuum with transcendence and authenticity.
The storyteller/chorus (a transcendent and spritely Rotimi Agbabiaka) is a persuasive “substitute” for the oral tradition that preserved and shared African folktales. Akim’s Ma and Dad are believable in their roles as enablers of the Eurocentric standard of beauty. And although the “Mime section” is starkly accompanied by Carla R. Stewart (The Voice of the River), it seems to interrupt the flow of Tori Sampson’s script and contributes to the overwrought and overlong nature of the piece. Overall, the new play needs tightening and streamlining as it moves forward in development.
Under Leah C. Gardiner’s direction, the energetic and transformative cast mine Tori Sampson’s script for its buried enduring and essential questions; however, despite their efforts, they come up with less than a treasure trove. What could have been a modern-day African folktale about self-awareness, self-acceptance, and true beauty – full of teachable moments – “If Pretty Hurts” becomes a fractured fairly tale searching for thematic integrity. Perhaps, in the playwright’s attempt to modernize the format of the African folktale, she works too hard to make the experience interactive and participatory.
Despite these concerns, “If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka” in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons is a must see. Audiences need to support new voices like Tori Sampson. Her contributions to the theatre will continue to challenge the ways we have understood what theatre is, how it is expressed, and how its messages can be exposed to audiences.
IF PRETTY HURTS UGLY MUST BE A MUHFUCKA
The cast features Rotimi Agbabiaka, Maechi Aharanwa, Jason Bowen, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Leland Fowler, Níkẹ Uche Kadri, Mirirai Sithole, Phumzile Sitole, and Carla R. Stewart.
The creative team includes Louisa Thompson (Scenic Designer), Dede Ayite (Costume Designer), Matt Frey (Lighting Designer), and Ian Scot (Original Music and Sound Designer), Cookie Jordan (Hair and Wig Designer), Alyssa K. Howard (Production Stage Manager), and Noah Silva (Assistant Stage Manager).
“If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka” in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street) through Sunday March 31, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For more information on the show including cast, creative team, and ticketing information, visit https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 11, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” at Stage 42 (Through Sunday June 30, 2019)
Photo: (L-R) Raquel Nobile, Rosie Jo Neddy, Rachel Zatcoff, Stephanie Lynne Mason, and Samantha Hahn. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” at Stage 42 (Through Sunday June 30, 2019) Book by Joseph Stein Music by Jerry Bock Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick Yiddish Translation by Shraga Friedman Directed by Joel Grey Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
One father longing to be wealthy enough to adequately care for his family – and letting the Creator know he feels overlooked – and three “adult” daughters dodging the craft of the local matchmaker are the grist for an epic challenge to the traditions held dear by the members of Tevye’s Shtetlekh and its “on-the-fence” Der Rov (a confident yet conflicted Adam B. Shapiro) who is often consulted to determine which traditions remain relevant and which might have become obsolete. Tradition. Culture. Politics. Love. Tevye grapples with these four and more in National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” currently running at Stage 42.
There is considerable Jewish culture captured in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” the iconic musical that has won a respectable reputation in theater history. Since it first opened on Broadway in 1964 to win nine TONY awards, “Fiddler” went on to become the longest running Broadway musical. Since that original production, there have been five Broadway revivals. The collaboration of Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) resulted in one of the best musicals of the American Theater. However, the Yiddish version, translated by Shraga Friedman over fifty years ago had never been performed in the United States until its recent premiere, produced by National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, which played last year at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The production is deftly directed by Joel Grey with exciting musical staging and culturally influenced choreography by Stas Kmiec. Oh, what a production it is!
This present revival is as simple as the inhabitants of the fictional Russian shtetl, Anatevka, as powerful as their religious convictions, and shines a bright light on the emotional and poignant struggle of facing a new and sometimes bitter world. Freeing itself from the burden of extravagance, it manifests a certain reality that pulls the audience in, so they become a part of the tightknit community. It is beyond suspension of disbelief, as it creates an actuality that transfers the spectator to another time and place to share in celebration and an onerous plight. Past productions of this work are usually dominated by the musical numbers which have endured a life of their own but in this present incarnation, they are so well integrated that they appear as part of everyday life and the mantra of “tradition.”
Under Joel Grey’s direction, the members of the cast deliver authentic and compelling performances. Steven Skybell brings a solid, reverent and practical Tevye to this production, brimming with conflict, humor and honesty that rings true to the everyman, regardless of race, color or creed. His charming baritone reflects his characters wisdom and vulnerability. These attributes play well off the stern and stoic Golde as portrayed in the rich, layered performance by Jennifer Babiak, who manages to redeem the nearly as impenetrable character with waves of compassion. Jackie Hoffman infuses matchmaker Yente with consistent welcomed humor that purposely disguises a woman who is alone and lonely. Rachel Zatcoff is an assertive Tsaytl devoted to the impoverished tailor Motl Kamzoyl, enacted with a timorous innocence by Ben Liebert. The rebellious Hodl is brought to life with a solid conviction by Stephanie Lynne Mason demonstrating determined energy and a steadfast commitment to an unexpected romance. The curious Khave, is given a thirst for knowledge by the wholesome and fearless Rosie Jo Neddy. She is the most adventuresome daughter, crossing religious and cultural boundaries to elope and marry a Christian, Fyedke, a stalwart and intelligent Cameron Johnson. And the omnipresent Der Fidler (a magical and spritely Lauren Jeanne Thomas) reminds the audience of humanity’s ongoing struggle for meaning in life’s struggle.
At the performance on Saturday March 2, 2019, the role of Yosl/Ensemble (Nick Raynor) was played by dance captain John Giesige.
The entire twenty-nine-member cast is wonderful and works diligently to reach the core of this story in the native Yiddish language which proves to authenticate the time and place. They are supported by a wonderful twelve-piece orchestra conducted by Zalmen Moitek, which fills the space with memorable melodies. This production of “Fiddler on the Roof” is purely a demonstration of the incredible power of theater. Kudos to the entire cast and creative team for collaborating to present a cogent, emotional and entertaining production. Mazel Tov!
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
The cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” features Jennifer Babiak, Joanne Borts, Michael Einav, Lisa Fishman, Kirk Geritano, John Giesige, Abby Goldfarb, Samantha Hahn, Jackie Hoffman, Cameron Johnson, Ben Liebert, Moshe Lobel, Evan Mayer, Stephanie Lynne Mason, Evan Mayer, Rosie Jo Neddy, Raquel Nobile, Jonathan Quigley, Nick Raynor, Bruce Sabath, Kayleen Seidl, Drew Seigla, Adam B. Shapiro, Steven Skybell, Jodi Snyder, James Monroe Števko, Lauren Jeanne Thomas, Bobby Underwood, Michael Yashinsky, and Rachel Zatcoff.
Joining Joel Grey (director), the creative team for “Fiddler on the Roof” includes Staœ Kmieæ (musical staging and choreography), Beowulf Boritt (set design), Ann Hould-Ward (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Dan Moses Schreier (sound design), Tom Watson (hair and wig design), NYTF Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek (conductor and music director), with casting by Jamibeth Margolis, C.S.A, and, Britni Serrano (production manager). Consulting on the production are Jerome Robbins and Sheldon Harnick. Production photos by Mathew Murphy.
National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” runs at Stage 42 (422 West. 42nd Street) through Sunday June 30, 2019. Tickets are available to purchase through www.Telecharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200 or in person at the Stage 42 Box Office (422 West. 42nd Street). Running time is 3 hours with a 15-minute intermission.
Photo: (L-R) Raquel Nobile, Rosie Jo Neddy, Rachel Zatcoff, Stephanie Lynne Mason, and Samantha Hahn. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, March 9, 2019
Off-Broadway News: "Avenue Q" to Play an Additional Four Weeks at New World Stages by Popular Demand (Through Sunday May 26, 2019)
Photo: Veronica J. Kuehn.
AVENUE Q – winner of three 2004 Tony Awards including Best Musical – is extending its previously announced closing date 4 weeks, due to popular demand, with a new end date set for May 26 at New World Stages (340 W. 50 St.), it has been announced by the show’s producers. In December it was revealed that the 15+ year run of the musical would end on April 28.
Produced by Kevin McCollum, Robyn Goodman, Jeffrey Seller, Vineyard Theatre and The New Group, AVENUE Q will have played a total of 6569 performances upon closing: from its first Broadway preview on July 14, 2003 to its final performance at New World Stages (340 W. 50 St.) on May 26.
Mr. McCollum and Ms. Goodman note, “The little show-that-could is still full of surprises. When audiences clamor for more, we listen!”
Powered by its Tony for Best Musical and additional Tonys for Best Music and Lyrics to Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and Best Book of a Musical to Jeff Whitty, AVENUE Q’s victory at the 2004 Tony Awards was considered an historic upset and effectively redrew the landscape for innovation, originality and success on Broadway. The musical recouped its investment in just 10 months, and with its fresh and funny tale about people and puppets just out of college looking for their purpose in life, AVENUE Q has been groundbreaking in its appeal to young theatergoers who relate to the characters and the challenges they face learning adult life lessons about racism, coming out, unemployment, dating, sex and porn. The show has indeed captivated audiences of all generations with it singular, hilarious take on the traditional story of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses girl, boy tries to win girl back – except in AVENUE Q, the boy and girl just happen to be puppets.
The producers state, “We are incredibly proud of the fact that AVENUE Q transformed the careers of so many people in our company throughout its run. The show gave audiences the opportunity to laugh, escape from the outside world for two hours and have tons of fun. AVENUE Q proved to be timeless and we learned that sometimes it takes a puppet to make us realize how remarkable, complicated and messy it is to be human.”
AVENUE Q has music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, book by Jeff Whitty, and is directed by Jason Moore. Based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, with puppets conceived and designed by Rick Lyon, musical supervision by Stephen Oremus, choreography by Ken Roberson, scenic design by Anna Louizos, costume design by Mirena Rada, lighting design by Howell Binkley, and sound design by Acme Sound Partners. Music director is Brian Hertz. Animation design is by Robert Lopez, incidental music is by Gary Adler, and casting is by Cindy Tolan & Adam Caldwell. Christine M. Daly is Production Stage Manager.
After its 6+ year run on Broadway, on the occasion of the musical’s closing night in September 2009, AVENUE Q’s producers made the surprise announcement that the show was, in fact, not closing, but would open again three weeks later at New World Stages, where it has been playing for more than 9 years.
The current cast of AVENUE Q includes Katie Boren, Grace Choi, Matt Dengler, Jamie Glickman, Imari Hardon, Jason Jacoby, Nicholas Kohn, Veronica Kuehn, Lacretta, Michael Liscio, Jr., and Rob Morrison.
AVENUE Q’s unforgettable cast of characters include Princeton, Kate Monster, Rod, Lucy The Slut, Trekkie Monster, Gary Coleman, The Bad Idea Bears, Mrs. Thistletwat, Christmas Eve and Brian.
At New World Stages, AVENUE Q performs Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm. Tickets can be purchased through Telecharge by calling 212-239-6200 or visiting http://www.telecharge.com. A limited number of rush tickets are available at the box office for each performance.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 7, 2019
Broadway Review and News: “Choir Boy” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Closes on Sunday March 10, 2019
Photo: (back-front) John Clay III and Jeremy Pope in “Choir Boy.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review and News: “Choir Boy” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Closes on Sunday March 10, 2019 By Tarell Alvin McCraney Directed by Trip Cullman Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Every place I went felt the same. Cept . . . Until I got to Drew. Everybody didn't like me but I had . . . I had space to let me be. Now everybody looking at me like, ‘Blackeye, probation, Yup, that's what you get.’” – Pharus to ‘AJ’
After a successful and extended run at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s important and engaging “Choir Boy” closes on Sunday March 10, 2019. With only six opportunities remaining, theatregoers are urged to see one of the remaining performances.
Following an embarrassing wrestling match in the dorm room they share at The Charles R. Drew Preparatory School for Boys (no spoiler alert), Pharus Jonathan Young (an intense yet fragile Jeremy Pope) and Anthony Justin ‘AJ’ James (a powerful and sensitive John Clay III) have a conversation that is perhaps the turning point in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Choir Boy” currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Both Pharus and ‘AJ’ are young men of color: Pharus is gay and a junior at the school and ‘AJ’ is straight and a senior. Pharus makes no apologies for his sexual status; in fact, he is quite open with his peers and with the Headmaster. ‘AJ’ is secure in his sexual status and supports Pharus with unconditional and non-judgmental love. But first, more about those ‘peers.’
On the surface, the play seems to address the horrific bullying Pharus experiences at the hands of Bobby Marrow (J. Quinton Johnson) nephew of Headmaster Marrow (Chuck Cooper). This bullying becomes evident in the first scene of the play when, during Pharus’s solo of “Trust and Obey the school’s Song, Bobby directs two homophobic slurs from behind Pharus. Bobby’s toxic masculinity and homophobia seem uncontrollable despite the restraint urged by his fellow students and his Headmaster Uncle.
What Pharus has “gotten” all his life is rejection, verbal and emotional abuse, humiliation, deep hurt, and unchecked bullying. What this young gay man “gets” from ‘AJ’ is acceptance and agapic love. Issues of gender identity and the conflicts that often result therefrom clash and are exacerbated by the pandemic specter of racism. After ‘AJ’ realizes why Pharus has become isolated, he embraces Pharus and demonstrates the true nature of friendship. ‘AJ’ confronts Pharus with, “When I came in 2nd year – you were alone in here. Who was your roommate first year? Who had left before?” Significant relationships require sensitivity and awareness. ‘AJ’ creates for Pharus the safe place he needs as opposed to the hypocrisy of the institution and the disingenuous patter of the seemingly sympathetic headmaster.
Under Trip Cullman’s sensitive and discerning direction, and with the full support of the dynamic cast, Mr. Pope and Mr. Clay III wrestle with the relentless demons of homophobia and racism and deliver engaging performances that are solidly related to their disparate conflicts.
The cast of “Choir Boy” features Nicholas L. Ashe (Junior Blake), Daniel Bellomy (Ensemble), Jonathan Burke (Ensemble), Gerald Caesar (Ensemble), John Clay III (Anthony Justin “AJ” James), Chuck Cooper (Headmaster Marrow), Caleb Eberhardt (David Heard), Marcus Gladney (Ensemble), J. Quinton Johnson (Bobby Marrow), Austin Pendleton (Mr. Pendleton) and Jeremy Pope (Pharus Jonathan Young).
“Choir Boy’s” creative team includes Jason Michael Webb (music direction, arrangements & original music), David Zinn (scenic & costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Fitz Patton (original music & sound design), Cookie Jordan (hair & make-up design), Thomas Schall (fight director) and Camille A. Brown (choreography).
“Choir Boy” runs at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street) through Sunday March 10, 2019. Tickets for “Choir Boy” are available at www.Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. For more information on “Choir Boy,” including the performance schedule and cast biographies, visit https://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/.
Photo: (back-front) John Clay III and Jeremy Pope in “Choir Boy.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 7, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Hurricane Diane” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 10, 2019)
Photo: Mia Barron in “Hurricane Diane.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Hurricane Diane” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 10, 2019) By Madeleine George Directed by Leigh Silverman Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Playwright Madeleine George sets her “Hurricane Diane” in an Early Anthropocene Time, the era defined as “the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.” Most, except members of the current Administration, see that influence to have been deleterious at best and are aware of the dire predictions for Planet Earth’s future viability unless this human activity is modified speedily and thoroughly. The effects of climate change are as evident now as they were when Ms. George’s play had its debut at Two River Theatre in New Jersey in 2017. Perhaps even more so. So why does New York Theatre Workshop team up with Women’s Project Theater to resurrect this problematic play?
The answer is not readily evident in this 2019 “re-conceiving” of “Hurricane Diane” currently running at New York Theatre Workshop’s East Village venue. As they did in 2017, Madeleine George and director Leigh Silverman team up to explore Dionysus’ attempt to shake things up in the upscale Jersey Shore cul-de-sac where four housewives will hopefully serve as the beginning of the god’s attempts to save mortals from their incessant penchant for self-destruction. The god of all things bacchanal decides to appear as Diane (a static and dispassionate Becca Blackwell) to “start up a mystery cult” as a landscaper “with a focus on sustainability and small-scale permaculture.”
Diane had been living outside of Burlington, Vermont “living off the grid with a bunch of lesbian separatists” and though she could have stayed there forever, Diane knew she was needed to begin the revolution that would restore the earth. Diane targets four New Jersey housewives in the attempt to convince them to landscape their property in a way that “restores it to a semblance of the lush primeval forest that once stood where [they] stand right now.” Diane first pitches the idea to Carol Fleischer (an aptly named, storm-laden, and resilient Mia Barron). Carol, overcome by Diane’s charms, initially decides to accept the permaculture makeover. When she decides otherwise, Diane then turns to the remaining three they need for her mystery cult.
The remaining thin plot centers around Diane’s pitch to Pam Annunziata (a screechy, loud, although likeable Danielle Skraastad), to Beth Wann (a bland, needy, and wistful Kate Wetherhead), and to Renee Shapiro-Epps (a competitive, classy, and corporate Michelle Beck). After the three hapless housewives capitulate to Diane’s persuasive pitch, the landscaper returns to seduce Carol. In the end, Carol cannot compromise “her story,” the story of getting what she wants despite the impact her greed has on the environment and on the future of the Planet. Carol growls on the countertop, Diane exits, a big storm arrives, and the overwrought play ends with a barely audible chorus of defeat and culpability from Pam, Beth, and Renee.
The characters – all of them – are underdeveloped, mostly static, with less than interesting conflicts. So how could there possibly be an engaging plot? They seem not to care for themselves or for one another; therefore, it is difficult to care for them. All Leigh Silverman can do is move them around in ways they do not collide with one another on Rachel Hauck’s confined and confining set.
Nothing in the play advances an understanding of climate change, global warming, or carbon emissions. Nor is there anything in this exasperating play that advances an understanding of the role of women in general, or the role of women of color, or the important issues of gender identity. The members of the cast do their best; however, their very best cannot rescue this ill-conceived production that is burdened not only with stereotypes, but also with outmoded understandings of human sexuality and sexual practice.
The cast for “Hurricane Diane” includes Mia Barron, Michelle Beck, Becca Blackwell, Danielle Skraastad, and Kate Wetherhead.
“Hurricane Diane” features scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costume design by Kaye Voyce, lighting design by Barbara Samuels, sound design by Bray Poor, original music by The Bengsons, and choreography by Raja Feather Kelly. Melanie J. Lisby serves as Stage Manager.
“Hurricane Diane” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street) through Sunday March 10, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday-Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.mm, Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Exceptions: there will be no performances on Sunday, February 24; and no 7:00 p.m. performance on Sunday, March 10. Single tickets for “Hurricane Diane” start at $35 and vary by performance date and time. Visit https://www.nytw.org/ or https://wptheater.org/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Mia Barron in “Hurricane Diane.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, February 24, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: Fiasco Theater’s Production of “Merrily We Roll Along” at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre (Through Sunday April 7, 2019)
Photo: Jessie Austrian, Manu Narayan, Brittany Bradford, and Ben Steinfeld. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: Fiasco Theater’s Production of “Merrily We Roll Along” at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre (Through Sunday April 7, 2019) Book by George Furth Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim Based on the original play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” could prove to become the mantra of the famed Sondheim musical “Merrily We Roll Along” which was a dismal failure when it first opened on Broadway in 1981. There is a new production helmed by the Roundabout’s resident Fiasco Theater Company which falls short of delivering a new efficacious incarnation, becoming yet another casualty in the history of this troublesome and puzzling show. This current endeavor lacks the emotional depth of the characters needed to successfully bring forth the message; additionally, the cast is not vocally capable of delivering most of the brilliant musical numbers. However, the orchestrations and new arrangements for the eight-piece orchestra by Alexander Gemignani allow the audience to wallow in the brilliance of Mr. Sondheim’s captivating score and are the highlight of this production.
It has been suggested that the trouble with the original production had much to do with the twist of a backward timeline running from present to past. This might have been a problem in 1981 but with so many television movies and series now using this familiar technique it is difficult to imagine that would have any negative effect on a solid production today. The plot follows the relationship of three close friends from their midlife, acerbic, and decayed friendships back to their hopeful, innocent youth after college when they set out to conquer the world and aspire to their dreams. In the last musical number “Our Time,” set on a NYC rooftop in 1957, Frank (a rather sedate Ben Steinfeld) and Charley (a convincing but too mellow Manu Narayan) are poised to write the next smash Broadway musical, while Mary (a brash but calculated Jessie Austrian) has her eye on becoming a famous novelist. This is where they first meet to witness a new beginning as Sputnik 1 entered Earth’s orbit, and they launched themselves into the world with self- proclaimed promises and close comradery. Scene one in 1979 exposes a cynical Frank, an alcoholic Mary, a broken, neurotic Charley and a welcomed revival of “Rich and Happy” a song from the original score.
The problem that evolves in this deflated production begins when the audience does not dislike the supposedly now despicable characters enough to then reverse opinion and feel empathy towards them in the optimistic ending. This is a major concern since the focus of this production seems to be strengthening the book and minimizing the emphasis on the songs which tend to be the weakest link. Notable songs such as “Old Friends” and “Not a Day Goes By” are plagued with poor vocals or less than dramatic delivery. The massive theatrical warehouse set crammed with props, costumes and set pieces which are retrieved by the cast to create each appropriate scene, keeps your eyes busy pre-show but serves no other purpose during the performance.
Director Noah Brady moves the action along at a nice pace and makes the reversal of time clear and entertaining with some clever costume changes but fails to dig deep enough into each of these wounded characters whose dreams and relationships are shattered. This new intermission less version is lean and clean but some of what has been stripped and washed away is the dramatic weight, along with the grit and grime of the human condition.
MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG
The cast of “Merrily We Roll Along” includes Jessie Austrian, Brittany Bradford, Manu Narayan, Ben Steinfeld, and Emily Young.
The creative team for “Merrily We Roll Along” includes Derek McLane (Scenic Design), Paloma Young (Costume Design), Christopher Akerlind (Lighting Design) and Peter Hylenski (Sound Design).
“Merrily We Roll Along” runs at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street) through Sunday April 7, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. with Wednesday, Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets for “Merrily We Roll Along” are available by calling 212-719-1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org, in person at any Roundabout box office, or by visiting StubHub. Ticket prices range from $99.00-119.00. Running time is
Photo: Jessie Austrian, Manu Narayan, Brittany Bradford, and Ben Steinfeld. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 21, 2019
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Waiting Game” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 23, 2019)
Photo: Julian Joseph and Marc Sinoway in “The Waiting Game.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Waiting Game” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 23, 2019) Written by Charles Gershman Directed by Nathan Wright Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
In the appropriately titled play “The Waiting Game” by Charles Gershman, what quickly becomes apparent to the audience is that everyone in the play is waiting for something. Sam is in a coma from a drug overdose, waiting to wake up, die while in the coma or have someone terminate his life by pulling the plug. His husband Paolo is waiting for Sam to wake up because he thinks he is communicating with him via Gmail chat. Geoff is Sam’s new boyfriend since Sam left Paolo, and he is waiting for Paolo to grant him conservatorship so he can pull the plug and end Sam’s life. Tyler is Paolo’s new tryst and he is waiting for Paolo to give up drugs and commit to a relationship. Everyone knows everyone else and knows each other is waiting for something to happen so life can begin or for that matter end. Add to the plot drugs, sex, AIDS, and four confused, self- loathing homosexuals and the result is evident or at least self- prophesizing.
The set design by Riw Rakkulchon has made clear certain boundaries. A white outlined rectangle denotes the real playing area and a filmy see through fabric that sometimes lets the audience view Sam, separating conscious from unconscious that also doubles as a screen for projections. All the props needed in the production are lined up on the outside of the playing area behind the white outline. Director Nathan Wright has meticulously choreographed each performer to bring the props relevant to the present scene into the playing area when needed and then returned to their proper assigned place afterwards. This combined with some music, some sex and quite a bit of drug related activity extends the languishing script to a slow seventy minutes.
The play is more about the mechanisms that people use to cope with loss whether it be from death or terminated relationships. The problem here is that we never discover how those people feel as they use these superficial methods that merely postpone the grieving process. The characters seem very two-dimensional lacking emotional depth and not fully developed. The actors do their job but there is not enough to grab onto in order to transcend the material. Unfortunately, the characters that emerge in Mr. Gershman’s script are not at all likable, therefore it is difficult for the audience feel much empathy. It may be time to move forward and leave behind the old narrative of sex, drugs, foolish behavior and romantic melodrama associated with the LGBTQ+ community and examine how their relationships have evolved in today’s social climate.
THE WAITING GAME
The cast features Joshua Bouchard, Julian Joseph, Ibsen Santos, and Marc Sinoway.
The design team includes Riw Rakkulchon (set design); Drew Florida (lighting design); Emma Wilk (sound design); and Kat Sullivan (projection design). The Production Stage Manager is Bonnie McHeffey.
“The Waiting Game” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 23rd, 2019. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Single tickets are $25.00 ($20.00 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling the 59E59 Box Office on 646-892-7999 or by visiting www.59e59.org.
Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Julian Joseph and Marc Sinoway in “The Waiting Game.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Mies Julie” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday March 10, 2019)
Photo: James Udom and Elise Kibler in “Mies Julie.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Mies Julie” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday March 10, 2019) By Yaël Farber – Adapted from the Play “Miss Julie” by August Strindberg Directed by Shariffa Ali Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
August Strindberg’s naturalism and themes transfer brilliantly from his “Miss Julie” to Yaël Farber’s adaptation of Strindberg’s classic. Farber’s “Mies Julie” is currently running at Classic Stage Company in repertory with the Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Strindberg’s “The Dance of Death.” Like the 1985 stage version of “Miss Julie” at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre, Mr. Farber’s 2012 adaptation takes place in South Africa. Shariffa Ali’s electrifying staging replaces Strindberg’s celebration of Midsummer’s Eve with the “restitutions of body and soul” churned up by the Xhosa Freedom Day celebration.
Afrikaans protagonist Mies Julie (Elise Kibler) and Xhosa antagonist John (James Udom), though childhood friends, are from vastly different social orders. Now in their twenties, they are separated by insurmountable divides of class, race, and social status. Unfortunately, they are also “star-crossed” lovers foreshadowing the breakdown of South Africa’s fragile social order and the equally dangerous breakdown of historical social and sexual distinctions. Their extended cat-and-mouse game of alienation and rapprochement defines the dramatic arc of Yaël Farber’s distinctive adaptation. Each knows they must escape the ghosts of their past and the imprisonment of their present. Escaping Ukhokho the specter of one’s ancestry (Vinie Burrows) proves to be a risky business.
James Udom is a monumental John who, when on stage, commands the intricies of Farber’s text to be exposed as he delivers a layered and persuasive performance. Whether he is shining the farm owner’s boots, comforting his mother Christine (a compliant yet hope-filled Patrice Johnson Chevannes), or jockeying for social prominence with Mies Julie, Mr. Udom wastes no movement, no expression, no word as he pays tribute to his complex character. Elise Kibler delivers her performance as Julie with nuanced layers of dominance, sadness, regret, and nagging self-destructiveness. Although her performance lacks Mr. Udom’s sustained intensity, Ms. Kibler provides a Julie that is a worthwhile adversary for John. Under Shariffa Ali’s direction, James Udom, Elise Kibler, and Patrice Johnson Chevannes deliver authentic and believable performances that richly manifest the enduring conflicts of their characters.
Adaptations of Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” have been set in the Old South, the English countryside, and in Cape Town and presented in the genres of stage, ballet, opera, film, and television. These adaptations highlight Strindberg’s themes of the fragility of social orders and the inevitable failure of sexual and social differences, including the tensions between the Roman Catholic Irish and Anglo-Irish Protestant communities. However, none have been as powerful as the Yaël Farber retelling set on Freedom Day 2012 in the farmhouse kitchen in Eastern Cape – Karoo, South Africa.
Issues of race, gender, power, privilege, and hope cascade across David L. Arsenault’s expansive set and are ultimately consummated on the kitchen farm table set center stage where Julie’s self-destructive personality and John’s deep sadness collide in an explosive scene where raw sexual power serves as a rich metaphor for the reversal of roles between Julie and John forcing both to make decisions about future and the sustainability of life as each has known it. In this final scene, a Pandora’s box of tropes – one more exhaustingly powerful than the next – cascade beyond the borders of the stage sustaining the play’s soul-bending catharsis.
As the 2018-2019 theatre season draws to a close, “Mies Julie” is a play to see: its themes counterpoint the struggles for true freedom that continue to beg for resolution.
“Mies Julie” features Elise Kibler as Julie, James Udom as John, Vinie Burrows as Ukhokho, and Patrice Johnson Chevannes as Christine.
The creative team includes David L. Arsenault (Scenic Design), Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene and Andrew Moerdyk (Costume Design), Stacey Derosier (Lighting Design), Quentin Chiappetta (Sound Design), and Andrew Orkin (Original Music).
Performances of “Mies Julie” will take place at Classic Stage Company (136 East 13th Street) on the following performance schedule: January 13, 14, 24, 27, and 28, and March 10 at 7:00 p.m. It will be performed 16, and 22, and March 2 and 8 at 8:00 p.m. Matinee performances will take place February 17, and 23, and March 3 and 9 at 2:00 p.m. For further information, visit https://www.classicstage.org/.
Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
Photo: James Udom and Elise Kibler in “Mies Julie.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, February 10, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Eddie and Dave” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday February 10, 2019)
Photo: Amy Staats in “Eddie and Dave.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
Off-Broadway Review: “Eddie and Dave” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday February 10, 2019) By Amy Staats Directed by Margot Bordelon Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
The present-day social climate in the theater world has fervently addressed non-traditional casting, gender identity, and diversity as part of an effort to be inclusive and accepting. When a production exhibits a little gender bending, there should be a valid explanation or reasoning behind the decision, whether it be historical, social, or dramatic persuasion. In the case of “Eddie and Dave” penned by Amy Staats and running at Atlantic Stage 2, it seems to be purely for fun, adding a bit of desperately needed humor to the banal script.
The plot follows the rise to fame of the music group Van Halen, with the dramatic arc depending on the sole goal of revealing what led to the fall out between Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. The assumption is that it had something to do with what happened on stage during their reunion at the MTV awards show. It is told through the eyes of a narrator (the solid and efficient Vanessa Aspillaga), the MTV VJ who organized for the estranged music group to present best artist award. It is no more than a pedestrian tale of sex, drugs and rock and roll pulled from any number of entertainment tabloids. There is no character development and you learn nothing new about the bands development or the devastating break-up.
What puts a new spin on this version of the story is the addition of gender bending where the male parts are played by women and the female parts are played by men. What this accomplishes is no more than turning the story into a satirical spoof. The problem that arises is that it truly is not a satire and it is not funny enough to be a spoof. It only supplies sporadic laughs from a tired audience who is bored with repetitious pseudo guitar riffs and rampant coke snorting. The wonderful mullets created by Cookie Jordan and appropriate costumes designed by Montana Levi Blanco to achieve the cartoonish gender bending, only entertain for the first thirty minutes or so of the ninety-minute show before losing their impact and charm.
The cast does what it can with the material but at times they even seem to wonder what their job really is and why they are telling this story in this peculiar way. Omer Abbas Salem seems to enjoy flaunting his feminine side as Valerie Bertinelli, changing costumes every chance he gets. Playwright Amy Staats portrays the drug addicted guitarist Eddie with too much stability, lacking the drug addict’s mood swings. Adina Verson turns Al into a rehabilitated force of reason that is a bit conservative. The entire cast seems to be having a good time as they move through the antics provided by director Margot Bordelon. The result is somewhat of an overlong television comedy sketch that does not include any music from the legendary rock and roll band Van Halen.
EDDIE AND DAVE
“Eddie and Dave” features Vanessa Aspillaga, Megan Hill, Amy Saats, Omer Abbas Salem, and Adina Verson.
“Eddie and Dave” features scenic design by Reid Thompson, costume design by Montana Levi Blanco, lighting design by Jiyoun Chang, sound design by Palmer Hefferan, original compositions by Michael Thurber, projections by Shawn Boyle, and casting by Caparelliotis Casting: Lauren Port, CSA.
“Eddie and Dave” runs at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street) through Sunday February 10, 2019. For more information, including performance schedule and ticketing, visit https://atlantictheater.org/.
Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Amy Staats in “Eddie and Dave.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 8, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “I’m Not A Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce” at the Cutting Room (Through Wednesday January 30, 2019
Photo: Ronnie Marmo as Lenny Bruce at the Cutting Room. Credit: Doren Sorell Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “I’m Not A Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce” at the Cutting Room (Through Wednesday January 30, 2019) Written by and Starring Ronnie Marmo Directed by Joe Mantegna Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“And there it was. My first laugh. It’s like that flash I’ve heard morphine addicts describe. A warm sensual blanket that comes after a cold, sick rejection. I was hooked.” – Lenny Bruce (from “I’m Not A Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce”)
The first image after the lights come up on stage is a slumped over, motionless, naked man sitting on a toilet. What follows is a silence that fills the room and becomes a force that provokes processing this scene. There might be the assumption that this is not a comedy. That would be a good guess, since the subject matter of “I’m Not a Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce,” currently enjoying a successful run at The Cutting Room, is the tragic life of the outrageous, groundbreaking comedian. Yes, there are snippets from his more familiar routines to provide a glimpse into what was considered obscene during his heyday in the turbulent decade of the 1960s. His act complimented a society filled with protests and marches, supporting civil rights and denouncing war, proving Lenny Bruce was a performer that took to the stage intentionally to become a fierce advocate for free speech. He was arrested several times and charged with public obscenity for the shocking language he used in his routines that scoffed race, religion, sex, and politics. This one-man show is testament that his stand-up comedy was more abrasive than funny and reinforces the power of words. Mr. Bruce exposed the hypocrisy of humanity in such an unconventional style that his audience was shocked and humored at the same time.
Playwright and actor Ronnie Marmo bears a slight resemblance to his real-life character, but that is not what captures the essence of the iconic bad-mouthed comedian. Mr. Marmo deftly provides an authenticity to the cadence, posture, and mannerisms of the comic, but what suspends the audience in disbelief is his ability to inhabit the soul of Lenny Bruce immersed in a crusade. The disintegration of this antagonist of morality begins after several arrests, his divorce from the love of his life, stripper Honey Harlow, and his addiction to heroin which eventually killed him from an overdose in 1966. During his downward spiral, Mr. Bruce begins to unravel while appearing in court, when the judge denies him the opportunity to perform his routine in order to prove that his obscene words and actions were taken out of context and not libelous. Mr. Marmo gives an honest performance saturated with a sensitive empathy that reveals the humanity of the comic, which during his short career, was disguised by his controversial and shocking public persona.
Director Joe Mantegna at times uses a heavy hand to extract the emotional content of the piece but fits the pieces of this puzzling life together in a clear and comprehensive manner. As playwright, Mr. Marmo is less successful, not delving deep enough into what drove the comedian to embrace the campaign for free speech. His emotionally charged personal life is evident, what’s missing is the exploration of his acute intellect and shrewd observation. Regardless, this is a show that will please an audience, from avid fans who are familiar with the material, to a new generation who will be introduced to the precursor of some of the greatest comics of their time.
The end of the show brings the audience back to the opening scene. A slumped, motionless, naked man sitting on a toilet. Only this time you understand what led to this disturbing vignette, and when the silence once again permeates the room and coerces you to process, there is a sadness that fills the air when realizing that this brave pioneer died too young.
I’M NOT A COMEDIAN . . . I’M LENNY BRUCE
The creative team for “I’m Not A Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce” includes Matt Richter (set and lighting design), Lauren Winnenberg (costume design), and Hope Bello LaRoux (sound design). Kathryn Loggins serves as production stage manager.
“I’m Not A Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce” runs at the Cutting Room (44 East 32nd Street) through Wednesday January 30, 2019). For more information and to purchase tickets, ranging in price from $50.00-$125.00, please visit www.LennyBruceOnStage.com. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission, explores mature themes and includes strong language and nudity.
Photo: Ronnie Marmo as Lenny Bruce at the Cutting Room. Credit: Doren Sorell Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, January 14, 2019
Off-Broadway Review: “Blue Ridge” at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (Through Saturday January 26th, 2019)
Photo: Chris Stack and Kristolyn Lloyd in “Blue Ridge.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
Off-Broadway Review: “Blue Ridge” at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (Through Saturday January 26th, 2019) By Abby Rosebrock Directed by Taibi Magar Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Abby Rosebrock introduces an interesting mélange of broken characters in her new play “Blue Ridge” currently running at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater. She drops these six disparate “recovering” personalities into the vortex of a Christian halfway house in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. Pastor Hern (a cagey but caring Chris Stack) and his partner Grace (a sincere and dedicated Nicole Lewis) run the place and come to the enterprise with their own baggage. Their twelve-step-type program includes daily Bible study, meditation, community service, and help securing required employment.
It is at one of the Bible study sessions that we meet the current residents Cherie (a trusting and dependent Kristolyn Lloyd) and Wade (a sensitive and contemplative Kyle Beltran) as well as newcomers Alison (a fiery and rage-filled Marin Ireland) and Cole (a vulnerable and playful Peter Mark Kendall). As with any family system – and this family is systemically dysfunctional – the addition of Alison and Cole disrupts any sense of equilibrium that had developed at the house prior to their arrival. Alison has been remanded to the halfway house after axing her ex-lover and boss Glenn’s Honda and losing her teaching license (he was her principal). Cole arrives shortly after hoping for an alternate place to recover.
Alison substitutes sharing her bible verse by “comparing diametrically opposed, country Western texts that uh. Not only, resonate powerfully, with the current moment in my life but, also probly, represent the two spiritual poles'uh my entire existence [sic].” She parses Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” to exemplify her willingness to “Let Go and Let God” and to inexplicably justify her axing Glenn’s Honda. Both Cherie and Wade find the references odd and question the wisdom of taking one’s hands off the wheel while driving. Pastor Hern agrees. An important foreshadowing of things to come.
As multidimensional and multileveled as these characters are, the playwright never allows them to develop fully as they interact with their “peers” in the halfway house. For example, Cole – a character who has a rich healing presence – leaves as quickly as he arrived after an uncomfortable albeit important encounter with Alison and the audience never is quite sure how Pastor Hern has managed to carry on the secret relationship with Cherie or what his motivation was for founding the halfway house.
Abby Rosebrock chooses to tackle a myriad of relevant and important themes, including: psychosexual trauma and dysfunction; sexual, cultural, and racial dynamics; dynamics of sexual status; power and the various ways men (specifically) can exercise and misuse that power in relationships and in the workplace (Me Too Movement). Although no one of these themes receives an exhaustive exploration in “Blue Ridge,” an interesting aggregate of these problems is examined in the relationship between Hern (who has a girlfriend) and house resident Cherie (referenced above) with whom he has an inappropriate relationship.
It is here that Ms. Rosebrock makes her most compelling argument and raises the most rich and enduring questions. Everyone in the halfway house has either voluntarily relinquished control of their lives or have been asked to compromise the control they should have over their own lives. As each member comes to terms with those things they have not dealt with, the family dynamic changes and the structure itself begins to dissolve. Taibi Magar directs “Blue Ridge” with acute care allowing each actor to explore their character’s conflicts and the resolution of those conflicts. In the process, the characters experience vulnerability, rage, and pain allowing the audience members to explore their own paths to recovery.
The cast of “Blue Ridge” features Kyle Beltran, Marin Ireland, Peter Mark Kendall, Nicole Lewis, Kristolyn Lloyd, and Chris Stack.
“Blue Ridge” features scenic design by Adam Rigg, costume design by Sarah Laux, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman, and casting by Telsey + Company: Adam Caldwell, CSA; Will Cantler, CSA; Karyn Casl, CSA.
“Blue Ridge” runs at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues) through Saturday January 26th, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For information on additional performances and to purchase tickets, visit www.atlantictheater.org. Running time is 2 hours with one brief intermission.
Photo: Chris Stack and Kristolyn Lloyd in “Blue Ridge.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Broadway Review: “Network” at the Belasco Theatre (Currently On)
Photo: Tony Goldwyn and Bryan Cranston in “Network.” Credit: Jan Versweyveld.
Broadway Review: “Network” at the Belasco Theatre (Currently On) Adapted by Lee Hall Based on the Paddy Chayefsky Film Directed by Ivo Van Hove Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
When Howard Beale (a tortured yet determined Bryan Cranston) first admonishes his listeners to get out of their chairs, go their widows, stick out their heads and yell, “I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore,” the audience at the Belasco Theatre erupts with a nostalgia that since the 1976 release of Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network” has morphed into a current state of being: an irrepressible rage about the state of the world, particularly about the current political environment. The satire in Chayefsky’s iconic film transfers well to Lee Hall’s adaptation currently running at the Belasco.
Sitting at a bar after being fired as UBS-TV Network’s News Hour news anchor by Max Schumacher (a duplicitous and frightened Tony Goldwyn) his friend of twenty-five years, Howard tells Max he is going to kill himself by blowing his “brains out right on the air, right in the middle of the six-o’clock news.” Howard makes the same announcement during his evening broadcast which sets in motion the dramatic arc of “Network’s” brilliantly executed narrative about the vicissitudes of Howard Beale’s life, death, and life beyond death. This narrative involves the executive staffs of UBS-TV, its parent company CCA, and members of their families.
The broadcast’s associate producer Harry Hunter (Julian Elijah Martinez), director (Bill Timony), floor manager (Jason Babinsky) and station executive Frank Hackett (a determined and charismatic Joshua Boone) want to replace Howard; however, the ratings for the news broadcast reach its highest share after Howard’s rant and decisions whether to keep Howard on as anchor drive the play’s tension-driven rising action. Howard’s rants morph from curmudgeonly to leveling harsh criticism of the whole business of gathering and broadcasting news. He loses the support of his secretary (a seductive and self-willed Camila Cano-Flavia) and oddly garners support from CCA’s Arthur Jensen (a wily and villainous Nick Wyman).
Howard’s downward spiral and Jensen’s lack of desire to reign him in leaves the network executives in a quandary, particularly after Howard says, “Well, if there’s anyone out there who can look around this demented slaughterhouse of a world we live in and tell me man is a noble creature, believe me, that man is full of [expletive deleted].” Whether Howard Beale remains, or leaves has untenable consequences for the network, leaving Hackett to affirm, “I am going to kill Howard Beale. I’m going to impale the son of a bitch with a sharp stick through the heart.” The irony here is that despite Howard’s warning not to believe the “illusion” the networks are spinning, almost everything of significance the audience knows about Howard is learned through his broadcasts.
“Network” addresses important themes and raises equally significant enduring questions. “Network” parses the word ‘network’ in a variety of ways, adding richness and layered depth to the important narrative. Not only a term for a broadcasting entity, ‘network” also has the positive connotation of the important connection between individuals and communities. It also has the added more nuanced meaning of the type of networks developed and exploited by bots and trolls on the various social media platforms. So what meaning does the living, dying, and living beyond dying Howard Beale espouse?
Ivo Van Hove’s innovative direction successfully places the outstanding cast as well as the audience in the “live set” of a typical news broadcast. The ability to see Howard at the news desk as well as on screen and be able to hear all conversations is a magnificent feat. There is even a bit of legerdemain at the end of the play. Tal Yarden’s set is full of nooks and crannies that tantalize the audience’s interest in the normal and the nefarious “off-set” activities.
[Postscript: This reviewer found the onstage seating and eating extremely disruptive and annoying. The constant clanking of flatware on ceramic dinnerware is just as intrusive as an errant cell phone. Also, waiters moving around the tables distracted from the integrity of the performance. And why are the onstage patrons allowed to stroll around the stage and freely take photos while “regular” audience members are scolded when they wish to take a photo prior to performance? Hopefully, this style of elitism in stage seating and pay-for-privileges will not become de rigueur on Broadway.]
“Network” stars Bryan Cranston, Tony Goldwyn, Tatiana Maslany, Joshua Boone, Alyssa Bresnahan, Ron Canada, Julian Elijah Martinez, Frank Wood, Nick Wyman, Barzin Akhavan, Jason Babinsky, Camila Cano-Flavia, Eric Chayefsky, Gina Daniels, Nicholas Guest, Joe Paulik, Susannah Perkins, Victoria Sendra, Henry Stram, Bill Timoney, Joseph Varca, Nicole Villamil and Jeena Yi.
“Network” features scenic and lighting design by Jan Versweyveld, video design by Tal Yarden, costume design by An D’Huys and music and sound by Eric Sleichim.
Tickets are available at www.Telecharge.com (212-239-6200) or at the Belasco Theatre box office (111 W 44th Street) and range from $49.00 – $189.00 (including the $2 facility fee). Onstage FOODWORK tickets are available from $299.00 Ticket price includes a series of small plates and cocktails. For more information visit www.NetworkBroadway.com. Running time is 2 hours without intermission.
Photo: Tony Goldwyn and Bryan Cranston in “Network.” Credit: Jan Versweyveld.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 21, 2018
Broadway Review: “The Ferryman” at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (Through Sunday July 7, 2019)
Photo: Paddy Considine (Quinn Carney – center, standing) and the company of “The Ferryman.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “The Ferryman” at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre (Through Sunday July 7, 2019) By Jez Butterworth Directed by Sam Mendes Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
If you are a fan of Irish plays you will most likely recognize the characters and may recall hearing similar stories as you listen and watch the epic family drama “The Ferryman” by Jez Butterworth now playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. That is where the familiarity stops, allowing the brilliant dialogue of Mr. Butterworth and the sagacious, meticulous direction of Sam Mendes to take you on a three hour and fifteen-minute journey through the hearts and minds of the expansive Carney family. The plot is thick with the burdens of politics and religion that are complicated by love, loss and tradition. Except for the prologue, all the action takes place in the expansive kitchen and living area of the Carney family in rural County Armagh, Northern Ireland, late summer in 1981. This punctilious set designed by Rob Howell is authentic, dominated by a soaring staircase that members of this unsettled family might climb, in order to retreat from the agitated activities of everyday life. Mr. Howell’s costumes are never intrusive, only fortifying the ambience of time and place, while also placing another layer on top of the already genuine characters. Punctuate each scene with the atmospheric lighting design of Peter Mumford and you are transported into the suspension of disbelief.
This is a theatrical event that is riveting, filled with monologues that coax laughter from your gut, tease tears from your eyes and reveal secrets that bring the plot closer to the explosive climax. The enormous cast of twenty-one, not counting the infant, the goose and the rabbit, is impeccable as they expose themselves, dissecting their characters until there is nothing more to learn. It is difficult to single out special performances but there are some worthy of mention. Paddy Considine creates a perplexed Quinn Carney with a tapestry of emotions that paint a vivid picture of his psyche. Laura Donnelly brings strength, intelligence and vulnerability to the presence of Caitlin Carney. Wisdom is brought to the dimwitted Tom Kettle by Justin Edwards, who is full of surprises and generosity that comes forth with every beat of his gracious heart. The wise cracking, ornery, and opinionated Aunt Pat is brought to life by Dearbhla Molloy with strong conviction and steadfast persona. Fionnula Flanagan turns Aunt Maggie into a skillful raconteur, as she sporadically awakens to spout stories from the past that entertain the children. Each member of the entire ensemble is remarkable as they stand alone and become even better as they complement each other. Under the fluid direction of Mr. Mendes, the actor’s movements are choreographed in perfect harmony capturing the bucolic life of a rural Irish family.
This is a monumental piece of theater that will stand up to the test of time. It is a thrilling drama of crime and passion that infects a peculiar family which is navigating a contentious, political landscape and struggling to survive. The humor is dark, the sentiment is light, and the suffering runs deep within the characters souls but they never waiver, standing proud and persevering anything that threatens their existence. It is one of the must-see productions of season.
“The Ferryman’s “cast includes Paddy Considine, Laura Donnelly, Genevieve O’Reilly, Dean Ashton, Glynis Bell, Peter Bradbury, Trevor Harrison Braun, Sean Frank Coffey, Will Coombs, Gina Costigan, Charles Dale, Theo Ward Dunsmore, Justin Edwards, Fra Fee, Fionnula Flanagan, Tom Glynn-Carney, Carly Gold, Cooper Gomes, Holly Gould, Stuart Graham, Mark Lambert, Carla Langley, Matilda Lawler, Conor MacNeill, Michael McArthur, Willow McCarthy, Colin McPhillamy, Rob Malone, Dearbhla Molloy, Bella May Mordus, Griffin Osborne, Brooklyn Shuck, Glenn Speers, Rafael West Vallés, and Niall Wright.
“The Ferryman’s” creative team is Rob Howell (scenic and costume design), Peter Mumford (lighting design), Nick Powell (sound design and original music), Amy Ball CDG (UK Casting), Jim Carnahan, C.S.A and Jillian Cimini C.S.A. (US Casting), Scarlett Mackmin (choreography), Tim Hoare (associate director), Benjamin Endsley Klein (resident director), Campbell Young Associates (hair, wigs and makeup design), William Berloni (animal trainer), Terry King (UK fight director), Thomas Schall (US fight director), Majella Hurley (UK dialect coach), and Deborah Hecht (US dialect coach).
Tickets are available at www.telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400, or in-person at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre box office (242 W. 45th Street). For “The Ferryman’s” complete performance schedule, please visit www.theferrymanbroadway.com. Running time is 3 hours and 15 minutes. (There is one 15-minute intermission following Act 1 and a brief 3 minute pause following Act 2.)
Photo: Paddy Considine (Quinn Carney – center, standing) and the company of “The Ferryman.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 14, 2018
Broadway Review: “The Cher Show” at the Neil Simon Theatre (Currently On)
Photo: Jarrod Spector as Sonny Bono and Micaela Diamond as Cher. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “The Cher Show” at the Neil Simon Theatre (Currently On) Book by Rick Elice Directed by Jason Moore Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
Anyone who is or was a fan of Cher during the past six decades will find it difficult to resist the urge to see the new Broadway musical based on her fascinating life and intriguing career that is now playing at Neil Simon Theatre. It would be wise to follow that urge and see for yourself how the beat still goes on. “The Cher Show” follows the same format as a similar musical currently running on Broadway – that show scheduled to close at the end of the year after its successful nine month run. Three actors portray the musical icon at different stages of her life: Babe (an incredible Micaela Diamond in her Broadway debut); Lady (a convincing Teal Wicks); and Star (the incomparable Stephanie J. Block). This reliable convention becomes even more entertaining when in theory, it follows the adage “if I knew then what I know now,” and the characters give each other (themselves) advice. It may seem a bit confusing but the book by Rick Elice, although a bit campy at times, is crystal clear and informative in depicting the highs and lows of a fascinating life and career.
The story begins during Cher’s early childhood and adolescence as Cherilyn Sarkisian is being raised by her single mother Georgia Holt (the always superb Emily Skinner) after her Armenian father left when she was only ten months old. Moving on to her teenage years when she meets Sonny Bono (a solid Jarrod Spector) who was working for Phil Specter, she moves in with him, marries him and they form their infamous dynamic musical duo with the breakout hit “I Got You Babe.” Th musical then moves on to the very successful television variety show and an unpleasant breakup and divorce. Then a transition to Cher’s career as a solo artist and self- determined female in a male dominated industry – after some sound advice from none other than Lucille Ball. Next comes Cher’s Broadway stage and film career, winning an Oscar for the film “Moonstruck” keeping company only with her Grammy and Emmy awards. Along the way, she gives birth to two children, enters another failed marriage to Greg Allman, a farewell tour and residency in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace.
“The Cher Show” might be billed as a jukebox musical; however, after viewing the production, one learns that Cher often sung about what she had experienced in life, making her songs fit perfectly into her life story. The supporting cast is more than competent playing several characters that were influential in the star’s life. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli gives his indefatigable ensemble a workout with his energetic production numbers, which they execute with acute precision. Director Jason Moore moves the evening along at a fast pace, never wasting a minute on nostalgia or dwelling on melancholic situations, but always moving forward. Then there are the costumes, and the costumes and the costumes, by Bob Mackie. An endless parade of astonishing, revealing outfits, embellished with fringe and sequins that became Cher’s trademark.
There is nothing groundbreaking about this show, but it is good solid entertainment with performances that would be hard to beat. It sheds some light on the journey of a musical icon but also on a strong, compassionate woman that took responsibility for her mistakes and triumphs. What set her apart was her fearless determination, unsurpassed originality and incessant self-respect and dignity.
THE CHER SHOW
“The Cher Show” stars Stephanie J. Block, Teal Wicks, and Micaela Diamond. They are joined by Jarrod Spector, Michael Berresse, Michael Campayno, Matthew Hydzik, Emily Skinner, and Dee Roscioli. The full company also features Marija Juliette Abney, Carleigh Bettiol, Taurean Everett, Michael Fatica, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Michael Graceffa, Blaine Alden Krauss, Sam Lips, Tiana Okoye, Amy Quanbeck, Angel Reda, Jennifer Rias, Michael Tacconi, Tory Trowbridge, Christopher Vo, Aléna Watters, Charlie Williams, and Ryan Worsing.
“The Cher Show” features choreography by Christopher Gattelli; music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Daryl Waters; music direction by Andrew Resnick, and dance music arrangements by Zane Mark and Daryl Waters. Rounding out the creative team are costume designer Bob Mackie, set designer Christine Jones, set designer Brett J. Banakis, lighting designer Kevin Adams, sound designer Nevin Steinberg, video and projection designer Darrel Maloney, hair and wig designer Charles G. LaPointe, and makeup designer Cookie Jordan. Casting is by Telsey + Company/Patrick Goodwin, CSA. General Management is by Baseline Theatrical.
Tickets for “The Cher Show are currently available at www.TheCherShowBroadway.com or www.Ticketmaster.com 877-250-2929). Ticket prices range from $59.00 - $169.00 Premium tickets range from $199.00 - $299.00. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
Photo: Jarrod Spector as Sonny Bono and Micaela Diamond as Cher. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Off-Broadway Review: “Lewiston/Clarkston” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday December 16, 2018)
Photo: Noah Robbins (in front) and Edmund Donovan in “Clarkston,” part two of “Lewiston/Clarkston.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Off-Broadway Review: “Lewiston/Clarkston” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday December 16, 2018) Written by Samuel D. Hunter Directed by Davis McCallum Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
There is quite an intriguing theatrical event occurring at the Rattlestick Theater, where two ninety-minute plays separated by a thirty-minute communal dinner break takes the stage to engage an audience of fifty, in two compelling dramas. The playhouse is stripped down to its original walls discovering weathered multi paned windows and worn wainscoting, wearing years of neglect, with some sections beyond repair. This is the performance space, perhaps a foreshadowing of a shared theme of discovery, as two brave young people make a journey following the steps of their ancestors only to reveal the ugly past and face the troubled and turbulent present.
The first play deals with Marnie (a fiesty, determined and fearless Leah Karpel) who is a direct descendant of Merriweather Lewis. She makes an unexpected visit to her estranged grandmother Alice (a solid and stoic Kristin Griffith), on what is left of the family farm. Alice has been selling off parcels of the family legacy to developers, who are devouring the small rural town and spitting out hundreds of new luxury condominiums. Alice has a roommate Connor (a calm and sensitive Arnie Burton) who is not only a friend but a caretaker, since Alice had to fight to survive cancer. There are more than enough confrontations between the three characters as secrets surface when layers are slowly peeled away from the protective façade they have built up over the years. Marnie exposes Connor as a closeted homosexual, delves into the depths of her mother’s suicide, challenges the sale of her heritage and in protest, she pitches her tent on the front lawn, refusing to leave. Ms. Griffith captures the pain, strength and fortitude of a crusty Midwest grandmother with perfection, but it is the piercing honesty in her eyes that conveys her compassion. Mr. Burton packs his character with fervent dignity, profound insight and tactful humility. Although Ms. Karpel gives a strong performance it lacks nuance and depth, but this may be the fault of the script or direction.
After the dinner break the audience visits Clarkston on the other side of the river from Lewiston where Jake, (a frail but determined Noah Robbins), is found following the trail of his distant relative William Clark. This is merely a pit stop on his way to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, but to support his trek and bide his time, he takes a job at the Cosco across the street from the hotel. It is here that he meets co-worker Chris (a pragmatic and sensitive Edmund Donovan) and once again secrets penetrate the present causing torment and disruption. As the lives of these two young men collide, their diffidence and insecurity explode, as shrapnel of anger, pain and longing is hurled at their dreams. Enter Chris’ single mother Trisha, (a robust yet fragile Heidi Armbruster), a recovering drug addict who is desperately trying to reestablish a peaceful relationship with her son. All shed their exterior skins and bleed the truths of their existence until they collapse and need some sort of infusion of hope.
Jake is an open homosexual, has a neurological disease which will kill him before he is thirty and is a spoiled child from a wealthy Connecticut family from which he has fled. Chris is closeted and living the life of poverty in this small Midwest town. He is trying to save his broken mother, has dreams of finishing college and has yet had the opportunity to really love and be loved. Strange bedfellows that are a perfect match for exploring and discovery. This is a ninety minute emotionally brutal dance that remarkably is beautiful, tender and a joy to watch. Ms. Armbruster allows the smooth, hard shell of Trisha to crack, allowing a river of weakness to flow from within. Mr. Robbins is the epitome of confusion, changing like a chameleon, from a confident adventurer to a phlegmatic realist to a forlorn child instinctively choosing the correct passionate reaction to match the activity. Then there is Mr. Dononan who gives a compelling performance as Chris, coaxing every morsel of emotion from his damaged soul like a wounded soldier returning from a battle. His precise, skillful acting is only surpassed by his brilliant reacting which captures every human fiber and feeling of his character. He is a harbinger of a new generation of significant American actors.
Hopefully there will be another extension to the current run in its present state. Playwright Samuel D. Hunter has written a new classic American play, not quite a tragedy, but that being said, there are no resolutions to the inauspicious events. It is a valid commentary on the current social divide and the state of the country’s moral integrity, littering our small rural towns with big box stores and replacing farms with cubical condominiums to satisfy the greed and need of the wealthy. Even though the two works are complimentary, Clarkston, the latter of the pair could easily stand on its own and please future audiences. This is one of the best plays of the season and without doubt some of the finest performances. Give yourself a holiday gift and find a ticket to one of the remaining shows.
The cast of “Lewiston” includes Arnie Burton, Kristin Griffith, and Leah Karpel.
“Lewiston/Clarkston” will feature set design by Dane Laffrey, costume design by Jessica Wegener Shay, lighting design by Stacey DeRosier, and sound design by Fitz Patton. The Dramaturg is John Baker, the Stage Manager is Katie Young, the Production Manager is Jenny Beth Snyder, the Technical Director is Aaron Gonzalez, and the Associate Directors are Shadi Ghaheri and Lillian Meredith.