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Off-Broadway Review: “Underground” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 2, 2017)

Photo: Michael Jinks and Bebe Sanders. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Underground” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 2, 2017)
Written by Isla van Tricht
Directed by Kate Tiernan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And now here I am. Am I alone here? This is who we are. Isn’t this the fate of Generation Y (The Millennial Generation)?” – Claire

When stepping onto or off from the underground (subway), riders are reminded to “mind the gap” – to pay attention to the dangerous space between the train and the platform that awaits a sudden misstep or a trip unawares. There are other gaps in life that are potentially equally hazardous, including those spaces between individuals during conversation or those spaces between the individual and her or his own self-awareness. There are other gaps, of course, that need minding and, perhaps, these are particularly susceptible to certain groups of individuals. The intimacy gap or the “connection” gap might be more problematic for Generation Y – the Millennials. At least that seems to be the thesis inherent in Isla van Tricht’s “Underground” currently playing at 59E59 Theaters as part of the annual Brits Off Broadway Festival.

James (played with a charming elusiveness by Michael Jinks) – is recently out of a long-term relationship and Claire (played with a wonderful spirited persona by Bebe Sanders) – has become disillusioned by the promises made by parents and teachers about success. “They said work hard and dream big, and you could be anything you want to be.” That has not worked for Claire nor apparently for James who, on one lonely night, connect on Tinder and set up a meeting, a debatable date. After spending time at a bar, the newly-pair board the brand new Northern Line Night Tube which, predictably, suffers mechanical problems and challenges the pair’s ability to communicate authentically and without the aid of apps or other mobile assists.

The train gets repaired; however, James and Claire’s budding relationship is not as fortunate. James, rattled by the underground episode, feels the need to give the relationship with his ex-girlfriend Amanda another try and, after three months, meets up with Claire to try to make amends. There’s more to this tale including an odd conversation with Steve (played with a coyness of heart by Andrew McDonald) the bartender and a sleeping man on the underground (also played by Mr. McDonald) who, though looks like the bartender and has the same name, claims not to be the Steve they met earlier. Both Steves try to offer advice of questionable value. Then there is the mysterious voice on the underground (the voiceover) that is heard only by one or the other of the pair which also offers philosophical theories about relationships.

Comedy careens off drama in this play and realism ricochets off magical realism to spin an interesting and engaging tale about loneliness and its discontents. Ms. Van Tricht’s characters are believable and well-developed with characteristics and conflicts that contribute to the play’s non-linear plot. Time and space recede in importance in Ms. Tricht’s understanding of setting here and mood becomes of primary importance. Whether James and Claire will emerge from their loneliness remains unresolved in “Underground.”

At the end of the play, after a tenuous reconciliation is reached in the same bar they first visited, they board the same night underground and the train stops mid-station. The ominous voiceover is heard: “These scribbles reach close with their graphite fingers but never meet, never overlap, never reach each other. Perhaps they aren’t trying hard enough. Mind the gap.” The playwright challenges her characters and her audiences to pay attention to the importance of connection as an antidote to the ennui of loneliness.

Although credit is not given to a set, lighting, or costume designer, all three creative components contribute to the success of “Underground.” Jude Obermuller's original music and sound design appropriately heightens the magical realism of the script. Kate Tiernan’s direction moves the action forward perfectly and her attention to detail is remarkable. Despite the theatrical conceits and themes being somewhat commonplace, the actors bring a freshness to the discussion worth experiencing.

UNDERGROUND

Produced by Shrapnel Theatre & Hartshorn - Hook Foundation for Brits Off Broadway, UNDERGROUND is part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues).

The cast features Michael Jinks, Andrew McDonald, and Bebe Sanders. Original music and sound design by Jude Obermuller. Whitney M. Keeter serves as AEA Stage Manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Underground” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, July 2. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30. Tickets are $25 ($20 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, June 24, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie” at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)

Photo: Megan Loomis, Helen Jean Russell, David M. Lutken, and Andy Teirstein. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie” at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)
Devised by David M. Lutken, with Nick Corley, and Darcie Deaville, Helen J. Russell, and Andy Teirstein
Directed by Nick Corley
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Currently playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre is a musical revue that has been making the International rounds for the last ten years appropriately titled “Woody Sez: the life and music of Woody Guthrie.” The cast of four perform about forty musical numbers from Guthrie’s songbook that conquer the feelings, sights, hardships and situations he experienced: from the Great Depression, the dust bowl, the westward movement and World War Two. Interspersed between musical numbers are stories about his personal life, travels, family and tragedies that inspired his writing and music. The evening is kept at a good steady pace by the competent direction of Nick Corley. When these songs were written they needed no introduction or clarification. The lyrics spoke out against what was wrong and what needed to be changed. They were not only songs of protest but stories about the hardships of the people across America to let them know they could not and should not be forgotten. Perhaps, at certain times during this production, the power of the song is diminished by the informative introduction but for the most part it serves this production.

The overly skilled cast travels through the evening exercising their wide range of vocal ability while playing an incredible array of different instruments including fiddles, guitars, base, zithers and even spoons, to name just a few. Megan Loomis, David M. Lutken, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein appear as the rural Everyman from the thirties and forties, clad in country garb spouting accents covering a good cross section of Middle America. Alone they are determined, when paired they are one and when together they are a fierce celebration of the time, place and movement. They enjoy the music, themselves, each other and the audience but always keep a good focus on the essence of the lyric and the purpose of the song. The only concern is that at times the cast feels too comfortable with the material and each other void of spontaneity which aborts the integrity of the composition.

Hearing the ever so familiar “This Train is Bound for Glory,” “Mule Skinner Blues,” “Deportees,” and of course “This Land is Your Land” sparks memories from the decades when this country’s artists and musicians were poets that represented the rights of people and were not afraid to stand up for their beliefs and protest harmful politics. They were the tearful eyes and honest voice of the common man that was heard and will never be forgotten. Go spend a couple of enjoyable hours listening to the music of a protesting pioneer from the past and it may just be a reminder that we should continue his journey.

WOODY SEZ: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF WOODY GUTHRIE

The cast of “Woody Sez” features Megan Loomis, David M. Lutken, Helen J. Russell, and Andy Teirstein.

The production features lighting design by Michael Gottlieb, set design by Luke Hegel-Cantarella, costume design by Jeffrey Meek, and music direction by David M. Lutken.

“Woody Sez” plays at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage through Sunday July 23, 2017 on the following schedule: Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets are $70.00 ($50.00 Rear Seating) and can be obtained by visiting https://irishrep.org/ or by calling Irish Rep at 212-727-2737. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Whirligig” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Sunday June 18, 2017)

Photo (L-R): Grace Van Patten and Zosia Mamet in Hamish Linklater’s “The Whirligig.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Whirligig” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Sunday June 18, 2017)
By Hamish Linklater
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And the wheel goes round and round./And the flame in our souls will never burn out./And the wheel, and the wheel goes round.” – Rosanne Cash, “Wheel”

Under the brooding branches that overarch Derek McLane’s visually stunning set that “goes round,” Julie’s (played with sumptuous death-dodging life by Grace Van Patten) life coalesces into a gripping surreal reality in Hamish Linklater’s “The Whirligig” which is currently running at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre. As she lies dying in her hospital bed (and later in her bed at home), Julie unwittingly is the center of a maelstrom of guilt and grief – a “whirligig of time” as Shakespeare might describe it, bringing in “his revenges” (Feste in “Twelfth Night,” Act 5, Scene 1).

Julie’s untimely death reunites her estranged parents Michael (played with a powerful emotional depth by Norbert Leo Butz) and Kristina (played with a deep-seated disconsolate resentment by Dolly Wells) and her best friend Trish (played with a depressive conniving spirit by Zosia Mamet). Her dying also generates fascinating glimpses into the lives of Trish’s husband Greg (played with the steadiness rooted in recovery by Alex Hurt) and a local high school teacher Mr. Cormeny (played with an inebriated joviality by Jon DeVries) who meet with Michael at the local bar when he returns to the Berkshires to be with Julie. These encounters provoke a scintillating series of flashbacks that contribute to the provenance of Julie’s demise.

While summoning the courage to visit Julie, Trish meets Derrick (played with the innocence of suspicion by Jonny Orsini) and their conversations on one of the tree limbs outside Julie’s bedroom window provide extensive exposition. The audience learns who Derrick is, what his relationship was to Julie, and how he is related to Patrick (played with a winning but conflicted persona by Noah Bean) Julie’s doctor. In the first scene, there is a playful exchange between Julie and Michael about Patrick’s role: doctor or chef. What is disclosed later is that Patrick’s role in Julie’s life has been far more complicated than his present role as her “healer.” All the play’s flashbacks are similar in their disclosure of important exposition and investment in Julie’s illness and imminent death. For all of Julie’s friends and family, this visit is perhaps the first time any of them said “anything real.”

Mr. Linklater’s characters are all well-rounded, authentic characters with believable traits and rich and complex conflicts that successfully drive the engaging plot of “The Whirligig.” As an actor, Mr. Linklater knows what works in characterization and has developed his characters with sensitivity and care. Under Scott Elliott’s thoughtful and embracing direction, the characters “unfold” in layers of surprising details. It is not easy to compress years of history into two hours and twenty minutes: revealing not only the surface details of each character but the bountiful underbelly of the individuals who gather to struggle to say good-bye to Julie and deal with their often-insurmountable guilt surrounding the end of her young life.

Derek McLane’s set spins slowly as characters enter and exit scenes – the hospital, the bar, the backyard, Patrick’s apartment, Julie’s room at home – and windows in the background “mysteriously” line up with the window in Julie’s room. The audience and the characters cleverly switch roles as voyeurs and bona fide visitors. Jeff Croiter’s lighting adds to the deep moodiness, oppressive emotional weight, and ennui framed by Mr. McLane’s low-hanging tree branches. Jeremy Chernick's stunning special effects support the rich setting.

“The Whirligig” is a gripping psychodrama that explores the intricate dynamics of grief, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Rarely has a play – ostensibly about the death of an addicted character – had the ability to engage the audience on so many significant and life-changing levels. Despite Julie’s often unhealthy choices, she manages to assemble at her bedside a host of “souls [who] never burn out.” Mr. Linklater’s impressive play is a must see and a Theatre Reviews Limited “Best Bet.”

THE WHIRLIGIG

The Whirligig features Noah Bean, Norbert Leo Butz, Jon DeVries, Alex Hurt, Zosia Mamet, Jonny
Orsini, Grace Van Patten and Dolly Wells.

This production features Scenic Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Clint Ramos, Lighting
Design by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by M.L. Dogg, Original Music by Duncan Sheik, Special Effects
Design by Jeremy Chernick and Fight Direction by UnkleDave's Fight-House. Production Stage
Manager is Valerie A. Peterson. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

Tickets for “The Whirligig” start at $75.00. General schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., with Wednesday matinee performances at 2:00 p.m. on June 7 and June 14. For tickets and information, please visit www.thenewgroup.org. Tickets can also be purchased by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12:00 p.m. -8 p.m. daily). Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 1, 2017

Broadway Review: “Six Degrees of Separation” at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (On Sale through July 16, 2017)

Photo: Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey in "Six Degrees of Separation." Credit: Joan Marcus/©2016 Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Six Degrees of Separation” at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (On Sale through July 16, 2017)
Written by John Guare
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by Michele Willens
Theatre Reviews Limited

With dramatic revivals, the question always becomes: is it too soon or is it too dated? Now, John Guare’s 1990 award- winning dark comedy, “Six Degrees of Separation,” has made its first return to Broadway. Fortunately, this proves a perfect time to savor a play about a momentous evening – and its immediate aftermath – when a seemingly desperate but charming young black man appeared at the doorstep of a radically chic Upper East Side couple.

The con-man claimed to be a friend of the couple’s children and, more important, the son of Sidney Poitier. Guare’s tale – based on an actual event – feels more relevant at a time when our culture is hopelessly addicted to money and all things celebrity. The unexpected visitor seduces everyone in his orbit, becomes a good luck charm, and forces others to consider their own values, beliefs, and self-worth.

The wild tale includes a male prostitute who shows up overnight – be warned, this brief turn is performed stark raving naked – the realization that another couple has had a similar experience with the same intruder, and a bunch of very angry college-aged children. “Six Degrees of Separation” – yes, long before Kevin Bacon, this is where the phrase originated – is a rollicking ninety minutes and not for the tame of heart. The show has had some trouble selling tickets and is in a limited run, but it is recommended for Guare’s sharp, insightful taking down of the gullibility of the P.C. left.

And for some truly excellent performances. Allison Janney (snubbed by the Tony committee) is spot-on perfect with every expression and droll delivery. John Benjamin Hickey is equally fine as her rather flustered art-dealer husband. The strongest performance comes from Corey Hawkins as the would-be son of filmdom’s breakout actor of color. Hawkins was nominated, deservedly, for best actor and it is a magnetic turn.

“Six Degrees” now seems to be more forgiving of this character, who claims “imagination is the passport we create to take us into the real world.” The physical symbol most prominent in this production is a large double-sided painting by Kandinsky. That pretty much describes not only the great pretender, who fooled a lot of smart and privileged folks, but how many in the audience likely feel at different times.

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION

The cast of “Six Degrees of Separation” includes Allison Janney, John Benjamin Hickey, and Corey Hawkins. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Six Degrees of Separation” runs at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (243 W. 47th Street) through July 16, 2017. For more information, including the creative team, performance schedule, and to purchase tickets, please visit http://sixdegreesbroadway.com/. Tickets can also be purchased by calling 212-239-6200. The running time 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Can You Forgive Her?” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday June 11, 2017)

Photo: Ella Dershowitz and Darren Pettie in "Can You Forgive Her?" at the Vineyard Theatre. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Can You Forgive Her?” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday June 11, 2017)
By Gina Gionfriddo
Directed by Peter DuBois
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After presenting a season that included the engaging “This Day Forward” by Nicky Silver and the soaring “Kid Victory” by Greg Pierce and John Kander, the iconic Vineyard Theatre has chosen to present Gina Gionfriddo’s mostly disappointing “Can You Forgive Her.” Billed as a “ferociously funny story of lost souls grappling with emotional and financial dependence, and the costs of the American Dream,” the play fails to successfully grapple with either of these important themes or deal with any of the rich and enduring questions surrounding those themes.

Tanya (Ella Dershowitz) tends bar in a New Jersey beach town and is doing her best to get her perhaps fiancée Graham (Darren Pettie) – who is twice divorced and who has not worked in six months – to transition from not being serious about his future to “having a livelihood.” Graham’s mother has just died leaving him the beach house and all her papers (memoirs, novels, etc.) and he has asked Tanya to marry him. Tanya – not the best decision maker – is reluctant to marry without seeing progress in Graham’s stability and commitment to change.

So, what does she do on this Halloween night? She sends Graham home from the bar with an unknown woman who claims her “date” has threatened to stab her. Well, he never told her that. She “learns” of his motivation from a conversation the date Sateesh (Eshan Bay) has with the “redneck couple” she and Sateesh are sitting with at the bar. Miranda (Amber Tamblyn) has a Master’s Degree, is in serious debt, and depends on David (Frank Wood) to “keep” her and provide income. And she “lets [Sateesh] buy [her] things. Why not? It’s not like he isn’t using me, too, you know? He gets to look cool in front of all the other Indians by showing up with me.”

The bulk of Ms. Gionfriddo’s improbable play centers on conversations between Graham and Miranda – most of them convoluted and improbable and not terribly engaging. Then, of course, Tanya comes home from work early, David eventually shows up (Miranda comes to the shore to “stalk him”) and adds to the improbability index. For example, why would Tanya expect that leaving Graham alone with Miranda would be a good choice? And why would an educated person like Miranda be such a racist loser? Her problems are not about bad accounting and bad choices but overall about exhibiting bad behavior and embracing questionable values.

Perhaps Allen Moyer’s set design and Russell H. Champa’s lighting design are the most interesting parts of “Can You Forgive Her.” The playing area – the interior of the beach house – is intentionally “minimized.” The audience can see the lighting grid above the set and there is a “useless” lighted space below the set. Additionally, the set is framed with illuminated light towers. It is as though what is happening on stage is meant to be far removed from the audience. It is like a mockup of a set for a mockup of a play.

“Can You Forgive Her” seems unfinished, unresolved. There is a bit of a redemptive ending but that is not enough payoff for the relentless banter that precedes it. Tanya’s self-help guru does little to persuade Graham or Miranda to conform to her understanding of having a livelihood. The characters are less than believable and less than interesting. No one really cares whether Sateesh shows up to stab Miranda or not. He does show up. At the end. For about a minute.

There’s a lot to forgive here and it might start with the playwright. There is not much director Peter DuBois and the talented cast can do to fix what ails “Can You Forgive Her.”

CAN YOU FORGIVE HER?

The cast of “Can You Forgive Her” includes Eshan Bay, Ella Dershowitz, Darren Pettie, Amber Tamblyn, and Frank Wood.

The “Can You Forgive Her?” design team includes set design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by Russell Champa, and sound design by Daniel Kluger. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Can You Forgive Her?” runs at the Vineyard Theatre (108 East 15th Street) through Sunday June 11, 2017 on the following schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets at $79.00 are on sale at www.vineyardtheatre.org or by calling 212-353-0303. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, May 28, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday June 11, 2017)

Photo: Hubert Point-Du Jour and Chinasa Ogbuagu in "Sojourners." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday June 11, 2017)
By Mfoniso Udofia
Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Playwright Mfoniso Udofia’s “Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau,” currently running in repertory at New York Theatre Workshop, are exquisitely crafted and skillfully performed explorations into the life of determined matriarch Abasiama Ekpeyoung-Ufot (the younger played by Chinasa Ogbuagu and the older by Jenny Jules), her two husbands Ukpong Ekpeyoung (played with a willful distraction by Hubert Point-Du-Jour) and Disciple Ufot (played with a mysterious puzzlement by Chinaza Uche), her two daughters Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Adepero Oduye) and Adiagha Ufot (also played by the remarkable Chinasa Ogbuagu), and her friend Moxie Wills (played with layer upon layer of sadness by Lakisha Michelle May).

In “Sojourners,” Abasiama and her husband Upkong emigrate to the United States from Nigeria on student visas. The plan: finish their college educations and return to Nigeria to use their new skills to benefit their country. The reality: Upkong neglects his studies, neglects his wife and new child, and leaves them. The play concludes with Abasiama sending their new child Iniabasi and her husband Upkong back to Nigeria. In “Her Portmanteau,” Iniabasi comes to visit her mother at her sister’s apartment in New York City. The fireworks begin when Adiagha (instead of Abasiama) picks up Iniabasi late at JFK.

Under Ed Sylvanus Iskandar’s judicious and redemptive direction, the resplendent cast grapples with the complex dynamics of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation with authenticity and deeply palpable believability. Adepero Oduye’s steely yet vulnerable Iniabasi (“in God’s time”) unleashes years of loneliness and disappointment on her mother and struggles with reuniting with her American born sister Adiagha amidst unbearable resentment and jealousy. Jenny Jules’s dispassionate yet protective Abasiama unpacks (literally) her feelings for her daughter when she removes layer after layer of “history” from Iniabasi’s battered red suitcase – the same torn suitcase Abasiama used when she and Ukpong first came to America from Nigeria and Upkong used when he returned to Nigeria.

The final scene in “Her Portmanteau” is a compelling testament to the power of unconditional and non-judgmental love, to the importance of “belonging” to a family and to a nation, and to the strength of a value system that transcends time and space. This ultimate trio of performances is innervated by the brilliant ensemble performances that precede them – performances illuminated by the shimmering pools of light provided by Jiyoun Chang that cascade across the protective manger-like set designed by Jason Sherwood.

These plays (the first two in a planned nine-play cycle) are not only poignant tales of the deep relationship between a mother and her estranged daughter but also compelling examinations of the complex and intricate reasons individuals leave their homelands for other lands and other opportunities. This exploration is particularly relevant in the current geopolitical climate of mass exoduses from oppressive regimes and war-ravaged towns and villages worldwide. Does one leave one’s home expecting to return or does one escape believing a return home will be impossible?

It is best to see the plays “in order” – “Sojourners” first then “Her Portmanteau.” If possible, it is a bonus to see both plays on the same weekend day. That said, the plays can stand alone and – in whatever order – need to be seen.

SOUJOURNERS AND HER PORTMANTEAU

“Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau”are produced in association with The Playwrights Realm (Katherine Kovner, Artistic Director Roberta Pereira, Producing Director).

The cast for “Sojourners” will feature Lakisha Michelle May as Moxie Wilis, Chinasa Ogbuagu as Abasiama Ekpeyoung, Hubert Point-Du Jour as Ukpong Ekpeyoung, and Chinaza Uche as Disciple Ufot.

The cast for “Her Portmanteau” will feature Jenny Jules as Abasiama Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung, and Chinasa Ogbuaga as Adiagha Ufot.

“Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau” will feature scenic design by Jason Sherwood, costume design by Loren Shaw, lighting and video design by Jiyoun Chang, and sound design by Jeremy S. Bloom. Dawn-Elin Fraser will serve as the dialect coach and Janice Paran will serve as dramaturg. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

SOJOURNERS and HER PORTMANTEAU are presented in repertory and will run through June 4, 2017 at New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003). For the full schedule of performances and to purchase tickets ($69.00), please visit https://www.nytw.org/show/sojourners-her-portmanteau/. The running time for “Sojourners” is 2 hours and 30 minutes including one 15-minute intermission. The running time for “Her Portmanteau” is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 26, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Seven Spots on the Sun” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday June 4, 2017)

Photo: Flora Diaz and Rey Lucas. Credit: Russ Rowland
Off-Broadway Review: “Seven Spots on the Sun” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday June 4, 2017)
By Martín Zimmerman
Directed by Weyni Mengesha
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The brutality of war – any war – leaves its mark on the communities war leaves behind: on the land and on the people who inhabit the land. The soldiers in the fictional South American country featured in Martin Zimmerman’s “Seven Spots on the Sun,” currently playing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, leave a palm-print on a wooden plank before they leave a town and after committing heinous crimes against its citizenry. These prints serve as a warning and a challenge to the residents to see how they will respond to the savagery – will they attempt to rescue the dying neighbors or leave them to die for fear of reprisal? What happens to a community after war passes through and moves on?

The answers to these rich and enduring questions are the subject of Mr. Zimmerman’s allegorical tale involving the stories of two couples affected by the fictional – but all too real – civil war. Physician Moises (Rey Lucas) and his nurse wife Monica (Flor De Liz Perez) care for the wounded in their under-resourced clinic in San Isidro. Luis (Sean Carvajal) and Belen (Flora Diaz) are a couple facing the horrors of war through Luis’s enlistment in the army. These couples collide in a surprising and transformative way as the complex play progresses.

In addition to these four characters, there is the local priest Eugenio (Peter Jay Fernandez) and The Town (Claudia Acosta, Cesar J. Rosado, and Socorro Santiagi) whose “inhabitants” play several roles in the play and serves as a “Greek-chorus” commenting on the action of the play and providing needed exposition.

In development since 2009, “Seven Spots on the Sun” raises questions about making choices and having convictions and uses the framework of civil war to address these queries. There are no heroes in this play and there is no redemption for anyone involved: neither for the citizens nor for the “soldados.” And there is no healing: both the institutions of church and medicine fail to provide release from suffering and death. Even Moises’s sudden ability to heal by the “laying on of hands” is tinged with his vengeful demands upon Belen and Luis.

Mr. Zimmerman’s characters seem underdeveloped and it is difficult to care deeply for any of them. Each has an important choice (or two) to make and each seems to make the wrong choice: choices that destroy, dehumanize, degrade, and drive death. Despite their singular and collective efforts, these characters are not able to change the climate of post-war life.

Weyni Mengesha’s uneven direction detracts from Mr. Zimmerman’s extended metaphor and often undermines the play’s magical realism and extensive use of tropes. “Seven Spots on the Sun” does not have a traditional dramatic structure and requires non-traditional direction (and staging). Sunspots, pineapples, a washing machine, and hand prints (one with a missing finger) vie for meaning in “Seven Spots on the Sun” and, under Ms. Mengesha’s direction, these tropes often conspire to confuse rather than to elucidate meaning.

Mr. Zimmerman’s play is successful in its efforts to focus on the effects of war and is worth the look. What happens to a community after war passes through and moves on? “Seven Spots on the Sun” grapples with that question without providing clear answers.

SEVEN SPOTS ON THE SUN

The all Latinx cast of “Seven Spots on the Sun” includes Claudia Acosta, Sean Carvajal, Flora Diaz, Peter Jay Fernandez, Rey Lucas, Flor De Liz Perez, Cesar J. Rosado, and Socorro Santiago.

The production team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (Scenic Design), Amith Chandrashaker (Lighting Design), Tei Blow (Sound Design), Fabian Aguilar (Costume Design), Rebecca Key (Production Manager), Nicole Marconi (Production Stage Manager), Genevieve Ortiz (Assistant Stage Manager) and Jack Doulin + Sharky (Casting). Production photos by Russ Rowland.

“Seven Spots on The Sun” performs Wednesday to Saturday evenings and Monday evenings at 8:00 p.m. with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through June 4, at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place). Tickets are $50.00 (General), $25.00 (Artist), $15.00 (Student). Tickets can be bought at http://www.Rattlestick.org or via phone at 212-627-2556. Running time is approximately 85 minutes.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: "The Roundabout" at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday May 28, 2017)

Photo: (L-R) Carol Starks, Derek Hutchinson, Annie Jackson, Brian Protheroe, and Richenda Carey in J.B. Priestley’s "The ROUNDABOUT, part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: "The Roundabout" at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday May 28, 2017)
Written by J.B. Priestley
Directed by Hugh Ross
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Traffic flows continuously around the “island” which is the roundabout better known as the Drawing Room of Lord Kettlewell’s (Brian Protheroe) British country estate. Things are not going well for the financier who has summoned his Etonian secretary Farrington Gurney (Charlie Field) to a rare Saturday business meeting to attempt to stop his Lordship’s substantial business losses. Nor are things going well for the rest of the Commonwealth with financial stability waning and international tensions waxing substantially.

Added to Lord Kettlewell’s ennui is the steady flow of unexpected visitors to his estate announced ad seriatim by Parsons (Derek Hutchinson) – from his enraged suitor Hilda Lancicourt (Carol Starks) and estranged wife Rose (Lisa Bowerman) to his equally estranged daughter Pamela (Emily Laing) who arrives from Russia completely unexpectedly with her Comrade Staggles (Steven Blakeley) in tow. Pamela, now a Communist, challenges her father’s abilities at parenting and marriage and Staggles presumes the women of the household yearn to be his lover – including the maid Alice (Annie Jackson) whom he attempts to rescue from her being a “slave hugging her fetters.”

The various guests rotating into and out of the Drawing Room and their encounters with Lord Kettlewell and with one another is the comedic stuff of J. B. Priestly’s “The Roundabout” currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of the annual Brits Off Broadway Festival. They collide with one another in deliciously hilarious flights of fantasy all the time challenging the decorum of polite society. Churton Saunders – Chuffy – played with a jocular stolidly by Hugh Sachs, is the perfect foil to all the charming madness swirling around him.

Under Hugh Ross’s well paced direction, the cast is uniformly engaging, each with a clear understanding of his or her character and the diverse conflicts that drive the plot with all its twists and turns. It is the unpredictability of these parallel story lines that makes “The Roundabout” consummately entertaining. Why has Pamela decided to be a Communist? Why has she arranged to have her mother visit? Who is Lady Knightsbridge (Richenda Carey) and why is she so involved in everyone’s business?

Priestly chooses not to explore the issues he introduces with any depth. His Lord Kettlewell does challenge Comrade Staggles about the benefits of communism affirming, “If we’d communism, there’d still be room at the top.” Still, Mr. Priestly’s 1931 “very light comedy” is a delightful romp around the roundabout well worth the trip.

The cast of “The Roundabout” features Steven Blakeley, Lisa Bowerman, Richenda Carey, Charlie Field, Derek Hutchinson, Annie Jackson, Emily Laing, Ed Pinker, Brian Protheroe, Hugh Sachs, and Carol Starks.

The design team includes Polly Sullivan (production design) and David Howe (lighting design). The music
Is composed by Matthew Strachan. The production stage manager is Cate Agis. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Produced by Cahoots Theatre Company, The Other Cheek & Park Theatre for Brits Off Broadway, “The Roundabout” runs through Sunday May 28, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) on the following schedule: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets range from $25.00 - $70.00 ($25 - $49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including an intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, May 13, 2017

Broadway Review: “Indecent” at the Cort Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 10, 2017)

Broadway Review: “Indecent” at the Cort Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 10, 2017)
Written by Paula Vogel
Created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman, “Indecent” could not have opened on Broadway at the Cort Theatre at a more auspicious time. During an increasingly frenzied discussion about what is and what is not decent in contemporary American society and culture, this remarkable and stunning play - based on true events surrounding the 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s “The God of Vengeance” - brings into sharp focus the importance of vigilance amidst intolerance and indomitability in the face of insidious censorship.

Portraying the Yiddish playwright Sholem Asch, Max Gordon Moore delivers a riveting performance of a playwright who initially inspires his cast and crew as they begin to present “The God of Vengeance” but ultimately abandons them when they are arrested for obscenity after a performance on Broadway. Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman have created a compelling story about the power of innovation and the equally powerful effect of detachment and disinheriting oneself from the innovative process. The cast portrays the characters in three stages of their lives from the excitement of actors beginning a journey together in 1906 to their disappointments and fears that present themselves as they age and face the danger of the threat of the Nazi regime and beyond.

Mr. Moore and the other members of the stellar ensemble cast are listed as “Actors” in the program, he and all individuals – on or off stage – who take significant risks to maintain personal and professional integrity. Solem Asch’s failure to testify in court in Manhattan is a trope for the epic failure of all who shy from controversy and compromise rectitude for the assumed comfort of safety. Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk are riveting as Rifkele and Manke dance their way through life, death, and beyond death.

Rebecca Taichman directs “Indecent” with a sensitive precision. David Dorfman’s choreography is fluid with stunning lines and fresh contemporary movement. Emily Rebholz’s “dust to dust” costumes are intriguing and perfectly matched to the period. Both Christoper Akerlind’s lighting and Matt Hubbs’ sound are exquisite and create emotion-laden “pictures” that are as stunning as they are life-changing. With the assistance of “Stage Manager” Lemml (played with a self-effacing charm by Richard Topol), Tal Yarden’s projections guide the audience through language shifts, and shifts in time with ease. The “blinks in time” serve as a successful device to not only advance the dramatic action but also to heighten dramatic tension.

Music by Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva and performances by the composers and Matt Darriau provide an essential emotional thread to “Indecent’s” important story. David Dorfman’s choreography is exquisite and challenges the cast with a variety of movement genres and styles. The actors often weave through spaces seemingly occupied by others at the same time.

It is difficult to rehearse here the entirety of the plot of “Indecent” driven by characters that share unimaginable conflicts that play out in a variety of settings without posting “spoiler alerts” in every paragraph. “Indecent” is a compelling piece of theatre that raises deep, enduring questions about the future of a society that refuses to accept differences and embrace those deemed to be “different.”

INDECENT

The cast of “Indecent” includes Matt Darriau, Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva, Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol, and Adina Verson.

“Indecent” features music composed and performed by Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva and choreography by David Dorfman. “Indecent” features set design by Riccardo Hernandez, costume design by Emily Rebholz, lighting design by Christopher Akerlind, sound design by Matt Hubbs, projection design Tal Yarden, fight choreography by Rick Sordelet and dialect coaching by Stephen Gabis. Casting is by Tara Rubin Casting. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Performances of “Indecent” scheduled through Sunday September 10, 2017 at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street. For more information, please call the box office at 212-239-6200 or visit http://indecentbroadway.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 21, 2017

Preview: “The Hairdresser” at The Rossi Salon (Through Monday October 16, 2017)

Photo (L to R): Michael Citriniti, Louise Lasser, and Stephen Schnetzer in "The Hairdresser."
Preview: “The Hairdresser” at The Rossi Salon (Through Monday October 16, 2017)
By Susan Charlotte
Directed by Antony Marsellis
Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Tony-nominated Patricia (Louise Lasser) is not buried up to her waist in sand like Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s 1961 “Happy Days. But the character does prattle on – as Winnie did to her husband Willie – about happier days with her dearest friend and hairdresser (Stephen Schnetzer) on the Sunday before her most recent visit to the Tony Awards ceremony. This Beckett-esque conversation is the subject of Susan Charlotte’s “Hairdresser” a seventy-five-minute play she describes as a “location theatre project.” This site-specific play – once produced Off-Broadway in a more traditional manner – is now located in The Rossi Salon on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Like Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey in Daniel L. Coburn’s 1976 “The Gin Game,” Patricia and the Hairdresser squabble about seemingly unimportant things. Weller tries to teach Fonsia the rules of gin rummy. The Hairdresser bickers about Patricia’s hair length and wave and Patricia nags the Hairdresser about his prior profession as a stage magician. Beneath this banter lies – as on the porch in the “Gin Game” – the more significant issues of loneliness, mortality, aging, and loss. Additionally, deeper secrets are revealed as the emotionally charged interchange progresses.

Ms. Charlotte draws heavily on imagery from “Happy Days” (including a large black bag and its contents), Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 “Breathless,” and film-making devices (“jump cut”) to develop the characters in her play and disclose their conflicts to the small audience. A stage manager (Michael Citriniti) often provides stage directions (“He turns off a light”) and the producer (Tim Sherogan) interacts with the actors. The actors also stretch beyond the fourth wall to engage the audience in the conversation – an audience Patricia sees clearly but the Hairdresser acknowledges much more cautiously. Anthony Marsellis directs the piece with his keen eye on the actors and on the audience guiding all carefully through the "hall of mirrors."

Who are the actors in this immersive play? Ms. Lasser, Mr. Schnetzer, Mr. Citriniti, and Mr. Sherogan are all “on script” (a device the playwright deems appropriate to the setting). The audience members, oddly enough, are “off script” and can “act” as they please without intervention from a director or stage manager. Indeed, the professional actors “need” the reactions of the audience members they consistently engage beyond the protection of their fourth wall. Such engagement with the audience is the stuff of immersive, site specific theatre: laughter, sighs, traffic noise (through the window that prefers not to be closed), the ability to stare into the faces of the actors all make for a unique experience that extends the borders of the thing we call theatre.

THE HAIRDRESSER

“The Hairdresser” is presented by Cause Célèbre in association with Nancy Jackman and Rosemarie Salvatore. The cast of “The Hairdresser” features Louise Lasser and Stephen Schnetzer with Michael Citriniti and Tim Sherogan.

Performances of “The Hairdresser” are at The Rossi Salon (30 West 57th Street) on the following Mondays at 7:00 p.m.: May 15th 2017, June 12th 2017, September 18th 2017, and October 16th 2017. For tickets at $45.00, please call (646) 366-9340. For further information, please visit https://www.causecelebre.info/events. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Angel and Echoes” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday, May 7, 2016)

Photo: Avital Lvova stars in "Angel & Echoes" at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Angel and Echoes” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday, May 7, 2016)
By Henry Naylor
Directed by Michael Cabot (“Angel”) and Emma Butler (“Echoes”)
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“For this is my connection, the community of humanity.” – Shamira in “Echoes”

Afghanistan. Syria. Syrian refugees. Jihadism. Expansionism. Colonialism. Afghanistan. Ipswich, Suffolk, England. Which of these has not been in the national news during the past two weeks? Ipswich. The remaining locations, events, and ideologies have all commanded the attention of the global community in recent weeks: they also inhabit the scenes of Henry Naylor’s dramatic pair “Angel and Echoes” currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of their annual Brits Off Broadway Festival.

This “well decorated” pair is part of Mr. Naylor’s “Arabian Nightmares Trilogy” that has erupted from The Edinburgh Fringe and traversed the UK and NYC. Set in Ipswich, Syria, and Afghanistan, “Angel & Echoes” rehearses the tragic repercussions of jihadism, radicalization, and colonialism in the Middle East – and beyond. The plays also focus on the relationship between women and men, sexism, and sex trafficking. These are deeply disturbing plays that raise a significant number of enduring questions. For example, when is one doing one’s god’s will and when is one an apostate? How does one know what any god’s will is? Who makes that decision? What does it mean to triumph under one’s own terms? The importance of Mr. Naylor’s work is not in his complicated details but in the underbelly of the connection to “the community of humanity.”

In “Echoes” two women leave their home in Ipswich, England to fulfill what they see as their “mission” in life. Both are 17 years old. Samira (Serena Manteghi) is Muslim and leaves her Ipswich home with her friend Beegum to marry Akeem and, in Akeems’s words, “fulfill God’s purpose.” Tillie (Rachel Smyth) is a Christian living in Victorian times and leaves her Ipswich home to marry in India. On her way, she meets The Lieutenant and ends up in Afghanistan to do God’s work, in the Lieutenant’s words “to spread our peace, wealth and civilization through Commerce.” Tillie has been “Thrashing around, trying to find a man. For my Christian desire is to produce children for the Empire.” One would assume both young women will find satisfying ways to fulfill their lofty aspirations. One comes to discover neither does.

In “Angel” Rehana (Avital Lvova) defends her Syrian home of Kobane from the incursion of Isis and learns from one called The Commander that “If you don’t fight them, that’s the system of Justice which will prevail. If you don’t fight, you facilitate; if you facilitate, you collaborate.” Rehana never realizes her wish to become an attorney, nor does she fulfill her father’s dream to run the family farm. She does, however, get to use the skills in weaponry her father insisted she learn. Her commitment to the women soldiers fighting the rapists, religious bigots, and the radicalized is daunting and captivating.

Under the direction of Emma Butler (“Echoes”) and Michael Cabot (“Angel”), the three actors tell these stories with passion and considerable energy. They play the parts of all the characters involved in their stories and do their best to differentiate between that cast of characters. Because of the complexity of the stories, it is sometimes difficult to keep track of who is speaking. Additionally, the actors speak so rapidly, some of the important narrative is lost. Their stories, however, remain important and connect on deep levels to the current political struggles in the Middle East – and elsewhere.

ANGEL AND ECHOES

“Angel & Echoes” is produced by Redbeard Theatre Ltd. with Gilded Balloon Production. The cast of “Angel” features Avital Lvova. The cast of ‘Echoes” features Serena Manteghi, and Rachel Smyth. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Angel & Echoes” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, May 7, 2017. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Friday at 7:15 p.m.; Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:15 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, April 16, 2017

Broadway Review: “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Lyceum Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 3, 2017

Photo: Jonathan Sayer, Greg Tannahill, Henry Lewis, Dave Hearn, and Charlie Russell. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Broadway Review: “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Lyceum Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 3, 2017)
Co-Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields
Directed by Mark Bell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

During the April 2, 2000 matinee performance of Julie Taymor’s “Green Bird” at the Cort Theatre, a flying wall accidently struck actor Reg. E. Cathey during a set change in the dark. This unexpected interruption resulted in the cancellation of the performance and sent Cathey to the hospital for x-rays. Fortunately, the actor was not seriously hurt and was reported to be joking about the incident afterward. The audience, however, did not respond with laughter but deep concern for the actor. In 2006, during a performance of “Lestat” the sliding walls of Derek McLain’s stunning set failed to move on cue and the scene restarted several times. The audience did not laugh. And there is no need to rehearse the numerous set malfunctions in the early days of “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark” that resulted in groans from the audience.

On April 10, 2017, “Playbill” featured an article “60 Actors Reveal Their Worst Flubbed Lines and Onstage Mishaps.” The article reviews missed cues, costume malfunctions, going up on lines, shouts from audience members, miss-firing stage guns, and delayed lighting cues. These “mishaps” occur onstage frequently but many of them go unnoticed by the audience: not so in “The Play That Goes Wrong,” currently running on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, where things that can go wrong on stage are meant to be seen (and heard) and the audience is encouraged to laugh lustily at things one cannot normally laugh at in the theatre.

Although plenty goes wrong in the Cornley University Drama Society’s “The Murder at Haversham Manor” (the play within the play) nothing goes wrong in the play entitled “The Play That Goes Wrong.” Under Mark Bell’s direction, the ensemble cast delivers a high-energy, brilliantly acted farce that celebrates the magic of the theatre by highlighting its foibles – a resplendent conception concocted by writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields.

After greeting the audience, Cornley’s director and head of the Drama Society (Chris Bean/Henry Shields) shares, “We are particularly excited to present this play because, for the first time in the society’s history, we’ve managed to find a play that fits the number of society members perfectly. If we’re honest a lack of members has sometimes hampered past productions, such as last year’s Chekov play ... ‘Two Sisters’. Last Christmas’ ‘The Lion and the Wardrobe’ or indeed our summer musical ‘Cat.’”

What follows is the Society’s production of the “who-done-it” murder mystery “The Murder at Haversham Manor” which is boldly reminiscent of the impeccably executed physical comedy of Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, and Jonathan Winters. Pratfalls, broad humor, and exaggerated situations abound, often taking parts of the set with them. Slapstick here is elevated to new levels as those gathered at the Manor try to discern who murdered Charles Haversham (Jonathan Harris/Greg Tannahill) and who – if anyone is having an affair with his fiancé Florence Colleymoore (Sandra Wilkinson/Charlie Russell).

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is a gift to the audience members: two hours to let their guard down and allow themselves to laugh again – just a short time, but time enough to escape all that is going wrong in the political landscape across the country and the globe.

Nigel Hook’s set design is key to the play’s success. Unfortunately, there are problems with sight lines. A sizeable number of audience members sitting audience left saw nothing of the humor surrounding the mantle – or lack thereof. It is not immediately clear how this can be addressed at this point but it is a serious flaw oddly overlooked by the creative team. That said, “The Play That Goes Wrong” is not to be missed. Your brain will thank you for the resplendent release of endorphins and the boost in happiness and wellbeing.

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is produced on Broadway by Kevin McCollum, J.J. Abrams, Kenny Wax, Stage Presence Ltd. and Catherine Schreiber.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” stars the original West End cast featuring Matthew Cavendish, Bryony Corrigan, Rob Falconer, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill and Nancy Zamit (the role of Annie was played by Bryony Corrigan at the Thursday. April 6th 7:00 p.m. performance).

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is directed by Mark Bell, featuring set design by Nigel Hook, lighting design by Ric Mountjoy, sound design by Andy Johnson and costume design by Roberto Surace. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” runs at the Lyceum Theatre (146 West 45th Street, between Broadway and 6th Avenue). For further information including performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit the play’s official website at http://www.broadwaygoeswrong.com/. Running time is 2 hours, including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, April 10, 2017

Off-Broadway Review:

Photo: Gary McNair in "A Gamblers Guide to Dying." Credit: Benjamin Cowie.
Off-Broadway Review: "A Gambler's Guide to Dying" at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 23, 2017)
Written and Performed by Gary McNair
Directed by Gareth Nicholls
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And yet we have been here. And yet we remain. We remain in the genes of our children, everything we build and destroy, the people we touch, songs we sing, the stories we tell and leave behind. We echo into the ages and that has to be enough because it's all we have.” – Narrator

In the Boy’s “first ever class in high school,” his Moral and Philosophical Studies teacher Mr. McTavish says, ““There are two guarantees in life – you are born, and you die.” In an electrifying and emotionally charged seventy minutes, Gary McNair explores the vicissitudes of the human experience through the engaging story of a young man (the Boy) and his grandad (Archie) who was “a cheat, a liar, an addict, a Hero, a storyteller.” He was also a gambler – one who might have been a candidate for a twelve-step program – whose journey is a trope for the wonder of winning through the rigors of risk-taking.

“A Gambler’s Guide to Dying,” the first installment in the 2017 Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters, is the remarkable solo show by Gary McNair a young master storyteller who not only has a keen grasp on rhetorical devices but also knows how to employ those devices in a solo performance. Utilizing the rhetorical triangle of ethos, logos, and pathos, Mr. McNair’s tale crosses generational lines to celebrate the enduring quest to live and make a difference between the time we are born and the time we die.

Mr. McNair’s storytelling is subtle in its approach skillfully using repetition and parallel structure to raise rich enduring questions about whether humans can do anything about the way things will happen in their lives. Under the judicious direction of Gareth Nicholls, Gary McNair commands every inch of the set with an authentic and believable performance. The audience members care deeply about the Boy and Archie and see in these characters their own struggles to “control” life’s randomness and chaos.

In addition to narrating the story, Mr. McNair enacts the role of the protagonists – Boy and Archie – and Wee Mad Terry, Punters (solitary and numbers 1, 2, and 3), Roddy ‘Knuckles’ McGin, Rusty, Mr. McNair, and others. These well-developed characters have conflicts that drive an engaging plot that captures life’s comedic and tragic experiences and that connect to the audience in a deep and meaningful way. Everyone has placed bets on the present and the future. Archie’s style of betting gives the audience the opportunity to grapple with a complex character and appreciate “the complicated sum of his parts.”

Gary McNair provides a fascinating guide to living and dying through the eyes of a gambler who – though at the close of his life had “no win, no money, no fortune, no glamour, no glory” – managed to teach the Boy the value of coming to terms with the realization that despite all we try to do to deny our mortality “we all must go.”

“And yet we have been here. And yet we remain. We remain in the genes of our children, everything we build and destroy, the people we touch, songs we sing, the stories we tell and leave behind. We echo into the ages and that has to be enough because it's all we have.” And perhaps it is all we need to have in a world that seems unable to hold on to its center.

A GAMBLER’S GUIDE TO DYING

The design team for “A Gambler’s Guide to Dying” includes Simon Hayes (lighting design) and Michael John McCarthy (sound design, composer). The production stage manager is Fiona Johnston. Production photos by Benjamin Cowie.

Produced by Show And Tell, with support from Creative Scotland, Made In Scotland, and the Traverse Theatre, “A Gambler’s Guide to Dying” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday April 23, 2017. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Please note there is an added performance on Sunday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 - $35.00 ($20.00 - $24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, April 9, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Daniel’s Husband” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Friday April 28, 2017)

Photo: Ryan Spahn, Matthew Montelongo, Leland Wheeler and Lou Liberatore. Credit: James Leynse.
Off-Broadway Review: “Daniel’s Husband” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Friday April 28, 2017)
By Michael McKeever
Directed by Joe Brancato
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The thing was, I was really good at it. And I loved it. I just loved being able to . . . I don’t know . . . make someone more comfortable. Make some of their pain go away. And it wasn’t just because it was someone I loved. It was . . . the fact that I was in control. That I could make that kind of impact on someone’s life. It was empowering.” – Trip

It is the playwright’s responsibility to have a theme in mind when writing a play: the play needs to be about something. If titles are important – and they are indeed – then “Daniel’s Husband,” currently running at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre, is about forty-something writer Mitchell Howard (Matthew Montelongo) the “partner” of architect Daniel Bixby (Ryan Spahn). Assuming Mr. McKeever’s play is in fact about Daniel’s “husband,” what is it about Mitchell that makes a good play?

Mitchell and Daniel have been a couple for seven years. Early in the play, at a dinner party at their home, Mitchell makes it clear he does not “believe in Gay Marriage.” His clarity includes an extended argument that embarrasses Daniel and angers him. What does Daniel believe in? Just prior to the play’s climax – the turning point of “Daniel’s Husband” the creative team prefers critics not reveal – Mitchell asks Daniel, “I love you! Why can’t that be enough? Why do we have to get married?” Daniel’s impassioned plea initiates the falling action, “Because it’s not enough anymore to call you my partner. I can’t keep calling you my lover or my companion. Damn it Mitchell, I want to call you my husband!”

Mitchell’s justification is not substantiated. In response to Trip’s query about Mitchell’s resistance to marriage, Mitchell boasts, “But I like being singled out. I like being different. I love being unique in a world that’s full of ‘normal.’” However, Mr. McKeever’s character is anything but different. This inconsistency in character development is typical of the inconsistencies in the entire script.

The play begins with the above-mentioned dinner party and is the source of the kind of well-placed foreshadowing that will result in a chorus of “Why didn’t I see that” queries. Daniel and Mitchell are hosting Mitchell’s best friend (and agent) Barry Dylon (Lou Liberatore) and his new young boyfriend Trip (Leland Wheeler) who is an in-home healthcare specialist (“I go to people’s homes to take care of them. Stroke victims, that sort of thing”) and a fan of Mitchell’s gay novels. In fact, Barry picked Trip up at the local “Whole Foods Coffee Bar reading [Mitchell’s] ‘Rainbow Joe.’” This opening scene is meant to be funny – and many found it so – but it is brimming with what a completely straight audience might imagine a room full of gay men to look and sound like. It could not be more television sit-com in conception and dramatic realization.

Daniel’s mother Lydia (Anna Holbrook) visits Daniel and Mitchell often and proves to be overbearing and controlling. There is not much more that can be said about this annoying and selfish character except that she is yet another stereotype in playwright Michael McKeever’s canon of characters. Of all the cast members, Leland Wheeler fares best as the young Trip. Mr. Wheeler gives his oft maligned character (Mitchell carps, “He can cut his own food?) a depth and authenticity that is refreshing and welcomed. One can care for Trip – something difficult to do for the remaining characters whose exposition makes it difficult for the actors to portray with believability.

Brian Prather’s set design is adequate although it does not necessarily reflect the best effort of “an award-winning architect” to restore and decorate his “perfectly appointed home.” Jennifer Caprio’s costume design and Christina Watanabe’s lighting design successfully support director Joe Brancato’s staging.

If “Daniel’s Husband” is about anything, it should be to highlight the fragility of life, the tenderness of relationships, and Mitchell’s unwillingness to honor either theme. Mitchell is not a likeable character and that makes connecting to Mr. McKeever’s play more difficult. For some reason, the audience seems to overlook this significant problem and satisfies with the tangential themes of gay marriage, nasty mothers and mothers-in-law, vapid conversation, and gay stereotypes ad nauseam. One more glass of wine and/or scotch and the stage hands would have to replenish the stock.

“Daniel’s Husband” is also about making choices and the importance of accepting the consequences of those choices. Mitchell’s decision to deny Daniel the simple courtesy of marrying him has life-changing consequences. What happens to Daniel after Mitchell returns from dropping off Lydia at the airport changes the future of this couple forever. Unfortunately, because of the shallow characterizations, it is difficult to care for any of these characters despite their potentially important conflicts.

DANIEL’S HUSBAND

The cast of “Daniel’s Husband” features Anna Holbrook, Lou Liberatore, Matthew Montelongo, Ryan Spahn, and Leland Wheeler.

“Daniel’s Husband” features set design by Brian Prather, costume design by Jennifer Caprio, lighting design by Christina Watanabe, sound design by William Neal, and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production photos by.

“Daniel’s Husband” runs at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Friday April 28, 2017 on the following schedule: Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Exceptions: There will be additional performances on Saturday, April 8 at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, April 15 at 2:00 p.m., Tuesday, April 25 at 8:00 p.m. and Wednesday, April 26 at 2:00 p.m. There will be no 8:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, April 5 or Wednesday, April 26. Single tickets for “Daniel’s Husband” are priced at $70.00 and available at www.PrimaryStages.org or by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101. Running time is 95 minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Church & State” at New World Stages (Open-Ended Engagement)

Pictured L to R: Nadia Bowers, Christa Scott-Reed. Credit Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “Church & State” at New World Stages (Open-Ended Engagement)
By Jason Odell Williams
Directed by Markus Potter
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Following the inauguration of the forty-fifth President of the United States, not a day goes by without listening to Members of Congress – from both sides of the aisle – airing their points of view on all things Trump on national television. Among the chorus of regional dialects is the unmistakable Southern drawl with a twang that seems able to convince listeners to adhere to almost any political agenda. Many of these politicians from the South are members of a privileged class and some of those seem to have lost their way in the maze of unfulfilled promises. At first glance, the fictional Senator Charles Whitmore (Rob Nagle) from North Carolina appears to be one of those “good old boys” who have populated politics for generations.

“Church & State,” currently running at New World Stages, highlights the reelection campaign of Senator Whitmore including his ultimate speech before the election and his post-election acceptance speech. Neither of those speeches pleases his campaign manager Alex Klein (played with charismatic confidence by Christa Scott-Reed) or his wife Sara (played with a disarming honesty by Nadia Bowers) both of whom have abandoned truth for success. The Senator’s first term as a Republican Senator curries favor from the middle-to-far-right constituency that “believes in” the Second Amendment and firmly believes the First Amendment has less to do with the establishment of a national religion and more to do with placing an unsuspecting citizenry in the clutches of the Christian right. Whitmore serves a God-and-Country electorate.

The run for his second term would have been the same had it not been for the shooting at the local elementary school attended by his own children and his attendance at the funeral of the children of his friends who died in that senseless shooting. That event transforms Whitmore and leads him to question not only his faith but his political beliefs and his marriage as well. It is a mid-life crisis on steroids and Rob Nagle portrays the Senator’s dilemma with extraordinary authenticity and strength. Mr. Nagle’s bravura performance is the fulcrum of Jason Odell Williams’s engaging play. Although the themes of Mr. Williams’s play are not unfamiliar, recognizing the sanctity of truth over conventional wisdom is given renewed importance by this actor’s craft.

Truth wins as does the Senator in his reelection bid and when it comes time for his acceptance speech, his campaign manager and wife assume a return to all things conventional would be in order. Why can’t Charles Whitmore simply roll-back his “liberal” promises and not risk any more rocking of the boat? Revealing what happens during the acceptance speech would require a spoiler alert: it is enough to say it is a surprise and deeply disturbing and truly transformative.

David Goldstein’s set is functional but overreaches when it extends the green room of North Carolina State and the university’s auditorium into the audience space. The strength of “Church & State” resides in Mr. Williams’s script not in placing the audience in the auditorium. Burke Brown’s lighting design and Dianne K. Graebner’s costume design are both appropriate and support the action of the play. Jonathan Louis Dent plays his multiple roles with just the right differences in character attributes.

Under Markus Potter’s even direction, “Church & State” is a worthy examination of the values needed to be in the service of the public in America at this pivotal point in its history and the play raises several significant enduring questions deserving answers.

CHURCH & STATE

Directed by Markus Potter, the cast features Nadia Bowers, Jonathan Louis Dent, Rob Nagle, and Christa Scott-Reed.

The creative team includes David Goldstein (scenic design), Burke Brown (lighting design), Dianne K. Graebner (costume design), and Erik T. Lawson (sound design). Sofia Montgomery is Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Russ Rowland.

“Church & State” will play the following performance schedule: Monday at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday - Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $59.00 - $105.00 and are available for purchase through Telecharge.com/212-239-6200. They may also be purchased in person at the New World Stages Box Office (340 West 50th Street. Visit www.newworldstages.com for box office hours. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, April 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Emperor Jones” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday April 23, 2017)

Photo: Andy Murray and Obi Abili. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Emperor Jones” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday April 23, 2017)
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Ain't a man's talkin' big what makes him big-long as he makes folks believe it? [Sure], I talks large when I ain't got nothin' to back it up, but I ain't talkin' wild just [the] same. I knows I kin fool 'em—I knows it—and [that's] backin' enough [for] my game.” – Brutus Jones

It is not easy to watch Eugene O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones,” the groundbreaking 1920 play currently running at the Irish Repertory Theatre. The connections to the current political climate in the United States are remarkable and somewhat frightening. The machinations in Washington and those in a West Indian palace in 1915 reverberate with familiar chords of civic discord.

Former Pullman porter Brutus Jones (Obi Abili) emigrates to an island in the West Indies, overthrows the island’s chief Lem (played with the perfect vengeful core by Carl Hendrick Louis) and, with the assistance of Cockney trader Henry Smithers (played with privileged arrogance by Andy Murray), establishes himself as the undisputed Emperor of the island. Emperor Jones arrives with a rather checkered past: he murdered his friend Jeff – with a “razor cut” – after a fight over a game of dice. “I knows I done wrong,” Jones confesses, “I knows it! When I [caught] Jeff cheatin' [with] loaded dice my anger overcomes me and I kills him dead!” Unwilling to spend his full twenty-year sentence in prison, Jones hits the chain-gang guard with his shovel and escapes. Crooked Jones – undeterred by his own probable enslavement – subjects the islanders to oppression and demagoguery.

Despite Emperor Jones’s skullduggery, his “subjects” tire of his abuse and conspire to “catch” him and kill him. “The Emperor Jones” follows the dictator’s path after he discovers his time is almost up and he flees his palace leaving Smithers behind. Under Ciarán O’Reilly’s inventive direction, Obi Abili delivers an engaging adrenaline-driven performance as the Emperor on the run for his life. The actor successfully embodies the psychological and physical unraveling of a despot determined to cheat defamation and death. Mr. O’Reilly has chosen to “cast” the scenes from Brutus Jones’s past with puppets and masks (designed by Bob Flanagan) and trees moved about the stage by the remarkable ensemble cast(choreographed by Barry McNabb). Charlie Corcoran’s set is a stunning representation of the mindscape of madness with its crevices eerily illuminated by Brian Nason.

As the rhythm of the drum beat changes from the normal heart rate of seventy-two beats per minute to an earsplitting cadency, Brutus Jones’s chances of escaping the restless residents of the island diminish. The former Emperor is forced to come to terms with his past and – after a high-spirited dance by the Witch Doctor (played with a mesmerizing spirit by Sinclair Mitchell) – he refuses to offer himself to the crocodile (Reggie Talley) as the sacrifice needed to atone for his “sins” and completely empties his revolver and flees. Eventually he is captured, killed, and at dawn returned to the edge of the Great Forest.

“The Emperor Jones,” despite its rich themes and enduring questions, is not without problems. In his efforts to address the evils of racism, Eugene O’Neill resorts to language that is racist (this is not the colloquial diction of Zora Neale Hurston) and a purely psychological reading of the play is problematic. Seen through the political critical lens, however, the play provides a treasure trove of redemptive conversation concerning the dangers of autocracy and despotism. Emperor Jones exhibits narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity, the authoritarian mandate, and likely could be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (DSM IV 301.81). Images of tyrants from the past (and present) with that same disorder ricochet off the Forest’s “creatures of the night” and warn those “with eyes to see and ears to hear” to remain ever vigilant.

THE EMPEROR JONES

The cast of “The Emperor Jones” features Obi Abili, William Bellamy, Carl Hendrick Louis, Sinclair Mitchell, Angel Moore, Andy Murray, and Reggie Talley.

The production features choreography by Barry McNabb, lighting design by Brian Nason, set design by Charlie Corcoran, costume design by Antonia Ford Roberts and Whitney Locher, sound design and music by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab, additional music by Christian Frederickson, and puppet and mask design by Bob Flanagan. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“The Emperor Jones” runs at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage through Sunday April 23, 2017 on the following schedule: Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets range from $50.00-$70.00 and are available through Irish Rep’s box office at 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes without intermission.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, April 1, 2017

Broadway Review: “Miss Saigon” at the Broadway Theatre (Through January 13, 2018)

Photo: Alistair Brammer as Chris and Eva Noblezada as Kim. Credit: Matthew Murray.
Broadway Review: “Miss Saigon” at the Broadway Theatre (Through January 13, 2018)
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil with Additional Lyrics by Michael Mahler
Directed by Laurence Connor
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The 2017 Broadway revival of “Miss Saigon” raises rich and deep enduring questions. Based on Giacomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” the mammoth musical has enjoyed decades of success – as has Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s “Les Miserables.” Success aside, the questions remain: What is the “ultimate sacrifice” one human being can make for another? What are the moral parameters involved in making that sacrifice? Who is a Broadway show for? Is a production “for” the audience or “for” the actors and creative team? Why are some Broadway shows more controversial than others? What makes a Broadway show controversial? Should such controversy – legitimate as it might be – overshadow a show’s important themes?

Ongoing controversies surrounding “Miss Saigon” involve orientalism, misogyny, racism, casting controversies, and patronization. Despite these concerns, the theme of ultimate sacrifice remains significant and gives the musical relevance. And, of course, there is the helicopter.

Yes, the helicopter has once again landed on the stage of the Broadway Theater in the new production of the mega musical – the first revival in twenty-six years since the musical’s first controversial arrival in 1991. The discord that plagued the opening almost three decades ago involved the less than diverse cast. Anglo actors were hired to portray Asian characters instead of enlisting actors from the significant pool of qualified Asian performers available to producers. In general, it appears diversity has begun to propagate the stage as has more non-traditional casting; therefore, it is important to acknowledge the more appropriate casting of this “Miss Saigon.” Although not in the category of the controversial, this 1991 operatic pop version of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” did launch Lea Salonga into theatrical stardom. Enough of history: on to the revival.

This latest incarnation, also produced by Cameron Mackintosh, is a bit grittier, but is still charged with enough theatrical panache to satisfy the tourist trade and live up to the hype of its predecessor. Although it offers no new initiative or perspective on the East meets West theme, what it does manage to provide is a mnemonic of the atrocities of war, the irresponsible behavior of the powerful, and the insensitivity toward different races and cultures. Director Laurence Connor stays on course, but occasionally lapses into derivative scenarios, like the lover’s balcony scene, the plight of fleeing immigrants, or the night in Bangkok. The result is a mediocre production, waffling between dirty and gritty, and polished and sensational, never committing to either.

What is a good reason for this revival is the discovery of Eva Noblezada who brings her endless vocal range to Kim. Ms. Noblezada’s performance is charged with emotion, whether kindling a pure, young innocent romantic or a mature, angry protective mother emitting the guttural tones of survival. Ms. Noblezada is the story and the dramatic arc, always growing, developing, and pushing forward to a decisive conclusion. In the pivotal role of The Engineer, Jon Jon Briones is entertaining, relying on vulgar physical movement and gyrations to define his character rather than trusting his intellect and emotional core. Perhaps this is intentional given the superficial content of “The American Dream.” Alistair Brammer brings an all-American look to the role of Chris but seems a bit too kinetic and neurotic, which makes the character confusing, sometimes incredible and escalating situations to melodrama. This possibly could be a directorial decision, since it occurs repeatedly under different circumstances.

It was a gift to see a large cast in this epic musical (more actors need to be employed), and they perform their roles with energy and commitment, always focused and supportive with their dance and vocals. The sound of the eighteen-piece orchestra conducted by James Moore was a pleasure. The important sound design by Mick Potter is clear and realistic and compliments the eclectic mood inducing lighting design of Bruno Poet. Choreography and musical staging by Bob Avian is sufficient but could be more inventive, depending too much on vulgarity rather than raw seduction and sexuality.

MISS SAIGON

The cast of “Miss Saigon” includes Jon Jon Briones, Eva Noblezada, Alistair Brammer, Katie Rose Clarke, Nicholas Christopher, Devin Ilaw, Rachelle Ann Go, Jace Chen, Anne-Lee Wright, Kimberly-Ann Truong, Tiffany Toh, Catherine Ricafort, Minami Yusui, Emily Bautista, Paige Faure, Ericka Hunter, Lina Lee, Colby Dezelick, Taurean Everett, Graham Scott Fleming, Casey Garvin, Nkrumah Gatling, Dan Horn, Casey Lee Ross, Antoine L. Smith, Sam Strasfeld, Travis Ward-Osborne, Warren Yang, Julian DeGuzman, Paul Heesang Miller, Robert Pendilla, Christopher Vo, Jason Sermonia, Billy Bustamante, Adam Kaokept, and Kei Tsuruharatani.

“Miss Saigon” is directed by Laurence Connor with musical staging by Bob Avian and additional choreography by Geoffrey Garratt. Production design is by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley based on an original concept by Adrian Vaux; costume design by Andreane Neofitou; lighting design by Bruno Poet; sound design by Mick Potter; and projections by Luke Halls. Orchestrations are by William David Brohn; musical supervision by Stephen Brooker and musical direction by James Moore. Casting is by Tara Rubin Casting / Merri Sugarman CSA. Production photos by Matthew Murray.

Tickets are available at www.saigonbroadway.com and at www.telecharge.com or by phone at (212) 239-6200 or (800) 447-7400 and at the Broadway Theatre box office (1681 Broadway between 52nd and 53rd Streets). Tickets range from $39 to $165. “Miss Saigon” will perform Monday through Saturday evenings, with matinees Wednesday and Saturdays. Visit www.saigonbroadway.com for exact show times and dates. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 30, 2017

Broadway Review: “Sweat” Evaporates Quickly at Studio 54 (Through Sunday September 17, 2017)

Photo: (L to R) Carlo Albán, John Earl Jelks, James Colby, Johanna Day, Michelle Wilson, and Alison Wright. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Sweat” Evaporates Quickly at Studio 54 (Through Sunday September 17, 2017)
By Lynn Nottage
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Sweat,” currently running on Broadway at Studio 54, seems to be a play about not what it is assumed to be about. It is not about post-election politics. It is not about the history of factory closings in America’s rust belt or the pandemic of brokenness in American cities. “Sweat” is about human brokenness, the kind of brokenness that results from making poor choices and from not caring about one’s neighbor. It is about the kind of brokenness when unconditional love and non-judgmental love are eclipsed by selfishness and mistrust.

Playwright Lynn Nottage’s play begins with parallel meetings on September 29, 2008 between parole officer Evan (Lance Coadie Williams) and two of his parolees: Jason (Will Pullen) and Chris (Khris Davis). What is clear is that these two young men – who know each other – have done something terribly wrong together and have been released from prison. That experience has left one of them penitent and remorseful (Chris) and the other unrepentant and without remorse (Jason). What is not clear is what the friends did to land in prison for eight years and why Jason is so reluctant to reconnect with Chris.

Clarity is supposed to come from the flashbacks to the year 2000, flashbacks that occur primarily in the neighborhood bar where Jason and his mother Tracey (Johanna Day), Chris and his mother Cynthia (Michelle Wilson) and his estranged addicted father Brucie (John Earl Jelks), and their mother’s co-worker Jessie (Alison Wright) gather after work at Olstead’s the steel-tubing factory where they are all employed. In these scenes – from January through November 2000 – Ms. Nottage provides the exposition that leads up to the critical moment when the audience discovers the unspeakable crime Jason and Chris commit.

The remaining characters in “Sweat” are the bartender Stan (James Colby) who was badly injured when working at the factory and his assistant Oscar (Carlo Albán). Stan has had a long-term crush on Tracey and is a gentle giant of a soul who listens with compassion to the concerns of his patrons who worry about the future of their factory jobs in an uncertain economy and worry about the motivation of their profit-driven management. Ms. Nottage has included an abundance of detail about the plight of hardworking Americans who have assumed they would retire with sizeable pensions from the factories where they worked (and some of their parents worked) all their lives. The difficulty with “Sweat” is that these characters seem to be stock composites of all those the playwright interviewed and they are not all likeable. In fact, it is an arduous tack to care for them or their conflicts.

Ms. Nottage’s characters are not universally “good” people. They have long histories of making poor choices and not learning from their mistakes. They have seen opportunities pass them by. They are mean-spirited and vengeful. Some of them are racists and their racism does not stem from economic disparities. They are often deplorable and treat one another in deplorable ways. They are caricatures of working class Americans and the actors that portray them are caricatures. They are not believable and therefore, their conflicts – as important as those are – seem less than engaging and authentic.

There are exceptions. Stan is a believable character. As is Oscar. Even Jason, despite his collusion with Chris’s crime, is “real.” Oscar is the brunt of an onslaught of racism from the other characters. Tracey assumes he is Puerto Rican and, therefore, might know someone who could burn her house down for her. Oscar is Colombian and born in America. And when he tries to warn the others that management is hiring non-union workers, they ignore him. Tracey tells Oscar, “Listen, that piece of paper that you’re holding is an insult, it don’t mean anything, Olstead’s isn’t for you.” Later, when they are shut out of the factory and Oscar goes to work full-time, they label him a “scab” and shun him. In fact, it is Oscar’s employment that initiates the horrific act committed by Jason and Chris.

Under Kate Whoriskey’s uneven direction, the cast of “Sweat” – except Mr. Albán and Mr. Colby – deliver flat performances. They are not fully to blame, however: the story line is predictable and there is really nothing new in Ms. Nottage’s examination of the matrix of inequities in the lives of working class Americans.

John Lee Beatty’s set design is perfect as is Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting design. The plight of the working poor and the unemployed deserves to be exposed and narrated with pathos, logos, and ethos. Unfortunately, “Sweat” is too predictable and contrived to accomplish that task.

SWEAT

“Sweat” is produced on Broadway by Stuart Thompson and Louise Gund.

The cast of “Sweat” includes Carlo Alban, James Colby, Khris Davis, Johanna Day, John Earl Jelks, Will Pullen, Lance Coadie Williams, Michelle Wilson, and Alison Wright.

The creative team for “Sweat” features John Lee Beatty (scenic design), Jennifer Moeller (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (sound design), and Jeff Sugg (projection design). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets are available via Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or the Studio 54 Box Office (254 West 54th Street). Box office hours are Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Ticket prices range from $59 - $149. The performance schedule is Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. The run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba: William Inge in Repertory” at Transport Group Theatre Company at the Gym at Judson (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)

Photo: Ginna Le Vine and David T. Patterson in "Picnic." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba: William Inge in Repertory” at Transport Group Theatre Company at the Gym at Judson (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)
By William Inge
Directed by Jack Cummings III
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba: William Inge in Repertory” at Transport Group Theatre Company at the Gym at Judson leaves one longing for more William Inge and more Transport Group – perhaps a trifecta that includes the 1955 “Bus Stop.” Inge’s themes of deep angst, “small ambition,” the search for identity and purpose, lost (or abandoned) youth, choices and consequences, human sexuality and sexual repression, addiction and enabling, loneliness, and change and transformation pervade these two engaging and relevant plays.

Despite the post-war mid-western settings, the desperate starkness of Inge’s plays is particularly relevant and challenging in this post-election era in the United States – at a time when the nation is searching for its identity and purpose and experiencing the consequences of political choices on the national and global stages. Personal and corporate angst could not be more acute.

In the 1953 “Picnic,” both Madge (Ginna Le Vine) and her tomboy sister Millie (Hannah Elless) respond to the distant train whistle with the hope for change. Madge confesses, “Whenever I hear that train coming to town, I always get a little feeling of excitement—in [my stomach].” Millie responds, “Whenever I hear it, I tell myself I’m going to get on it some day and go to New York.” But their mother Flo (Michele Pawk) reminds them “That train just goes as far as Tulsa.” Despite their longing for change, neither has yet made the kinds of choices that move fantasy into reality. It is the visit of the drifter Hal (David T. Patterson) that is the catalyst for change in “Picnic.” His unbridled sexuality and moral ambiguity become the transformative agents for each of the characters in the play and challenge their sexual oppression and unrealized ambitions. Madge’s boyfriend Alan (Rowan Vickers) and Rosemary’s (Emily Skinner) hapless suitor Howard (John Cariani) counterpoint Hal’s free-spirited grifter-soul and encounter Inge’s strong and progressive women in endearing battles for exploring the deep meanings of love and its loss.

Unbridled sexuality and sexual oppression are also important themes in the 1950 “Come Back, Little Sheba.” And again, it is the interjection of a young uninhibited male Turk (David T. Patterson) that challenges the dysfunctional family system in the home of Doc (Jospeh Kolinski) and Lola (Heather Mac Rae) and their boarder Marie (Hannah Elless) and her wealthy boyfriend Bruce (Rowan Vickers). Living with an alcoholic – or any other substance abuser or addict – cannot be an easy task. The danger for the spouse or relative is to enable the addict. Doc is an addict, an alcoholic. He is not a recovering alcoholic, he is an alcoholic who is in a twelve-step program. His wife Lola is his enabler. Their “shared addiction” is only the tip of complex family system generated by their “need” to marry after unwanted pregnancy many years ago. Doc is mired in sexual repression: he is so repressed and wound tight that he admonishes Lola for saying, “I’m not a bit tired tonight. You’d think after working so hard all day I’d be pooped.” Doc replies, “Baby, don’t use that word. It sounds vulgar.” And when Lola invites Doc to watch Marie and Turk “spooning,” Doc admonishes Lola, “Stop it, Baby. I won’t do it. It’s not decent to snoop around spying on people like that. It’s cheap and mischievous and mean.”

Meanwhile, Doc’s fetish with Marie’s scarf goes unbridled and eventually his repressed desire for her leads him to go off the wagon and block yet once again any opportunity for transformative change in their relationship. Throughout the play, Lola longs for the return of her “white and fluffy” little dog Sheba – her only source of true companionship and hopefulness. Like the train whistle in “Picnic,” Lola’s lost dog somehow articulates – but not completely heals – the emptiness, the gnawing in the soul of the characters in these important plays. In “Picnic,” Madge has to decide whether to follow Hal; in “Come Back, Little Sheba,” Lola has to decide when to stop waiting for Sheba’s return.

Stephen Mir, Krystal Rowley, Jay Russell, and David Greenspan round out the ensemble cast. R. Lee Kennedy’s lighting design, Asta Bennie Hostetter’s costume design, Miles Polaski’s sound design, and Michael John LaChiusa’s original music all complement the playwright’s exploration of the vicissitudes of the human condition inherent in the two plays.

Under Jack Cummings III’s direction, the members of the ensemble cast uniformly deliver authentic and believable performances in both plays. The director approaches each play differently. His direction in “Picnic” results in a fast-paced and smooth performance whereas he chooses to direct “Come Back, Little Sheba” broadly. There is no subtlety there and that detracts from the power of Inge’s script. For example, Emily Skinner’s Rosemary reveals her loneliness layer after layer allowing the audience to connect with her angst gradually whereas Heather Mac Rae’s Lola wears her depression and repressed anger “on her sleeve” leaving little to the imagination. These seem to be choices of the director, not the actor. In both plays, Dane Laffrey’s set designs allow the audience to “snoop” on the actors without guilt or shame and share in Mrs. Coffman’s realization, “I guess it just shows, we never really know what people are like.”

“Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba: William Inge in Repertory” at Transport Group Theatre Company at the Gym at Judson both raise rich and enduring questions about the human quest for purpose and identity in a time when individuality and freedom seem to be placed in harm’s way.

For further information, including cast, creative team, and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.transportgroup.org/ or phone 212 564 0333.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, March 26, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The View UpStairs” at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project (Through Sunday May 21, 2017)

Photo: Michael Longoria, Ben Mayne, Frenchie Davis, Benjamin Howes, and Nathan Lee Graham. Credit: Kurt Sneddon.
Off-Broadway Review: “The View UpStairs” at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project (Through Sunday May 21, 2017)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Max Vernon
Directed by Scott Ebersold
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Forty years ago this place was a fabulously tacky gay bar with a life-sized cardboard cutout of nude Burt Reynolds hanging from the ceiling. It was a church. There was live music and dancing, hustlers, drag queens, even a mother who came with her son. It was a community of people who were funny, and brave, and full of life.” – Wes

The present (2017) and the past (1973) collide and although they never quite harmonize, the past enriches the present and gives it hope and purpose in Max Vernon’s new musical “The View UpStairs” currently running at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project. The musical begins in 1973 in the New Orleans gay bar “UpStairs Lounge” (chuck full of cultural accoutrement by set designer Jason Sherwood). Lounge regular Buddy (played with a short-fused likeability by Randy Redd) a fifty-something closeted married guy is behind the piano joined by the bartender Henri (played with a toughness underscored by deep compassion by Frenchie Davis) and the bar’s regulars. They celebrate the importance of this sacred space and affirm, “I think I found some kind of paradise.” Suddenly, the scene shifts to the present without the past really exiting.

In 2017, Wes (played with a disarming charm and vulnerability by Jeremy Pope) leaves Brooklyn and comes (returns) to New Orleans to make a fresh start. His time in New York City has not been satisfying and he feels like a failure. At twenty-seven, he seems to have lost his self-worth and has allowed his talent as a fashion designer go somewhat fallow. Wes purchases a building in New Orleans sight unseen to be the flagship of his new store “Haos” and at the beginning of the musical visits the property – the former UpStairs Lounge – for the first time. After sealing the deal with the realtor – and sharing a bit of history in his song “#householdname” – Wes examines his purchase more closely and the past “returns” and past and present co-exist until the musical’s closing scene.

The UpStairs Lounge is home to an eclectic group of individuals who form an intentional family that gathers for support and survival in a culture that is aggressively homophobic and a formidable threat to the LGBTQ community. It is difficult for Wes to understand the problems facing the gay community in the Nixon era and, at the same time, it saddens him to reflect on what he knows that community will face in its future – his past. Max Vernon’s musical is an engaging amalgam of magical realism and surrealism that allows the audience to see two histories counterpoint one another and inform each other “from a distance.” It is important to know that the events that inspired this musical are real, including the tragic events chronicled in the musical’s ending.

Each of Mr. Vernon’s characters is well developed and represents both a unique character and a “stock” character from the 1970s gay scene – a remarkable accomplishment for the musical’s creator and director Scott Ebersold. Wes meets runaway hustler Patrick (played with a steely sweetness by Taylor Frey) and begins to discover his ability to fall in love. Willie (played with his trademark charm and believability by Nathan Lee Graham) is the iconic wizened gay character able to connect across generations with his experience and perspective – he is here also in dementia’s grasp. Richard (played with a religiosity tempered with realism by Benjamin Howes) is the Metropolitan Community Church priest who tries to extend God’s love to the community’s loveless. Freddy (played with soulful charm and sadness by Michael Longoria) is a construction worker by day, doubling as the drag queen Aurora Whorealis by night. His mother Inez (played with a strident loving core by Nancy Ticotin) loves him unconditionally. And Dale (played with a tortured bleakness by Ben Mayne) is the “family’s” misfit: his homelessness and poverty and radical politics constantly challenge the patrons of the Lounge. He is ultimately thrown out after picking a fight with Buddy. And what he does afterwards is written in New Orleans history.

The power of Mr. Vernon’s musical is its unbridled and unabashed comparisons between the Nixon era and the Trump era and how each posed/poses threats to important personal freedoms. Reflecting on the future, Wes “warns” Patrick that “our president is going to be orange, and all of our personal data will float around above us in a giant invisible cloud.” And the piece’s strength also resides in its ability to use the reflection on the past to express the dangers of the present. At the end of “The View UpStairs,” Wes tells the cop (played with just the right amount of punch by Richard E. Waits) “They're killing us. Fifty people just died in Orlando, and we've already moved on like it never happened. Look at who's running this country! The people who spent their whole lives hating us and making us hate ourselves. Now they want us to all come together and hate Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, Blacks, Women, anyone who's different. The KKK is marching in the street again; our vice president believes in conversion therapy. That's the world we live in! We are not better!”

This is a musical with a matrix of authentic and engaging themes. It’s music, reminiscent of the 1970s, is haunting and the lyrics resonate with the joys and sorrows of past and present and establish a platform for evaluating the future. The Lounge’s “Theme Song” perhaps sums it up best: “If the heavens above you/Should come crashing down/Like a house of cards that the wind knocks/So easily to the ground/I’ll be right there beside you ‘til to the very end.” Let the people say “Amen.”

THE VIEW UPSTAIRS

For further information, including cast, creative team, performance schedule and ticketing, please visit http://www.theviewupstairs.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: Bated Breath Theatre Company’s “Beneath the Gavel” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 9, 2017

Photo: Sean Hinckle in "Beneath the Gavel" at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Will Gangi.
Off-Broadway Review: Bated Breath Theatre Company’s “Beneath the Gavel” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 9, 2017)
Written and Directed by Mara Lieberman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When one visits an art museum and stands in front of a painting – let us say Jeff Koons’s “Woman in Tub” – one reacts in one of perhaps three ways: the visitor “likes, just likes it” and snaps a digital image and moves on to another contemporary artist; the visitor pauses for some time and examines the work, deciding what to feel or to think about Mr. Koons; or the visitor dislikes the piece and makes a hasty retreat from woman, tub, and all things Koons. A visit to “Beneath the Gavel” currently running at 59E59 Theaters elicits a similar reaction.

Upon entering the theater, Stewart (Sean Hinkle) instructs the patron to “check in” at the registration desk before being seated. After being asked whether one is “pre-registered,” the patron is asked to select a pair of “auction glasses” and a bidding paddle. Obviously, the audience is going to be bidding on art during “Beneath the Gavel.” If registered, the patron is given a red envelope stuffed with “play money;” if not registered, the patron will be able to “catch” or pick up off the floor play money shot (literally) from gun-like devices with such force the edges of the bills could slice a patron’s face. This is the point it would be good to make a hasty retreat from the theater.

If one decides to stay and “examine” Mara Lieberman’s work, one is subjected to a convoluted “lesson” on the art of making a deal in the “art world” including inside secrets about art auctions from auctioneer Tracey (Missy Burmeister) and her cohorts and comments (in the second act) from contemporary artists and art aficionados. And all of this is embedded in the less than engaging storyline about Haddie Weisenberg (Debra Walsh) and her collection of works by young artist Daniel Zeigler (Corey Finzel).

Although the fictional account of artist and his subject has some moments of fun and “mocking” the art world can be the subject of a play, the effort does not coalesce here in “Beneath the Gavel.” The piece is perplexing and overwrought and the dizzying dance of actors climbing ladders and bouncing on trampolines simply does not add anything to the weak dramatic arc.

Early in “Beneath the Gavel,” Tracey presides over Auction #1, the sale of Daniel Zeigler’s “Woman of Troy” with the help of Charlotte (Moira O’Sullivan) taking phone bids, Geoff (Gabriel Aprea) spotting bids, and Stewart who sets up the easel. After the auction (one of three mock auctions in the play), Tracey asks the audience, “Did you feel the rush? You felt it. Didn’t you?” There was no rush and Ms. Burmeister’s Tracey quickly ad libs, “Well there certainly was a rush when you were grabbing the money off the floor.” The actor could not have been more astute in her observation: there was more interest in scooping up play money from the floor than there was interest in what was happening on stage.

The “bidders” leave the “auction house” having not seen a play, having not been at an art auction, and having learned little about the ins and outs of the world of contemporary art. The riff leaves one a bit miffed.

BENEATH THE GAVEL

The cast features Gabriel Aprea, Missy Burmeister, Corey Finzel, Sean Hinckle, Moira O'Sullivan, and Debra Walsh.

The design team includes Tim Golebiewski (set design); Jen Rock (lighting design); Gail Fresia (costume design); and Krista DeVellis (props design). The production stage manager is Elizabeth Ramsay. Production photos by Will Gangi.

“Beneath the Gavel” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, April 9. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes including an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Sundown, Yellow Moon” at Ars Nova and WP Theater (Through Saturday April 1, 2017)

Photo: Peter Friedman and Lilli Cooper. Credit: Ben Arons.
Off-Broadway Review: “Sundown, Yellow Moon” at Ars Nova and WP Theater (Through Saturday April 1, 2017)
By Rachel Bonds
Music and Lyrics by The Bengsons with Additional Lyrics by Rachel Bonds
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

At sundown, when objects lose their precise “black-and-white” identity, the yellow moon begins to assume the role of providing “light.” Moonlight is far more forgiving than sunlight – it is the light of all things Eastern, leaving the bright Western light to its own devices of conditional judgement. It is the salvific murkiness of the yellow moon that draws fraternal twins Ray (Eboni Booth) and Joey (Lilli Cooper) home to visit their father Tom (Peter Friedman). This journey is chronicled – with songs by the Bergsons) in Rachel Bonds’s “Sundown, Yellow Moon” currently running at Ars Nova and WP Theater.

“Sundown, Yellow Moon” is a gentle play that explores the intricacies and the intimacies of a particular homecoming, yet allows those exigencies to counterpoint the homecomings experienced by each member of the audience. Joey wants to visit her father before she’s off to Berlin to begin her Fulbright. Ray is concerned about her father who has been recently suspended from his private school teaching position. Tom got “in a fight with the headmaster and was yelling and I guess waving his arms around and accidentally backhanded the headmaster’s wife right in the face.”

During their visit, Ray reconnects with Carver (JD Taylor), Tom’s therapist, and Joey gets entangled in a tryst with Ted Driscoll (Greg Keller) who taught at the university when she was a student. Ted is married. This small college town in Tennessee seems full of sadness and despair and the homecoming becomes an opportunity for the beginnings of healing for all involved. Music is part of that healing process as is conversation. Ray comes to terms with her relationship with her boss (who is also a woman) and Joey begins to confront her own self-destructive history. Carver faces the abuse he suffered at the hands of his priest as young boy and begins a journey of healing that will enable him to be a better healer. Ted decides not “go deeper into the woods” and is, perhaps, the only static character in the play.

The difficulty with “Sundown, Yellow Moon” comes with the playwright’s decision not to develop her characters fully. Each appears as a snapshot of himself or herself without any deep exposition. For example, when Ted asks Joey how she differs from Ray, Joey quips, “We’re quite different actually. She’s a lesbian. And I like to run.” Nice to know, I guess, but not adequate character development.

The cast members deliver authentic performances and, although their conflicts are engaging and believable, there is not enough to drive a satisfying plot. The play is a tender look at a matrix of humans struggling with the vicissitudes of being human and – in that respect – successfully captures a broad swath of pathos that lays the foundation for a catharsis. However, without that catharsis, the dramatic arc falters.

Anne Kauffman’s direction is sensitive and embraces the sensitive core of the play. Lauren Helpern’s multi-level set design and Isabella Byrd’s lighting design support the variety of settings and time periods included in the play giving the shadows and the unseen leading roles.

“Sundown, Yellow Moon” pleases the senses but leaves the audience wanting to know its characters more fully that a passing glimpse from afar.

SUNDOWN, YELLOW MOON

The cast of “Sundown, Yellow Moon” includes Eboni Booth, Lilli Cooper, Peter Friedman, Greg Keller, Anne L. Nathan, Michael Pemberton, and JD Taylor.

The creative team includes Lauren Helpern (scenic design), Jessica Pabst (costume design), Isabella Byrd and Matt Frey (lighting design), Leah Gelpe (sound design) and Erin Gioia Albrecht (production stage manager). Casting by Caparelliotis Casting/ Lauren Port, CSA and Kelly Gillespie, CSA. Production photos by Ben Arons.

Performances of “Sundown, Yellow Moon” runs through Saturday April 1, 2017 at the McGinn/Cazale (WP Theater), located at 2162 Broadway at 76th Street in Manhattan, on the following schedule: Monday–Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday–Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 3:00 p.m. Regular priced tickets are $35.00 and can be purchased by visiting arsnovanyc.com, wptheater.org, or by calling 212-352-3101. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 20, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Chess Match No. 5” at Abingdon Theatre Company’s June Havoc Theatre (Through Sunday April 2, 2017)

Photo: Ellen Lauren (She) and Will Bond (He). Credit: Maria Baranova.
Off-Broadway Review: “Chess Match No. 5” at Abingdon Theatre Company’s June Havoc Theatre (Through Sunday April 2, 2017)
Text Arranged by Jocelyn Clarke from the Words of John Cage
Conceived and Directed by Anne Bogart
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Now, we don’t want to say, “Where do we come in?” or, “Where do we go out?” Because we would like, I think not to leave, but to stay here, now that we’re here. – He

There is nothing like watching theatre directed by SITI Company’s Anne Bogart. Her attention to detail is unparalleled and her signature staging that includes crisp and precise movement (choreography by the Company’s Barney O’Hanlon) is transformative. Ms. Bogart’s collaboration with Jocelyn Clarke results in a remarkable production “Chess Match No. 5” (the name of the composition by Darron L. West) currently playing at the Abingdon Theatre Company. This metaphoric world premiere gives Will Bond (He) and Ellen Lauren (She) the opportunity to hunker down (for a time) and – using the powerful trope of the chess game – “talk” the audience through a cathartic “rebirth of wonder” (Lawrence Ferlinghetti).

In the midst of the current political discussion about the possibility of espionage and “foreign” hacking of elections, it is chilling to hear a Cold war numbers station counting in Spanish at the beginning of “Chess Match No. 5” (repeated later in Russian) and be reminded how fragile freedom and safety are in the present and future of the nation and the world.

What might save us is conversation, the “turning with or turning together” two or more individuals, the back and forth of thoughts and words, precisely the kind of words gathered and arranged by Jocelyn Clarke from a variety of conversations John Cage had with the many who “came to speak with him.” “Chess Match No. 5” offers a kaleidoscope of the iconic composer and theorist’s words that equip the listener to appreciate and navigate the “great variety of musics” extant in the inner and outer environments.

One could spend pages dignifying the delicious set designed by James Schuette (who also designed the efficient and splendid costumes) and delineate the care given by Mr. Schuette to dignify the text and its visceral impact as the audience uses eyes and ears to consume John Cage’s sounds of silence. Or one could revel in Brian H. Scott’s lighting design that shines with impeccable discrimination on objects and actors. Many of those objects (a radio, a wall telephone, a toaster, an electric coffee percolator, spoons, coffee mugs) emit wondrous sounds at precise moments (and are amplified to perfection) through the sound direction of Darron L. West. However, it is the cumulative sensual assault of these skillful attributes that ultimately matters.

That “assault” is a bristling invitation to reimagine the importance of sound and silence and how those concepts differ – and how they are equivalent; to reimagine the importance of human interaction; to reimagine the possibility that “a time will come when [things] could get better;” to reimagine “the opportunity” “to find new surprises” as we “listen to the sound of the environment, whether it comes from the conveniences in the house or from the traffic outside;” and to reimagine a time when again the center will hold and a future is possible.

With smiles and precise gestures here, a few dances there, and with scintillating words everywhere, the remarkable talents of Will Bond and Ellen Lauren open the door to the possibility for members of the audience to rehearse their own conversations and create their own entrances and exits and the possibility of discovering places they choose not to leave. The number of chess matches is endless. No. 5 is just the beginning. “Chess Match No. 5” encapsulates a life-time relationship into one night and gives the audience member the opportunity to reflect on his or her own journey through significant encounters and the power words have had on those important passages.

CHESS MATCH NO. 5

Abingdon Theatre Company, under the artistic direction of Tony Speciale, presents the world premiere of “Chess Match No. 5,” conceived and directed by Anne Bogart, with text arranged by Jocelyn Clarke from the words of John Cage. The cast features Will Bond and Ellen Lauren.

The production includes choreography by Barney O'Hanlon, scenic and costume design by James Schuette, lighting design by Brian H Scott, and sound design by Tony Award-winner Darron L West. “Chess Match No. 5” was developed with support and insight from The John Cage Trust. Production photos by Maria Baranova.

“Chess Match No. 5” runs March 9-April 2: Tuesdays-Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., plus matinees Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. at Abingdon Theatre Company's June Havoc Theatre (312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues). Tickets are $55.00. For tickets, visit abingdontheatre.org or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, March 19, 2017

Broadway Review: Roundabout’s “The Price” at the American Airlines Theater (Through Sunday May 7, 2017)

Photo: Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shalhoub. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: Roundabout’s “The Price” at the American Airlines Theater (Through Sunday May 7, 2017)
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Terry Kinney
Reviewed by Michele Willens
Theatre Reviews Limited

The cast of four in Arthur Miller’s “The Price” is filled with glitter: Mark Ruffalo, who has shone primarily on film; Tony Shaloub, who has won and been nominated for awards in multiple mediums; Jessica Hecht, a vibrant presence in countless productions; and Danny DeVito, for whom, surprisingly, this is a Broadway debut. Even more surprisingly, it is DeVito who scores most memorably here.

“The Price,” a Roundabout production at the American Airlines Theater, is not one of Miller’s best plays, which is why it is performed less often than “All My Sons,” “The Crucible,” and “Death of a Salesman.” Like the latter, it is about fathers and sons, as well as the kind of sibling rivalry that never gets old. The father here is long in the grave, though his favored seat is preserved and even addressed at times. (Best performance by an armchair?) His Depression-era demise is vividly recalled by the grown sons, who have reunited after many years. The time has come to sell off everything inside the home where they were raised.

Ruffalo is the focus in this two-and-a-half-hour drama, portraying the son who sacrificed a budding educational opportunity to become a New York City cop. Shaloub is the one who did get that opportunity, and became a successful physician. Hecht is Ruffalo’s wife, and DeVito is the elderly appraiser who comes to see the furniture and memorabilia--including s harp and Ruffalo’s old fencing sword--and well, offer a price.

Fortunately, Miller threw a modicum of humor into this dark and rather repetitious work. (“It’s the kind of depression I enjoy.” “I’m registered, I’m licensed, I’m even vaccinated.” “The main thing today is shopping. It’s the new salvation.”) As with all the playwright’s work, there are powerful passages. (“If they only built old hotels, I could see this selling. But they only build new ones.” ‘I’ve got 28 years to get off my back.” “We were brought up to succeed, not to take care of each other.”) But this is slow and often ponderous going: the first ten minutes consist of Ruffalo silently inspecting his old home. There are too many conversations that seem meant to upend the previous one, (No, here’s what really happened!) and every conceivable twist on the title is uttered. (“There is such a thing as a moral debt.” “You wanted a real life, and that cost.”) We get it.

As exciting as the quartet of names looks on the marquee, the performers often seem to be playing at different speeds, on different levels. Ruffalo, so dynamic on screen, is rather listless--at times it is difficult to decipher his words. Hecht is burdened with the least defined role, and Shaloub, while always magnetic, has a tough time bringing his character’s shifting sentiments to life. It is DeVito who gives us the most complete, and ultimately sympathetic, character: a man dreaming of one more sale.

While always challenging, there are ways of reimagining the works of our iconic playwrights. (One only has to walk a few blocks south to see what they’ve done with Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.) Arthur Miller’s plays are less malleable, and it takes a lot to either make them resonate today, or help us understand how they felt at the time of conception. This production, unfortunately, doesn’t do either well enough.

THE PRICE

The cast of “The Price” features Danny DeVito, Jessica Hecht, Mark Ruffalo, and Tony Shalhoub.

The creative team includes Derek McLane (Set Designer), Sarah J. Holden (Costume Designer), David Weiner (Lighting Designer), Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (Sound Designers), Tom Watson (Hair Design), Jessie Tabish (Original Music), Stephen Gabis (Dialect Coach), Thomas Schall (Fight Consultant), Kate Lundell (Props Supervisor), Bess Marie Glorioso (Production Stage Manager), Katherine Shea (Assistant Stage Manager). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“The Price” runs at American Airlines Theatre (227 W. 42nd Street, Midtown West) through Sunday May 7, 2017 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m..; Thursdays at 8:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m..; and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 212-719-1300 or visiting http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, March 17, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Dolphins and Sharks” at the Labyrinth Theater Company at Bank Street Theater (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)

Photo: Pernell Walker, Chinaza Uche, and Flor De Liz Perez. Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “Dolphins and Sharks” at the Labyrinth Theater Company at Bank Street Theater (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)
Written by James Anthony Tyler
Directed by Charlotte Brathwaite
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

When recently entering the Bank Street Theater for the production of “Dolphins and Sharks,” the new play by James Anthony Tyler produced by Labyrinth Theater Company, I felt as though I was at a theatrical site-specific location. This is all due to the remarkable use of the small space, impressive attention to detail and encompassing the up close audience with paraphernalia familiar to an office supply chain that also provides printing and copying services. This is credited to the exceptional craft of scenic designer Marsha Ginsberg and her creation of Harlem Office, located on 125th St., between Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. and Fredrick Douglas Blvd., in Harlem, New York City, where the narrative unfolds. Mr. Tyler’s real and colloquial dialogue is on par with the surroundings but unfortunately the themes resonate as cliché and the characters appear as stereotypical. The proceedings and plot do not offer any new information or constructive solutions to several systemic problems addressed, such as gentrification, unfair low wages, power struggle, racism, work ethic, office politics honesty and betrayal.

An opening scene with projections and the sounds of chains, shows the cast in dim light in a line, lifting and picking, provoking the thought of slavery, forced to work in inequitable circumstances. It is a powerful image but is soon diminished as this technique is used thought the play in between scenes sometimes elevating to an annoying level, bombarding the audience with loud music, sounds, strobe and rotating video projections trying to heighten the existing conflicts but the result in befuddles the senses. This is definitely a high tech playing field which obviously brings it into the noted year of 2014 where all this social and economic discord still exists and although a passionate effort, in essence, it does not offer any new revelations.

Under the fluid direction of Charlotte Brathwaite, the extremely competent cast earnestly tries to overcome flat scenes with undeniable energy, swift dialogue and excellent timing. Pernell Walker serves up Isabell Peters with a big heart and quick wit providing a sense of reality to every scene. Flor De Liz Perez portrays a sensible yet cunning Xiomara Yepez. Cesar J. Rosado portrays a sincere Danilo Martinez with an equal combination of honesty, sincerity and vulnerability. Chinaza Uche provides a passionate Yusuf Nwachukwu, desperate and determined. Pernell Walker releases the undying spirit of a past generation in Isabel Peters with intelligence and clarity.

Despite these admirable performances “Dolphins and Sharks” is like the cash drawer at the Harlem Office at the end of the day. It comes up short!

DOLPHINS AND SHARKS

The cast of “Dolphins and Sharks” features Tina Fabrique, Cesar J. Rosado, Flor De Liz Perez, Chinaza Uche, and Pernell Walker.

The Creative Team includes Marsha Ginsberg (scenic designer), Zulema Griffin (costume designer), Kent Barrett (lighting designer), Justin Hicks (sound designer), Andrew Schneider (video designer) and Samantha Cotton (production stage manager). Production photos by Monique Carboni.

Performances of “Dolphins and Sharks” will take place February 9 – March 19 on the following schedule at Bank Street Theater, located at 155 Bank Street in Manhattan on the following schedule: Tuesday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday – Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $30–$40 and can be purchased by visiting labtheater.org or by calling 212-513-1080. Running time is 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 16, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “White Guy on the Bus” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)

Photo: Robert Cuccioli and Danielle Leneé in “White Guy on the Bus.” Credit: Matt Urban/Mobius New Media Inc.
Off-Broadway Review: “White Guy on the Bus” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)
By Bruce Graham
Directed by Bud Martin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

What is clear about Bruce Graham’s “White Guy on the Bus” is that white privilege drives the engine of racism in America. In a compelling performance as successful financier Ray, Robert Cuccioli gives that protagonist rich layers of contempt for all things that might threaten his privileged status. Additionally, this contemptable character seems to have difficulty controlling an undercurrent of anger that flows freely unmanaged. This combination of rage and privilege – handily portrayed by Mr. Cuccioli – makes for an interesting story line, despite the play’s frequent forays into unrelated thematic territories.

The action of the play focuses on Ray’s motivation for riding a bus on Saturdays – the bus that terminates at a prison – and on his motivation for sitting next to and striking up a conversation with Shatique (Danielle Lenee) riding the bus to visit her imprisoned brother who is “in for life” on a murder conviction. That motivation is provided in a series of flashback scenes with Ray and his wife Roz (played with just the right core of annoying self-serving by Susan McKey), their “adopted” son Christopher (played with just the right millennial matrix by Jonathan Silver) and his new wife Molly (played with a naïve yet complex core by Jessica Bedford) who provide the exposition needed to understand Ray’s motivation to be on the bus with Shatique.

“White Guy on the Bus” is one stereotype piled atop another. Ray dreads having an intern when she is a person of color because it is more difficult to fire her. So, he always “covers his ass.” Feigning concern, Roz spews liberal rhetoric about her underserved urban high school students – especially for her current “project” Nazir who “can’t read – but then easily quips that they “cut each other” and on a Friday night are “out robbing a 7-11.” Molly, who teaches in an all-white suburban school, tries to challenge Roz about her comments while championing an even “higher” level of liberal-speak; however, when she is expecting her first child, she wants nothing to do with living in “the city.”

Although it might be realistic that five people cannot stand one another for a variety of reasons involving race, sex, and money, that dynamic does not necessarily make for good theatre. Interesting characters with complex and believable conflicts that drive a compelling plot make for good theatre. Unfortunately, Mr. Graham’s characters seem more stock than well rounded and experience no growth. Their conflicts are so stereotypical that that the dramatic arc of the play leaves the audience without any catharsis. And some of the action of the play is simply not believable. That action cannot be disclosed without a spoiler alert. It is enough to say that something horrific happens to Roz which lands Ray on the bus as the only white guy.

Mr. Graham takes on too much in his play and in doing so lessens its overall impact. Had the playwright focused on the relationship between Ray and Shatique, “White Guy on the Bus” would have been able to raise more enduring and rich questions about the significant issues of race in America. Instead, the playwright meanders into tangential, albeit important, themes about Ray’s mysterious unresolved anger issues, corporate human relations departments, prison administration, and coupon-clipping. It would be good to know why Ray is so angry and why Shatique decides to trust Ray. Ms. Lenee delivers a strong and forcible performance as the young woman of color trying to “make it” in a world determined to keep her from achieving her goals. The actor knows when to simmer and when to “boil over.”

Some critics of the current administration see it benefitting from the fears of the privileged at the cost of the vulnerable. If there is an important message in Mr. Graham’s play, that might be it. Tyrants – and there is a bit of the tyrant in all of us after all – thrive on fearmongering and pitting race, gender, sexual status, and faith against one another. The turbulence weakens those under the tyrant’s rule and ensures the tyrant’s position and power. Ray is a tyrant who benefits from the fears of his family and peers at the cost of Shatique and her imprisoned brother. Under Bud Martin’s astute direction, Mr. Cuccioli and Ms. Lenee successfully bring that dynamic to the stage at 59E59 and it is that dynamic that deserves – and receives – the full attention of the audience.

WHITE GUY ON THE BUS

“White Guy on the Bus” is presented by the Delaware Theatre Company.

The Cast of “White Guy on the Bus” includes Jessica Bedford, Robert Cuccioli, Danielle Leneé, Susan McKey, and Jonathan Silver.

The design team includes Paul Tate DePoo III (scenic design); Wade Laboissonniere (costume design); Rob Denton (lighting design); Michael Hahn (sound design and original music); and Nicholas Hussong (projection design). Production photos by Matt Urban/Mobius New Media Inc.

“White Guy on the Bus” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, April 16. The performance schedule is Tuesday – 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. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 - $70.00 ($25.00 - $49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “All the Fine Boys” at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Ford Foundation Studio Theatre (Through Sunday March 26, 2017)

Photo: Alex Wolff and Isabelle Fuhrman. Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “All the Fine Boys” at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Ford Foundation Studio Theatre (Through Sunday March 26, 2017)
Written and Directed by Erica Schmidt
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Under the ruse of “receiving consent” from a minor, pedophile Joe (played with a remorseless arrogance by Joe Tippett) plays out an erotic asphyxiation fantasy with fourteen-year-old Jenny (played with a delusional naiveté by Abigale Breslin) in the basement of his suburban South Carolina home after “abducting” her from her home earlier. It does not matter whether Jenny got into Joe’s car or not. Joe “reminds” Jenny, “You walked out of your parents’ front door and got in my car.” Nor does it matter that losing her virginity with Joe (or another of the fine boys she fantasizes about with her best friend Emily (played with a spirited hopefulness interwoven with sadness by Isabelle Fuhrman) has been a frequent topic of “girl talk.” Joe is the adult and he is solely responsible for his inappropriate and illegal activity with a minor.

Jenny’s abduction by a twenty-eight-year-old pedophile and the unexplained extended absence from her home, her friends, and her school is the central theme of Erica Schmidt’s “All the Fine Boys” currently running at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Ford Foundation Studio Theatre. Other equally significant themes are: teenage angst (in suburban South Carolina in the late 1980s); coming of age and coming to terms with post-pubescent adolescence; and the concomitant issues of self-esteem exacerbated by age and environment.

Counterpointing Jenny’s story is the narrative involving Jenny’s fourteen-year-old friend Emily and her “fantasy” fine boy Adam (played with a fine irresistible streak by Alex Wolff). Adam is seventeen and wisely rejects Emily’s offer to lose her virginity to him as a birthday present and, instead, offers some of his “wisdom” about life in general including what is “really glorious.” Despite his own angst, Adam treats Emily with respect.

Why Ms. Schmidt chooses to address this theme in 2017 from the point of view of the 1980s is somewhat puzzling. What does the audience learn about pedophilia, indeed about teenage angst, in the present from her play set in the late 1980s?” Of course, the questions about making choices remain rich and enduring no matter the setting; however, “All the Fine Boys” adds nothing new or controversial about the conversation surrounding pedophilia. There is some welcomed moral ambiguity in the script: Jenny is not actually held captive (physically) and Joe seems conflicted about his pedophilia and neither the abductor or the abducted seems to think carefully about the consequences of their actions. Does Joe really think he could hold a teenager who attends his church captive for several days without consequence? Does Jenny think she can blackmail Joe without consequence?

There are several issues that detract from the overall success of “All the Fine Boys.” It does not work to use the same space as the setting for every scene. It is not that the properties from one scene are not cleared away during scene changes although having Jenny’s uneaten pizza remain through Emily and Adam’s scenes is a bit disconcerting. It is the overall design of the set and the lighting that seem not to work to the script’s full advantage. Additionally, when the playwright chooses to direct her play, it is easy for the director role not to have sufficient “distance” from the writing to make important decisions about staging. Obviously, it is done: it is just difficult. In this case, the action here is flat and not as engaging as it needs to be.

The four actors do their best with this piece. Mr. Wolff, having far fewer stage credits than his cast members, fares best here giving a truly authentic performance, digging deeply into his character’s conflicts. Mr. Tippett seems uncomfortable which is not surprising given the expectations placed upon him in the “rape” scene with Jenny. The partial nudity and the scene itself are both gratuitous and ill-conceived by the playwright.

What happens to Jenny is really not a surprise. The audience discovers her fate a year after the initial scenes. One hopes for more suspense and a deeper understanding of the important subject matter throughout.

ALL THE FINE BOYS

The cast of “All the Fine Boys” includes Abigail Breslin, Isabelle Fuhrman, Joe Tippett, and Alex Wolff.

This production features Scenic Design by Amy Rubin, Costume Design by Tom Broecker, Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter and Sound Design by Bart Fasbender. Production Stage Manager is Jillian M. Oliver. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

“All the Fine Boys” runs at through Sunday March 26 on the following schedule: Tuesday - Friday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets start at $65.00. Subscriptions and memberships for The New Group’s 2016-2017 season are available now. For subscription purchases and season info, please visit www.thenewgroup.org. Subscriptions can also be purchased by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12-8pm daily). Running time is 100 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Nibbler” at the Amoralists and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Saturday March 18, 2017

Photo: James Kautz as Adam, Rachel Franco as Tara. Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “Nibbler” at the Amoralists and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Saturday March 18, 2017)
By Ken Urban
Directed by Benjamin Kamine
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I’m trying, Tara, but some days… it’s not easy being the one left behind. And the last few years, it feels like everything’s going to shit in this country.” – Adam

At the beginning of Ken Urban’s “Nibbler,” the world premiere joint production of the Amoralists and Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre currently running at Rattlestick, Adam (James Kautz) and Tara (Rachel Franco) meet in Adam’s bedroom on Christmas Eve in 2004 as he is packing things up before his mother “tosses” them prior to moving to Delaware with her new husband Charlie. The “stuff” of “Nibbler” is Adam’s “dream fantasy” about what happens between the present and the summer of 1992 when he and Tara and their four friends hang out at the Medford Diner in Medford, New Jersey.

Adam alludes to the “last few years” having been difficult for him. Even the Clinton years in the White House could not have predicted September 11, 2001. Adam’s “dream” exposes a group of friends coping with the upheaval between adolescence and adulthood while exploring all the options inherent in that “bumpy ride.” Hayley (Elizabeth Lail) and Matt (Spencer Davis Milford), Pete (Sean Patrick Monahan), and Officer Dan (Matthew Lawler) collide in episodes of angst, sexual experimentation, homophobia, self-denial, and adolescent dysphoria. The theme of “what you get when you are a person” is evident and its importance unquestionable to playwright Ken Urban.

Growing up – grappling with that time “when you are a person” – is an experience bristling with both satisfaction and disappointment. A “proper” adolescence culminates in healthy separation and individuation with a core set of values and understanding of self in tow. “Nibbler” focuses on the quest for personhood without being judgmental about the ingredients of the journey.

Adam and Tara’s journeys – and those of their four friends reverberate – with varying degrees of authenticity in “Nibbler.” The six characters differ in the measure of believability and their conflicts are not equally engaging. This results in plot lines that are sometimes muddled and an overall play that seems to lose its footing all too often. The Sci-Fi component adds little to the dramatic arc and feels unnecessary as a trope for growing up in the Jersey Pines – or anywhere. Obviously, there are exigencies that “nibble away” at one’s process of “becoming.” Whether, even in Adam’s “dream fantasy, the ever- growing alien puppet (designed by Stefano Brancato) serves and supports the reality is questionable.

The cast works hard to bring Mr. Urban’s coming of age/coming to terms play to the stage. Anshuman Bhatia’s set is workable (even with the moveable upstage wall) as is Christina Watanabe’s moody lighting. Benjamin Kamine keeps the action moving at a quick pace. The result just seems to belie all the efforts of the cast and creative team.

Perhaps the delayed curtain of twenty minutes (waiting for someone who never showed up) and the “buzz” of opening night – replete with photos and “important guests” refusing to take their seats until the very last moment (including extended hugs and kisses) was unsettling to the cast waiting backstage. But the problems with “Nibbler” seem to extend beyond the ephemera of opening night jitters.

NIBBLER

The cast includes Rachel Franco, James Kautz, Elizabeth Lail, Matthew Lawler, Spencer Davis Milford, and Sean Patrick Monahan.

The design team includes Anshuman Bhatia (Scenic Design), Christian Frederickson (Sound Design), Christina Watanabe (Lighting Design), Lux Haac (Costume Design), Stefano Brancato (Puppet Design), Ken Urban (Original Music), Alex J. Gould (Fight Choreography), Zach Serafin (Prop Design) and Alfred Schatz (Artistic Charge).

Performances run through Saturday March 18, 2017 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place) on the following schedule: Thursdays – Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. with added shows on Sunday March 12 at 2:00 p.m. and Wednesday March 15 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $31.00 and $16.00 for students and can be purchased at http://www.Amoralists.com or by calling 1-866-811-4111. The show contains nudity. For more information visit http://www.Amoralists.com. Running time is 95 minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Evening at the Talk House” Reveals a Dystopian Present at the New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)

Photo: Jill Eikenberry, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear, Michael Tucker in Wallace Shawn’s “Evening at the Talk House.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “Evening at the Talk House” Reveals a Dystopian Present at the New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)
By Wallace Shawn
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Well -- in any case, the play hadn’t been terribly well-liked by the public, and it wasn’t a success, but quite a few people had enjoyed it quite a bit, including, interestingly, a certain Mr. Ackerley, who not long afterwards began to take a more and more prominent place in our national life, which, I’d have to admit, was not un-helpful to me when certain lovely prizes were awarded several years later.” – Robert

Imbedded in this lengthy monologue is important foreshadowing that could easily be missed as the audience attempts to keep track of the myriad of topics covered by playwright Robert (Matthew Broderick) as he revels in the success of his last play “Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars” as he waits for members of his former cast and crew in the central meeting room of The Talk House, an old-fashioned, understated small club frequented by theatre professionals in the time when the theatre was a relevant institution. Robert shows up at Nellie’s (Jill Eikenberry) Talk House at the behest of Ted (John Epperson) who “composed some incidental music for [the] play [he’d] written a dozen years ago, or so.”

The seemingly innocent gathering of former friends is the “stuff” of Wallace Shawn’s intriguing and dense “Evening at the Talk House” currently running at the New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre. As the evening progresses, it becomes clear that there have been “sides” taken since the group worked together on Robert’s play. The playwright carefully exposes what each character has been involved in and these revelations are often startling and disturbing. Under Scott Elliott’s smart and conscientious direction, the cast uniformly explores the depth of each character, delineates the character’s conflicts, and successfully helps to move the plot forward.

It is difficult to share that plot without a spoiler alert. However, it is important to disclose some of what happens at the Talk House during this reunion. Why does Daphne Albright drop dead while having dinner over at Le Grand Plaisir? Dick (Wallace Shawn) tells the group that “at a certain point she started making these weird noises, these weird sounds like “Erk erk erk” -- and then -- she died!” Bill (Michael Tucker) and Ted are reminded the same thing happened to Nestor Crawley. Why did Dick’s friends beat him up and why is he staying upstirs at the Talk House? What are Annette (Claudia Shear) and Jane up to that results in the death of “suspicious” people worldwide? What are those “lists” they compile? What is everyone so afraid and threatened by “all those people?” Why is Robert so judgmental and does he have a list like Annette’s? The answers to these questions prove to make for engaging theatre, although “Evening at the Talk House” is not without complications.

For example, the “pre-show” Talk House is problematic. Jill Eikenberry and Annapurna Sriram (Nellie and Jane) are on set as the audience enters: Ms. Eikenberry serves “drinks” in plastic tumblers and marshmallows while Ms. Sriram replenishes the supply of these goodies. The rest of the cast ambles in and interacts with each other uncomfortably. Some, like Larry Pine (Tom) head into the audience with a tray of marshmallows and some friendly chatter. This attempt to include the audience before the show is unnecessary since the structure of Mr. Shawn’s play includes the audience throughout: the fourth wall is repeatedly broken drawing the audience not only into the action of the play but into the sphere of complicity of the play’s dystopian themes.

It is this matrix of themes that are the strength of Mr. Shawn’s work and the rich enduring questions the play raises relevant to these themes. “Talk House” exposes a time when no one knows anyone well and loyalty seems to be an outdated concept. There is vague reference to a tyrannical leader (Mr. Ackerley) and to a time when personal freedoms have eroded. In his opening monologue, Robert reports that “Walls have ears -- as do floors, ceilings, windows, doors, plates, cups spoons, forks, and come to think of it, other human beings, if we’re compiling a list.” The reference to today’s political climate is obvious and deeply disturbing. This consonance with the present makes “Talk House” an important conversation as freedoms seems to disappear daily.

EVENING AT THE TALK HOUSE

“Evening at the Talk House” features Matthew Broderick as Robert, Jill Eikenberry as Nellie, John
Epperson as Ted, Larry Pine as Tom, Wallace Shawn as Dick, Claudia Shear as Annette, Annapurna
Sriram as Jane and Michael Tucker as Bill.

Directed by Scott Elliott, this production features Scenic Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by
Jeff Mahshie and Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton. Production Supervisor is Production Core.
Production Stage Manager is Valerie A. Peterson. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

Tickets for “Evening at the Talk House” start at $75.00. Performance schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and information, visit www.thenewgroup.org. Tickets can also be purchased by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279 – 4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12 Noon – 8:00 p.m. daily). Running time is 100 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 24, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Kunstler” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)

Photo (L-R): Jeff McCarthy and Nambi E. Kelley in "Kunstler" at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2017.
Off-Broadway Review: “Kunstler” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)
Written by Jeffrey Sweet
Directed by Meagen Fay
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"Dying is no big deal; the least of us can manage that. The trick is how you live, and Mr. Bill Kunstler lived. He lived with a searing pace, a furious energy, and overwhelming love of right and dislike of wrong.” – Jimmy Breslin in “The New York Times”

Attorney William Kunstler was an important figure in American jurisprudence. “Kunstler,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, highlights Mr. Kunstler’s career as the controversial attorney who never shied away from taking on difficult cases or difficult judges. Kunstler believed his client deserved “the best possible defense whatever he was!” Jeff McCarthy plays William Kunstler with an obvious adoration for the character but the play does not live up to any expectation of discovering what really motivated the iconic lawyer throughout his distinguished career.

The primary difficulty with “Kunstler” is playwright Jeffrey Sweet’s script itself. The audience leans forward when Mr. McCarthy highlights Kunstler’s early cases involving “civil rights, Vietnam, the Indian movement, the Berrigans, and free speech.” Even when his cases “declined in nobility” and Kunstler “only chose from what [was] offered [him],” the narrative describing those later controversial cases (John Gotti, Yusef Salaam) rings with authenticity. The argument Mr. McCarthy’s Kunstler proffers is “that when I see the forces of the government cloaking itself in the garb of legality and going after someone who is at a particular disadvantage – whether it’s because of race or some existing prejudice or stereotype – it’s my impulse to try to level the playing field.” This also rings with honesty. The audience leans back, however, when the playwright wanders into other less interesting territory.

Mr. McCarthy’s performance energy seems to rise and fall with the irregularities in the script and Meagen Fay’s direction is apparently not strong enough nor consistent enough to keep the action moving forward on an even keel. The section about attending Woodstock and living alone in the West Village are particularly leaden and Mr. McCarthy seems to lose his footing here. What is the point of learning about Kunstler’s musical tastes? The actor does the best he can with the material given to him and the moments he seizes on Kunstler’s character and digs into Kunstler’s motivation are the most satisfying.

Nambi E. Kelley’s Kerry, Kunstler’s host at the event, is relegated to sitting stage left and exhibiting a variety of expressions – some of disbelief, some of disapproval. One wonders why this talented actor has been consigned to such a passive role. Or, again, could the director have provided more opportunities for the role?

The scenic design by James J. Fenton easily identifies the setting as a university lecture hall. In the stage directions for the play, it is clear that the playwright intended the detritus on the floor and the strewn chairs to be a simple extension of the setting. Someone on the creative team decided to add a Kunstler in effigy hanging upstage which completely confuses the audience: was this the site of an earlier protest? This is only one of several odd choices that weaken the strength of the script rather than strengthening it, including the strange lighting cues throughout, especially in the opening scenes.

“Kunstler” does provide moments of interesting narrative: one just needs to lower one’s overall expectations to appreciate those moments.

KUNSTLER

“Kunstler” is produced by The Creative Place International in Association with AND Theatre Company.

The cast of “Kunstler features Nambi E. Kelley and Jeff McCarthy.

The creative team includes James J. Fenton (scenic design); Betsy Adams (lighting design); Will Severin (sound design); and Elivia Bovenzi (costume design). The production stage manager is Mary Jane Hansen. Production photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2017.

“Kunstler” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, March 12 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 p.m.; Friday at 8:15 p.m.; Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Please note: there are no Sunday evening performances on February 26 or March 12. Tickets are $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Kid Victory” Soars at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)

Photo: Brandon Flynn and Laura Darrell in "Kid Victory." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Kid Victory” Soars at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Greg Pierce, Music by John Kander
Story by John Kander and Greg Pierce
Directed by Liesl Tommy
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I think so. I think he’s a good God, who can make bad plans. Thing’s going OK over at the shop?” – Joseph (Dad) to Luke

Unable to score a substantial victory with his parents, his girlfriend Suze (played with a doleful and deep sadness by Laura Darrell), or his conservative Baptist faith community, seventeen-year-old Luke (Brandon Flynn) – as many teenage boys do – turns to the world of gaming to find a “safe” place to succeed without the judgment of peers or parents. He competes with fellow gamers worldwide in Regatta 500. “You can build your own boat and then you race. You can race with people from all over the world, and you can chat with them while you’re racing,” he explains to his employer Emily (Dee Roscioli). Luke’s racing name is Kid Victory, the name of the musical currently running at the Vineyard Theatre that exposes the complex relationship Luke has with his family and the online pedophile that shatters his teenage life.

Luke is taken from his home – rather he leaves willingly – and is unwittingly kept captive by his Regatta 500 competitor Michael’s (played with a sadistic yet deeply damaged psyche by Jeffry Denman) island for five months. During his captivity, Luke undergoes unspeakable degradation and abuse from his captor. He also receives affirmation and his captivity is full of ambiguity and a source of the rich and challenging moral ambiguity that clings to the underbelly of “Kid Victory.” Mr. Kander’s and Mr. Pierce’s story here is as dark – if not darker – than the Kander and Ebb “Cabaret” collaboration in the mid-1960s. That murky substratum is exacerbated when Luke returns home and attempts to readjust to life there where the moral ambiguity agglomerates exponentially.

After Luke’s return from captivity, his mother Eileen (Karen Ziemba) launches a full-bore campaign to re-assimilate her son into the semblance of civility she has struggled to maintain all her conservative Christian life. Eileen wants to enlist the help of members of the congregation to assist Luke in the process of “repatriation.” The scene with the church’s amateur therapist Gail (played with a sadistic “helpfulness” by Ann Arvia) trying to “repair” Luke with her marble game (“You Are the Marble”) is as horrific as seeing Luke in chains in Michael’s basement. Luke’s family fails to realize he is “a different person” because of his time with Michael and their efforts to provide a “transition” back to “normal” life are not helpful. Despite Luke’s father’s (Daniel Jenkins) attempts to neutralize his wife’s lack of understanding, she continues to push him away and misunderstand his needs.

Luke finds solace in his relationship with Emily but even that surcease is jettisoned after Luke helps Emily reunite with her estranged daughter Mara (Laura Darrell). And Luke almost finds unconditional love with Andrew (played with an authentic interest by Blake Zolfo) the gay young man Luke connects with online after returning home. In the tender ballad “What’s the Point,” Andrew asks, “What’s the point of living/If your hand is always steady?/If you always think you’re ready?/What’s the point?” But the flashbacks to his imprisonment are relentless as is his mother’s attempts to isolate him from healthy individuation. It seems every time Luke can wear his vine crown of victory with pride, someone or something lurks in the shadows waiting to sabotage his personal redemption.

At first glance, it might not be clear why “Kid Victory” needs to be a musical. After all, Luke’s story could be staged as a play: in fact, Luke is the only character who does not sing. On further reflection, it becomes clear that the musical numbers allow the story to unfold in its most surreal and nonconscious manner. Part “Greek chorus,” part “comedic relief,” and part “cartoon,” the well-crafted choreography by Christopher Windom and the intriguing book, lyrics, and music by John Kander and Greg Pierce counterpoint the heinous histories of Luke’s experiences in his home and his “home away from home” on his captor’s island. The cast is uneven vocally but succeed overall in delivering their musical numbers with That said, the cast needs to maintain a tighter “control” over the audience. Allowing spaces for applause after musical numbers does not help the musical’s continuity.

Brandon Flynn delivers an emotionally charged performance as the psychologically embattled Luke. The young actor has grappled with this role and found its core of unrelenting sadness and pain. Karen Ziemba’s Eileen appropriately lacks any remorse for her complicity in Luke’s adolescent angst and depression. Daniel Jenkins captures the torment of being caught between a controlling wife and a son needing affirmation and unconditional love. Dee Roscioli’s freethinking Emily provides just enough hope in Luke’s quest for find a firm footing in his return “home.” And Joel Blum delivers a realistic Franklin and Detective Marks.

Not much more can be said about “Kid Victory” without compromising the audience’s need to see this important musical and experience its layered depth and intricate plot structure. What can be said is that the final scene between Luke and his father Joseph (Daniel Jenkins) provides a powerful catharsis with the musical number “Where We Are.” The chemistry between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Jenkins is exceptional and deeply authentic.

Clint Ramos’ set provides the three locations of the action of “Kid Victory:” the dining room of the Browst household, the cell where Luke was imprisoned on Michael’s island, and Emily’s lawn store “Wicker Witch of the West.” Mr. Ramos creates a space where gloom trumps hope and sadness eclipses jubilance. Jacob A. Climer’s costumes and David Weiner’s delicate and moody lighting further delineate the limits of Luke’s inner world. Liesl Tommy’s intricate and compassionate direction put Mr. Flynn’s Luke at the center of this story and assure that his cast works as hard as he does to make “Kid Victory” the important piece of theatre it is.

KID VICTORY

Visit http://www.vineyardtheatre.org/this-day-forward/ for further information and to purchase tickets.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, February 22, 2017

New from TCG Books: "Here We Go" / "Escaped Alone"

New from TCG Books: "Here We Go" / "Escaped Alone"
By Caryl Churchill
Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Theatre Communications Group (TCG) has announced the publication of “Here We Go / Escaped Alone” by Caryl Churchill. Both critically acclaimed works in this new volume premiered in London – Here We Go in the fall of 2015 at the Lyttelton Theatre, and Escaped Alone in January of 2016 at the Royal Court Theatre. Escaped Alone will premiere in the U.S. at Brooklyn Academy of Music on February 15, 2017.

“What Churchill has written is a striking memento mori for an age without faith; and although her play is brief, that in itself evokes the idea that we are here for a short time and then are suddenly gone." - Michael Billington, “The Guardian” on “Here We Go”

The prolific repertoire of Caryl Churchill gains two thrilling new entries with “Here We Go” and “Escaped Alone,” both exemplary of her notoriously dark, witty work. Creeping and ruminative, “Here We Go” "acts as a chilling reminder of our own mortality" (“The Guardian”), with a three-part examination of death and its aftermath. “Escaped Alone” considers a notably broader demise: the apocalypse. Through the musings of four older women – Sally, Vi, Lena, and Mrs. Jarrett – idly chatting in an English back garden, the fate of the world is outlined in an unsettling revelation of mankind's own self-destruction.

"Line by line it's hard to imagine you'll come across a more brilliant play this year . . . and what makes Escaped Alone a great play is that it is strangely euphoric: spiked with terrible, apocalyptic foreboding, yes, but Churchill's funniest since Serious Money, and with an incredible gift for spinning light out of the dark." - Andrzej Lukowski, “Time Out London” on “Escaped Alone”

Caryl Churchill has written for the stage, television, and radio. A renowned and prolific playwright, her plays include “Cloud 9,” “Top Girls,” ‘Far Away,” “Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?, “Bliss,” “Love and Information,” “Mad Forest,” and “A Number.” In 2002, she received the Obie Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2010, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

For over 50 years, Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for the American theatre, has existed to strengthen, nurture and promote the professional not-for-profit American theatre. TCG’s constituency has grown from a handful of groundbreaking theatres to nearly 700 Member Theatres and Affiliate organizations and more than 12,000 individuals nationwide. TCG offers
its members networking and knowledge-building opportunities through conferences, events, research and communications; awards grants, approximately $2 million per year, to theatre companies and individual artists; advocates on the federal level; and serves as the U.S. Center of the International Theatre Institute, connecting its constituents to the global theatre community. TCG is North America’s largest independent trade publisher of dramatic literature, with 14 Pulitzer Prizes for Best Play on the TCG booklist. It also publishes the award-winning American Theatre magazine and ARTSEARCH®, the essential source for a career in the arts. In all of its endeavors, TCG seeks to increase the organizational efficiency of its member theatres, cultivate and celebrate the artistic talent and achievements of the field and promote a larger public understanding of, and appreciation for, the theatre. www.tcg.org.

A review of Caryl Churchill’s “Here We Go” and “Escaped Alone” will follow.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 17, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Dressmaker’s Secret” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)

Photo: Tracy Sallows in "The Dressmaker's Secret." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Dressmaker’s Secret” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)
Written by Sarah Levine Simon and Mihai Grunfeld
Directed by Roger Hendricks Simon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The Dressmaker’s Secret” by Sarah Levine Simon and Mihal Grunfeld is enjoying its world premiere at 59E59 Theaters. The new play is based on Mr. Grunfeld’s novel “The Dressmaker’s Son” and the change from ‘son’ to ‘secret’ is more significant than might be obvious at first glance. Why did the playwrights shift the focus from the son to the mother’s secret? After all, the core of the new play centers on Robi (played with a palpable adolescent melancholy by Bryan Burton) and his desire to know who his father is and his overwhelming need to escape his humdrum existence with his mother Maria (payed with a deep-seated and enduring mourning by Tracy Sallows) in Kolozsvár a large city in Transylvania, Romania. The action of the play takes place in 1963, just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the United States during the communist oppression in Eastern Europe.

Maria is a dressmaker, barely making enough to support herself and Robi even with his meager wages as an electrician added to their joint income. Robi’s angst grows exponentially and his need to know who his father is and his desire to leave Communist Romania and “head west” frustrates Maria and results in frequent outbursts. Robi finds a photo of his mother with a soldier in uniform. Robi was told his father had died in the war but, after further conversations with Maria, he discovers that might not be true. In fact, his father could be Irma’s (Caralyn Kozlowski) brother Robert (the man in the photo) or it might be Zoltan (Zoli), the Jewish teacher friend Maria was seeing at the same him she was engaged to Robert (Robert S. Gregory). Apparently, this is dressmaker Maria’s secret – or perhaps there is yet another secret?

“The Dressmaker’s Secret” suffers from the lack of a clear and convincing dramatic arc. There are too many things going on. The characters are believable and have compelling conflicts. Unfortunately, these conflicts drive too many plots as opposed to contributing to the resolution of one main story line. Irma has her own secrets and needs to reconcile with her dear friend Maria. Irma’s brother Robert has more than one secret including an unnamed illness that results in frequent coughing bouts accompanied by an examination of his handkerchief. Had the play dealt with Maria’s willingness to give Robi a chance for a new life in the West, it would have had a deeper impact.

Mr. Simon’s direction leaves the talented cast wandering around the stage instead of staying in place and having a realistic conversation. And there is far too much busyness around plates, cups, food, and set changes. This all distracts from the important thread of the story. Unfortunately, the entire creative team seems to distract from the cast’s ability to do its important work. Why do Maria and Robi wear the same clothes in every scene despite the passage of time while Irma dons a different dress in almost every scene? Why does Robert have to show the audience he is ill more than once? It is clear he has some terminal disease.

In short, an endearing story with potentially multilayered connections, is lost in an overly long production encumbered by inconsistent staging. The script calls for a typical fade down and fade in between scenes. Mr. Simon’s staging adds what seems to be a “photograph” of each scene – a click and a bright flash appear with no apparent reason. Communist spying? Family photo album? There is also the sound of the dressmaker’s sewing machine at the beginning of most scenes. Is this play about dressmaking? An effort to examine the road to Robi’s freedom in a shortened play would seem in order.

THE DRESSMAKER’S SECRET

“The Dressmaker’s Secret is presented by The Simon Studio (Roger Hendricks Simon, Artistic Director) in association with Amanagion LLC.

The cast of the “The Dressmaker’s Secret” features Bryan Burton, Robert S. Gregory, Caralyn Kozlowski, and Tracy Sallows.

The design team includes Stephen T. Jones (set and lights) and Molly R. Seidel (costumes). The Production Stage Manager is Bethany Clark. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“The Dressmaker’s Secret” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, March 5. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 16, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Ring Twice for Miranda” at New York City Center Stage II (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)

Photo: Katie Kleiger and George Merrick. Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “Ring Twice for Miranda” at New York City Center Stage II (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)
Written by Alan Hruska
Directed by Rick Lombardo
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Sometimes I think you’re delusional about having all this power. Other times I think you’ve far too much of it.” – Miranda to Sir

Alan Hruska’s new play “Ring Twice for Miranda,” currently playing at New York City Center Stage II, is starkly reminiscent of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” and revisits the important existential themes of choices and their consequences, appearances versus reality, self-definition and interpersonal relationships, and death and permanence. “Hell” for Mr. Hruska seems to exist in the downstairs and upstairs of Sir’s (played with a conniving grimness by Graeme Malcolm) house and the district he controls. Sir’s maid Miranda (played with a strong resilience by Katie Kleiger) and butler Elliott (played with an aggressive bashfulness by George Merrick) await his call in the servants’ quarters downstairs. The call bell rings once for Elliott and twice for Miranda.

It becomes clear quickly that Miranda serves some important function upstairs in the ailing Sir’s bedroom and that Elliott’s role in the house is not as significant. Elliott and Miranda seem to be coming off a significant relationship and the butler is quite jealous of the maid’s visits to the master’s bedchamber. Sir’s minion Gulliver (played with an arrogant indifference by Daniel Pearce) summons Elliott with one ring and sacks him. Miranda attempts to intercede for Elliott, fails, then agrees to leave the house and accompany Elliott outside. Elliott warns, “People are hungry out there, cold at night. Many are leaving” (sound familiar?) Despite that, he and Miranda leave and find ripped signs on abandoned buildings that hint at rationing and curfews and they quickly discover that indeed “the center is not holding” (Yeats) and there are few choices for them apart from surrendering to Sir’s rule.

Felix (played with the shapeshifting skills of the doppelganger by Ian Lassiter), a plumber who eventually turns out not to be a plumber, arrives to bring the pair back to the house where Miranda must “audition” for her old job. The audience discovers what it is Miranda “does” for Sir. After being rehired, Miranda returns to the servants’ quarters with Elliott with only the hope of repeating for eternity the cycle of leaving and returning, leaving and returning with no chance of finding an exit from the samsara of their existence, “just waiting for the dark, for us to go to sleep” (Miranda).

Rick Lombardo directs with a charming gracefulness and his sound design is appropriate and often unsettling. Jason Sherwood’s clever set morphs from servant’s quarters to bedchamber to the abandoned streets with ease. Matthew Richards’s lighting counterpoint’s the play’s setting with interesting plays on light and shadow.

“Ring Twice for Miranda’s” chilling dystopian themes and its delusional narcissistic Sir become even more relevant in the current political climate in America. The play raises important and enduring questions but does not have the dramatic strength to carry the weight of these rich questions. Much of the plot is predictable and at least one part of the story is dispensable. The scenes with Chester (William Connell) and Anouk (Talia Thiesfield) are superfluous with neither actor delivering especially convincing performances. The audience knows before Anouk and Chester “replace” Miranda and Elliott that Sir is not looking for sexual favors and that Sir will invite Miranda and Elliott back to the house.

That said, Mr. Hruska’s new play explores the dimensions of tyranny and the loss of personal freedom in a convincing way. Those who, like Sir, purport to place a premium on “creativity and originality” often end up doing what they must do to maintain control and supremacy over others – who are ultimately dispensable – and over circumstances in general.


RING TWICE FOR MIRANDA

The cast of “Ring Twice for Miranda” includes: William Connell, Katie Kleiger, Ian Lassiter, Graeme Malcolm, George Merrick, Daniel Pearce, and Talia Thiesfield.

“Ring Twice for Miranda” features scenic design by Jason Sherwood, costume design by Ann Hould-Ward, lighting design by Matthew Richards, sound design by Rick Lombardo, and original music by Haddon Kime. Casting is by Michael Cassara, CSA. Production photos are by Russ Rowland.

Performances from January 24th - February 19th are: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Performances from February 21st - April 16th are: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $79.00 with premium reserved seating available. All tickets are subject to a $1 facility fee plus $6.50 handling charge if tickets are purchased online or by phone. Tickets are available online at http://ringtwiceformiranda.com/, by calling CityTix at (212) 581-1212, or in person at the New York City Center Box Office. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, February 12, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Yen” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Extended through Saturday March 4, 2017)

Photo: Justice Smith, Ari Graynor, and Lucas Hedges in "Yen" at MCC Theater. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Yen” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Extended through Saturday March 4, 2017)
Written by Anna Jordan
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

More “Of Mice and Men” than “Orphans,” “Yen,” currently playing at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, dives headlong into the miasma of dysfunctional families without abandon and lands in a matrix of enduring questions that British playwright Anna Jordan decides not to answer in this play that makes its way from a successful run at the Royal Exchange Theater in Manchester, England to the MCC stage in the West Village.

Hench (played with a soulful and dispirited sadness by Lucas Hedges) and his half-brother Bobbie (played with a sad longing by Justice Smith) share the pull-out sofa bed in their addict mother’s Council Flat in the Housing Project in the London Borough of Feltham. Although it is Maggie’s (played with a malicious and shattered persona by Ari Graynor) government funding that allows her to have the flat, she lives with her current boyfriend Alan, leaving her sons from her marriages to two addict husbands (one died with a needle in his arm) to fend for themselves. Poverty and dysfunction have left indelible scars on these two children. Hench is sixteen, Bobbie fourteen and neither is attending school. They survive by stealing what they need for themselves – things often taken by Maggie when she drops by or gets dragged up the stairs in a coma from the street below the flat.

Hench is introspective and sullen and was probably sexually abused as a child. Bobbie is suffering from a severe case of psoriasis and bounces around the flat unable to control his emotions, his attention span, or his hygiene. Both watch porn and play violent video games. Then there is their violent dog Taliban who occupies the bedroom, never gets walked, and seems to live in the same squalor as his owners. Into this mess comes Jennifer, a transplant from Wales living across the way in adolescent ennui. Jennifer (played with doleful yet savvy core by Stefania LaVie Owen) wants to care for Taliban but ends up wanting to care for the boys and to help Hench “open up.”

This exposition takes the first act of one-hour and fifteen minutes to be revealed. After Maggie drags Bobbie off to Alan’s, leaving Jennifer and Hench to bond in the ways lonely adolescents often bond. The second act, more violent and shocking, still leaves the audience wondering why Ms. Jordan wrote “Yen.” Trip Cullman’s staging depends heavily on loud and violent projections (designed by Lucy Mackinnon) to add to the mood of the play (as does Ben Stanton’s sparse lighting). It would seem giving more attention to Ms. Jordan’s script and trusting its strength would have given the piece more purpose.

Love and tenderness, even when applied with the intent of gentleness, often and unexpectedly open deep wounds. After Jennifer applies cream to Bobbie’s flared-up psoriasis, Maggie bristles with the rage of the challenged addict. After Jennifer applied a heavy dose of affection – also with the best of intentions – Hench recoils with the buried hurt of the sexually abused child and, as he did as a child, wets the bed shared by Jennifer (as he often does when he shares his bed with Bobbie).

Jennifer imposes herself uninvited into a disturbed and dysfunctional family system. Any attempt at disrupting family systems layered with years of collusion and calumny results in change or in retrenchment. And retrenchment – as is the case with these feral half-brothers – is often accompanied by the kind of implosive and explosive violence for which Taliban often exhibits and which rarely results in healing and surcease.

Without successful intervention, the cycles of poverty and sexual abuse never are broken. Children like Bobbie and Hench become the broken ones perpetually “rescued” by the well-meaning Jennifers of the world, but more often than not, the Maggies of the world who revel in madness and dysfunction relentlessly continue to poison all opportunities for redemption and release.

YEN

The cast of “Yen” includes Jack DiFalco, Ari Graynor, Lucas Hedges, Stefania LaVie Owen, and Justice Smith. The creative team features scenic design by Mark Wendland; costume design by Paloma Young; lighting design by Ben Stanton; original music and Sound design by Fitz Patton; projection design by Lucy Mackinnon; fight Direction by J. David Brimmer; and special Effects by Jeremy Chernick. Stephen Gabis is dialect coach. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Performances of “Yen” run at MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St) through Saturday March 4, 2017 on the following extension schedule: Sunday, Feb 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Monday, Feb 20 at 7:00 p.m.; Tuesday, Feb 21 at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Feb 22 at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday, Feb 23 at 8:00 p.m.; Tuesday, Feb 28 at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, March 1 at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday, March 2 at 8:00 p.m.; Friday, March 3 at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, March 4 at 2:00 p.m.; and Saturday, March 4 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $49.00 - $99.00 and are available by phone at OvationTix: (212) 352-3101, or toll free 866-811-4111, or visit http://www.mcctheater.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, February 12, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Crackskull Row” at Irish Rep Theatre in the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)

Photo: Terry Donnelly and Colin Lane in the cell's production of "Crackskull Row." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Crackskull Row” at Irish Rep Theatre in the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)
By Honor Molloy
Directed by Kira Simring
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Legend has it that on May Eve all sorts of sorcery abounds in the country sides of Ireland. That is certainly the case on Crackskull Road somewhere in Dublin 2 on the April 30 in question in Honor Molloy’s delightful psychological thriller “Crackskull Road” currently playing at Irish Rep Theatre. For eighty riveting minutes, the complex Morrigan family system splays out on the compact stage of the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre. Playwright Honor Molloy spins a tale of intrigue and madness as she exposes the underbelly of a complex dysfunctional family. This tale defies any standard definitions or understandings of the veil between “then and now” or between “the living and the dead.”

All the audience sees and hears is in fact only “in the skulls” of Masher (played with conniving desperation by Terry Donnelly) and her son Rasher (played with repressed disfigurement by Colin Lane) who appear together as adults in “real time” at the end of the play. And as those skulls are cracked open (in the now and the then) and the contents revealed, the audience “sees” Masher when she was the young Dolly (played with the despair of unwitting decadence by Gina Costigan), Rasher when he was the Young Rash (played with a naiveté born of the burden of secrecy by John Charles McLaughlin), and those fickle sprites that appear on May Eve 1999: Wee Dolly (also played by Ms. Costigan) and the shoeless ESB Boy (also played by Mr. McLaughlin) who also demands Masher fess up about what really happened throughout “the years of misfortunality.”

“Crackskull Row” begins with Rasher addressing the audience from prison (how he got there would require a spoiler alert) and Masher “hagged out on a broken-down couch” in her house strewn with bits of detritus. Down the chimney and out of time comes the New Age Sprite Wee Dolly whose purpose seems to challenge Masher to clean up the present by dealing with her past. That past is played out brilliantly by the engaging cast who give their multiple characters (Mr. Lane also plays Rasher’s father Basher) and their multifarious conflicts authenticity and believability. Time and space are warped again and again as the audience learns of the relationship between Masher and her son Rasher – a relationship driven by the loveless and sometimes abusive relationship between Masher and Rasher’s father Basher.

And since, as Masher tells the ESB Boy, her mind is “cabbage,” one is not ever certain what is reality and what might be illusion, delusion, or perhaps transmigration. If this sounds complicated, it is somewhat but only because to say more would be to spoil the intricacies of revelation extant in Ms. Molloy’s impressive and important script. It can be revealed that at one point in the play all the characters appear on stage at the same time transcending the confines of mortality and time. Under Kira Simring’s direction, “Crackskull Row” is as good as it gets and it does not get better than this.

Daniel Geggatt’s psychologically cramped set assures the audience it has followed Alice down the rabbit hole. Siena Zoe Allen’s costumes reverberate with timelessness and depravity. Gertjan Houben’s moody lighting adds to the deep levels of mystery as does M. Florian Staab’s extraordinary original music and sound. “Crackskull Row” is not to be missed. Just leave propriety and apprehension behind and worry not about feeling ten feet tall.

CRACKSKULL ROW

“Crackskull Row” stars Gina Costigan, Terry Donnelly, Colin Lane, and John Charles McLaughlin.

The production features lighting design by Gertjan Houben, set design by Daniel Geggatt and Caitlyn Murphy, costume design by Sienna Zoë Allen, and original music and sound design by M. Florian Staab. Chris Steckel serves as Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Crackskull Row” runs at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) in the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre through March 19, 2017 on the following schedule: Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. General admission tickets are $50.00 and be purchased by calling 212-727-2737 or by visiting https://irishrep.org/. Running time is 80 minutes without an intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 10, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Object Lesson” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)

Photo: Geoff Sobelle in "The Object Lesson." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Object Lesson” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)
Created and Performed by Geoff Sobelle
Directed by David Neumann
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Do you have what you need? Do you need what you have?” – Geoff Sobelle

The audience enters the New York Theatre Workshop into a vast display of “stuff” up for viewing, exploring, opening, sharing, moving around, and engaging with. And there is plenty to explore: lamps of all sizes and shapes; small boats filled with boxes suspended from the ceiling; animals stuffed by a taxidermist; plush animals stuffed by toymakers; radios of all vintages; books; guitars; a box indicating the contents was stolen from a hotel; and a wall of small drawers just waiting to be opened.

What does Geoff Sobelle do with all this “stuff?” The creator of “The Object Lesson,” currently playing at New York Theatre Workshop, seems to want to engage the audience in a conversation about “property,” about “what is ours and what we will do with it all.” Throughout the ninety minutes Mr. Sobelle has the attention of the audience, he provides several object lessons: sharing a variety of times and places he has encountered stuff, has reexamined it, has remembered where he was when he obtained it, has decided whether to keep it or discard it. He challenges the audience to do the same.

The audience becomes part of the clutter, part of life’s detritus, and Mr. Sobelle is not shy about literally shoving viewers around, even using his hands to touch heads and push people aside. One wonders if the audience is worth sorting through or just more stuff? What does he want to do with us? Sorting through stuff is not always easy, especially when constantly bombarded with stuff at home and on the media – commercial and social. There are times when the clutter in the theatre seems miniscule given the enormity of the political stuff cluttering lives currently. What are we able to do with that? Can it even be sorted out successfully? And if one has already decluttered one’s stuff, is one ready to be absorbed in an object lesson about what has already been accomplished? Still “The Object Lesson” is an important exercise and worth the visit. Mr. Sobelle even invites an audience member on a dinner date with ice skating.

The impact of Geoff Sobelle’s immersive experience is sometimes diminished by the nature of the piece itself – something both Mr. Sobelle and director David Neumann should continue to take into consideration. No matter where audience members sit, there are vignettes of “The Object Lesson” that simply cannot be observed. I missed the entire first part of the piece and there was nothing I could do to change my viewing point without standing up and blocking someone else’s view. When the performer is elevated, everyone can see. When he moves around on the level playing area, displacing audience members and setting up new “scenes,” there are inevitably audience members will miss the action completely. And, despite the offering in the sheet distributed by the NYTW staff urging the audience to “feel free to move around whenever you’d like,” that is not possible without be disruptive or blocking others’ ability to see what Mr. Sobelle is doing.

“The Object Lesson” concludes with the NYTW staff “ushering” the audience to the front of the space (the audience assumes a more traditional position and attitude) for Mr. Sobelle’s final object lesson. Without revealing too much, this ultimate disquisition involves legerdemain that counterpoints the wisdom of Shakespeare (“As You Like It”) and – of all things – the magical English nanny Mary Poppins.

THE OBJECT LESSON

The scenic installation design for “The Object Lesson” is by Steven Dufala. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“The Object Lesson” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003) through Sunday, March 5, 2017 on the following schedule: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Single tickets for are $65.00 and can be purchased at NYTW.org and by phone at 212-460-5475. Standard ticketing fees apply to all orders. Running time is 100 minutes without any intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 10, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Fade” at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)

Photo: Annie Dow and Eddie Martinez. Credit: James Leynse.
Off-Broadway Review: “Fade” at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)
Written by Tanya Saracho
Directed by Jerry Ruiz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

For a brief time in Tanya Saracho’s “Fade,” currently playing at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre, the lines between class and status fade as Mexican-born script writer Lucia (Annie Dow) and American-born Chicano custodian Abel (Eddie Martinez) seem to drop their guards and allow their “similarities” to overshadow their “differences.” Abel “forgives” Lucia for her assumptions when he first walks into her office that he does not speak English and begins to trust Lucia. That trust is ultimately misplaced and the dramatic arc of Ms. Saracho’s play deals with the rise (including the hint at a romantic interest) and decline of the relationship between two persons who, although they seem to have much in common, are worlds apart.

When Lucia confesses to Abel she really knows little about writing for television (her writing experience is one published novel), she shares the storyline and asks Abel for some suggestions on how to develop the lead male character. Abel shares his life story with Lucia, including details about his ex-wife, their daughter Melita, and the “roughest six months of my life were when I was locked up. When I was
Incarcerated” protecting my daughter. There is no mystery what will happen after Abel shares his story – and this is the problem with Ms. Saracho’s script. Lucia uses the story practically verbatim in her script and the audience knows that she will. All suspense literally “fades” (dies in street language).

Lucia’s creds skyrocket after she submits the script to her boss John. John no longer considers Lucia the in-house translator to communicate with his Latina maid. His new hire is now respected and even given the responsibility to take over her colleague Gary’s work – a situation that results in her colleague being fired. As Lucia ascends, she becomes more distant. Abel eventually discovers that Lucia has used his story and knows he has been betrayed. The play’s ending again is no surprise and does not warrant the unusual blackout and completely different part of the set. One of several odd choices in Jerry Ruiz’s staging and Ms. Saracho’s script. Why, for example, the multitude of very short scenes? Was this an attempt to simulate writing for television?

Annie Dow and Eddie Martinez work diligently to embolden Ms. Saracho’s characters. Mr. Martinez brings far more depth to his character Abel than Ms. Dow brings to her character Lucia. The actor gives Lucia one tonal range throughout and seems to whine no matter what the circumstance. But it is not the actors’ obvious craft that in in question here. Although “Fade” raises some enduring and rich questions about classism, sexism, racism, and prejudice, the play does not offer any new perspectives on these issues nor does it address them with any depth of understanding or suspense. The audience knows what will happen within five minutes of the beginning of the action.

The set design by Mariana Sanchez is functional and allows the audience to observe the activity of both actors even when they are not interacting. Carisa Kelly’s costumes are, as they should be, functional and Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting is unobtrusive and serves the action of the play quite successfully.

Tanya Saracho uses Spanish throughout the play – Spanish not understood by most the audience. This seems to support the classism the playwright ostensibly abhors and makes it uncomfortable when one cannot appreciate the humor in the writing. Another odd choice.

FADE

The cast of “Fade” features Annie Dow and Eddie Martinez.

“Fade” features set design by Mariana Sanchez, costume design by Carisa Kelly, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by M.L. Dogg, and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production photos by James Leynse.

Primary Stage’s “Fade” runs at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Sunday March 5, 2017 on the following schedule: Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Added performances: February 11 at 2:00 p.m., March 1 at 2:00 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://primarystages.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 9, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Orange Julius” Rattles Reality at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday February 12, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “Orange Julius” Rattles Reality at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday February 12, 2017)
By Basil Kreimendahl
Directed by Dustin Wills
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“An Orange Julius. That’s what I want.” – Julius

Basil Kreimendahl’s “Orange Julius” is a memory play. Narrated by Nut (Jess Barbagallo), the play defies space and time to tell the complex story of the narrator’s relationship with their estranged father Julius (Stephen Payne) a Vietnam War Veteran dying from cancer caused by exposure on the battlefield to the herbicide Agent Orange. This relationship transcends the typical exploration into “the children of Vietnam vets and how the war affects the children of those soldiers and their relationship to them” (Basil Kreimendahl in “American Theater”). Because Nut is identified as a transmasculine character, the play further explores “masculinity and this complication of this father/son relationship, and a trans person’s desire to have their father see them as a man and as a son” (Basil Kreimendahl in “American Theater”).

Nut’s memories of life with the family, Julius, mother France (Mary Testa), sister Crimp (Irene Sofia Lucio), and an unnamed offstage brother are vivid with each memory segment acted out on stage. The memories span the years from Nut’s childhood to the present and are shared in episodic rather than chronological order. Additionally, there are fantasy scenes depicting Nut on the battlefield with Julius and Ol’ Boy (Ruy Iskandar) the hyper-masculine figure of Nut’s creation. These scenes dig deeply into Nut’s subconscious as he attempts to sort out who Julius was when he was young and not riddled with cancer and are steeped in rich masculine imagery.

Jess Barbagallo delivers a deeply moving performance as Nut the transmasculine character grappling with issues of acceptance, trust (would Julius kidnap Nut after he splits with France, was Julius touching Nut’s knee while in the car inappropriate touching?), and Nut’s place in the family system. Mr. Barbagallo moves between ages, spaces, and the realms of fantasy with the skills of a shapeshifting doppelgänger. Stephen Payne is equally adept at shifting from the young soldier to the aging and decaying father who has been unable to share his experiences in Vietnam other than watching the iconic movies relevant to the conflict. Mr. Payne’s Julius yearns for the sweetness of an Orange Julius but settles for the bitterness of defeat and alienation.

Mary Testa tackles her role as Nut’s mother and Julius’s wife with extraordinary sensitivity. Not quite sure what to do with Nut and dealing with the downward spiral in her family, Ms. Testa’s France moves across the stage in puzzlement and terror not knowing what to do or what to say to effectively create meaningful change in the family system. Irene Sofia Lucio successfully digs deeply into Crimp’s complex matrix of regret and fury after the character returns home to care for her dying father and finds herself in a maelstrom of sadness and longing. And Nut’s surrogate “father/brother/lover” Ol’ Boy is portrayed with homoerotic machismo and exquisite physical sensitivity by Ruy Iskander.

Kate Noll’s set is remarkable and uses every inch of Rattlestick’s stage area to its advantage. Downstage of the imposing garage door is the main playing area. The massive garage door opens to expose the upstage area where fantasy bleeds into the present and the present explores the regions of the subconscious. A ceiling fan serves both to quietly move the air and represent the loud rotors of a helicopter leaving Vietnam. Barbara Samuels’s lighting is luscious and full of mood changes and subtle shifts in setting. Dustin Wills directs “Orange Julius” with the appropriate attention to the crevices of memory and the jagged corners of war in those banks of remembrance.

The importance of “Orange Julius” transcends the homestead of Julius, France, Crimp and Nut. A psychological, historical, or deconstructionist “reading” of this important and transformative play exposes an underbelly of an America as a transmasculine entity often identified as a “female” but historically struggling hard to flex its alpha muscle and – particularly in the present political climate – identifying more as a “male” in a male environment of power and influence. However, as it stands, “Orange Julius” is a rich cathartic look at the journey of one searching not only for identity, but authentic acceptance and love.

ORANGE JULIUS

“Orange Julius” is a co-production with Page 73. The Cast includes Jess Barbagallo, Ruy Iskandar, Sofia Lucio, Stephen Payne, and Mary Testa.

The designers are Kate Noll, sets; Montana Blanco, costumes; Barbara Samuels, lighting; and
Palmer Hefferan, sound. Nicole Marconi is production stage manager. Production photos by Sandra Coudert Graham.

“Orange Julius” performs Tuesday to Sunday evenings at 8:00 p.m. with matinees Saturdays at
2:00 p.m. at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, through Sunday February 12, 2017.
Tickets are $50.00 (General), $25.00 (Artist), and $15.00 (Student). Tickets can be bought at: http://www.rattlestick.org or via phone at 212-627-2556. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, February 4, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Made in China” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 19, 2017)

Photo: Peter Russo as Mary and Ariel Estrada as Eddie in Made In China at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Heidi Bohnenkamp.
Off-Broadway Review: “Made in China” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 19, 2017)
Written by Gwendolyn Warnock and Kirjan Waage (with help from the “Made in China” ensemble)
Music and Lyrics by Yan Li
Directed by Gwendolyn Warnock
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When sparring, couples often find themselves deadlocked and unable to move forward in therapy. When children have difficulty sharing the uncomfortable scenarios being played out in their lives, they often turn to silence as a coping mechanism. Sometimes, therapists use puppets to allow their patients to express significant uncomfortable feelings. The theatre has also used puppets to say things it might be difficult for humans to say or to parody human behavior: Broadway’s “Hand to God” and Off Broadway’s “Avenue Q” and “That Golden Girls Show” and the eleven-day puppet-related stage productions in Chicago are current examples. In both settings – therapy and theatre – the antics of the puppets often push the limits of propriety to express deep feelings and to raise rich and enduring questions.

Such are the antics of Wakka Wakka’s puppets in their “Made in China” currently running at 59E59 Theaters. In co-production with Nordland visual Theatre, MiNEnsemblet, and the Hopkins Center of Dartmouth College, Wakka Wakka fulfills its mission “to push the boundaries of the imagination” with this daring exploration of the relationship of the United States to China and of the underbelly of America’s current political climate.

Sino-American relations, human rights violations, work camps, refugees, consumerism, recycling, “Made-in-America,” and the relentless decay of life are all themes addressed in the one hour and twenty-five-minute fusillade of fantasy provided by Kirjan Waage’s puppets, Yan Li’s music and lyrics, Gwendolyn Warnock’s and Kirjan Waage’s writing, and the MiNEnsemblet orchestra. The engaged audience leaves the theatre with one enduring question resounding in its members’ minds, bodies, and psyches: is there anything left in this world worth dying for?

Eddie Wang (Ariel Estrada) has emigrated to the United States from China and with his dog Yo-Yo (Andy Manjuck) lives next door to American-born Mary (Peter Russo) and her dog Lily (Dorothy James). Despite their cultural divide, these two interact with some cordiality and often challenge one another’s stereotypes and assumptions about the other’s life experiences. This is an odd couple: Eddie, longing for a visit from his offspring, teaches Yo-Yo “new words;” Mary spends much time at home in the nude watching television and eating macaroni and cheese on the couch. Yes, there’s frontal nudity, obscene language, bathroom breaks, and even penetration between these two scamps. “Made in China” makes “Hand to God” and “Avenue Q” look like a Sunday School skit.

But the importance of “Made in America” transcends prurient parameters. Without giving too much away, Mary and Eddie both take a dive down the proverbial rabbit hole (in this case, Mary’s toilet) and find themselves in China where Eddie meets the brother he left behind and Eddie and Mary embark on a magical realism tour that includes monologues from Mao (Charles Pang), Uncle Sam (Stephen J. Mark) and the Voice of the Letter (Charles Pang) Mary found tucked away in the Made in China Christmas decorations she purchased back home, the voice of a Chinese sweat shop worker looking for intervention.

While in this “dream sequence,” the pair confront their own culpability in trade imbalances, consumerism, and their lives of decay. They return to the USA changed individuals and their journey challenges the audience to examine all prior misconceptions about China – it is not all panda bears and bamboo. “Made in China” deals with the challenges America faces in its relationship to China and in its own internal struggles for relevance in the global economy and political matrix. Even the voice of the POTUS can be heard in the opening sequence. “Made in China’s” puppets often push the limits of propriety to express deep feelings and to raise rich and enduring questions. It does not get any more relevant than that. Is there anything left in this world worth dying for?


MADE IN CHINA

The “Made in China” puppeteers are Lei Lei Bavoil, Ariel Estrada, Dorothy James, Andrew Manjuck, Stephen J. Mark, Charles Pang, Peter Russo, Hansel Tan Shenwei, and Hansel Tan. Music performed by The MiNensemblet with Yan Li and Max Mamon. (Please note that the MiNensemblet will be performing live January 10 – February 4 only.) The company is led by Gabrielle Brechner, Kirjan Waage and Gwendolyn Warnock and supported by company members Andrew Manjuck and Peter Russo.

The design team includes Yu Ting Lin (set design); Alex Goldberg (lighting design); and Tiger Cai (video animation). The Production Stage Manager is Mackenzie Blade. Production photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

“Made in China” runs through Sunday, February 19. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 - $60 ($25 - $49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour 25 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “LaBute New Theater Festival 2017” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 5, 2017)

Photo: Michael Hogan in Homebody, part of the "LaBute New Theater Festival at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “LaBute New Theater Festival 2017” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 5, 2017)
By Neil LaBute, Gabe McKinley, Cary Pepper, and Adam Seidel
Directed by Kel Haney, Michael Hogan, and John Pierson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

If a single observation applies to the four plays in the 2017 “LaBute New Theater Festival” it is, there is nothing new here, nothing thought-provoking, nothing that raises rich enduring questions. And that is unfortunate given the status of the playwrights and the actors involved in this important Festival.

Kel Haney directs Neil LaBute’s “What Happens in Vegas” with efficiency. Patrick Huber’s hotel room set seems cramped in the small Theater C at 59E59 Theaters with the end of the large bed thrust just inches away from the first row of patrons who watch the nameless hooker “Her” (Clea Alsip) cavort with her young married client “Him” (Michael Hogan) and review the menu of services available for his further pleasure. These range from “General Horseplay” for twenty dollars to a “Dirty Sanchez” for one- hundred-fifty dollars. The language is unabashedly graphic throughout and it is difficult to know what the point of the play is. One wonders if the themes of infidelity, prevarication, and the employment of sex workers warrant the writing of a new play? If “What Happens in Vegas” is meant to be a trope for some larger purpose, the playwright has not made that “leap” apparent.

One would have to search hard to find any enduring questions raised in Adam Seidel’s ponderous and overlong “American Outlaws.” Mitch (Eric Dean White) is an accountant who launders money for “family” member Dominic Callabro and (believe it or not) asks Dominic to set up a meeting with his “specialist” Martin (Justin Ivan Brown) to arrange to murder Mitch’s wife Susan. Although the plot is predictable, it would not be fair to disclose the rising action, climax, falling action, and the resolution except to disclose that the reason Mitch wants to kill his wife is that she is having an affair with Martin. That “twist” is about as good as it gets. Director John Pierson directs this piece in a lugubrious fashion leaving the actors on their own depending on a large dose of mugging to substitute for character development and depth. “American Outlaws” is flat from beginning to end.

After an intermission, Michael Hogan returns to the stage to portray Jay McGibbons a John Kennedy Toole-like struggling writer who lives with his “frail” homebound mother (Donna Weinsting) and collects rejection notices from a multitude of prospective publishers. The son and mother are inextricably caught in a poisonous verbally abusive system. Why Jay doesn’t just leave is anybody’s guess. Apparently dramatic irony is the literary device operating here since only the audience must be aware of Mother’s manipulative nature. Believable? Self-destructive son? John Pierson fares better here: his direction is energetic and he keeps the action moving briskly. Mr. Hogan and Ms. Weinsting grapple with the script and do their best to make sense of its thin thematic core.

The final play Cary Pepper’s “Mark My Worms” (yes, it is all about misspelling) is perhaps the weakest of the four offerings in this year’s Festival. Mason (Eric Dean White) turns up in a rehearsal space for a cold reading of a little-known LaSalle Montclare play directed by John (Eric Dean White) and co-starring Gloria (Clea Alsip). When a playwright and/or director chooses to portray a theatre professional – in this case the director – with exaggerated gay stereotypes, it is difficult for this critic to even engage with the play. However, both Mr. Pepper and the play’s director Michael Hogan provide enough distraction to overshadow the stereotyping. The play itself, an exaggerated piece about theatre turning in upon itself and making fun of itself, seems pointless and the direction is plodding and lifeless. Mark my words.

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL

The cast features Clea Alsip, Justin Ivan Brown, Michael Hogan, Donna Weinsting, and Eric Dean White.

The creative team includes Patrick Huber (set design), Jonathan Zelezniak (lighting design), Carla Evans (costume design), and sound design by the St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Seth Ward Pyatt is the production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

The “LaBute New Theater Festival” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 5. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Please note: there is no 7:30 p.m. performance on Sunday February 5. Tickets are $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours with a 10-minute intermission.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Broadway Review: “Jitney” Is Better Now Than Ever at the Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)

Photo: Harvey Blanks, Michael Potts, Brandon Dirden, and André Holland. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Jitney” Is Better Now Than Ever at the Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)
By August Wilson
Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Reviewed by Michele Willens

August Wilson is having a banner year—especially for someone who has been dead since 2005. The good news is that the playwright had great success while he was living. (A Pulitzer among numerous other awards.) He is best known for what is called the American Century cycle, one drama a decade that chronicles African American lives in the Hill district of Pittsburgh.

One of those plays, “Fences,” has been a hit twice on Broadway and now, of course, has been adapted to the screen. Its star and director, Denzel Washington, has committed to bringing all the Wilson plays from stage to screen, an admirable if daunting goal. Meanwhile, the one play in the cycle that had not hit Broadway, has arrived there.

“Jitney” was written, and takes place in, the late ‘70s and I am quite sure its author would be pleased with the new Manhattan Theatre Club production. (Incidentally, it is not playing at the August Wilson Theater but at the Samuel Friedman.) David Gallo has created a beautiful set, replete with a few cars (which could clearly use a paint job or two) seen in the distance. Like almost all Wilson plays, the action takes place in one setting: here it is the ramshackle office of a gypsy car service, located in a neighborhood that is in imminent danger of being torn down. That’s a plot point of sorts, but “Jitney” is about the people.

In this case, there are nine of them who come in and out, and pick up the constantly ringing phone, awaiting their next job. (“Car service, okay, that will be four dollars, look for a blue car and I ain’t waiting.”) These people may seem like types at first--the spiffy numbers guy, the loquacious gossip, the young and confused Vietnam Vet--but as the time goes on, they become complex and always surprising individuals.

The direction, by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, as well as his cast, are pitch perfect. I am particularly thrilled to see John Douglas Thompson in a leading role on Broadway. He’s one of the theatre world’s great classical actors, but his work has almost always been off the Great White Way. Most recently, I watched him soar in two Ibsen plays in Brooklyn. Here he portrays the manager of the taxi service, but his most heartbreaking and maddening pair of scenes include his grown son, who has just been released after two decades in prison. (“What I ain’t got is a son I can be proud of! “is one of the least hurtful things he says.)

One can’t help but think of “Fences,” which also dealt with an overbearing father and a son trying to earn back his love. I thoroughly enjoyed spending two and a half hours with this working-class gang, so touchingly and honestly just trying to make a living. (A fight over thirty cents is no joke here) Not to mention just listening to August Wilson’s unique and flavorful dialogue. (“Ain’t nothing like owning property, they might even call you for jury duty.”)

What a joy to watch these characters bicker over whether Sarah Vaughn or Lena Horne was sexier, to hear one tell of his harrowing job in the Korean War, (stacking six bodies at a time) and yet another of how the bottle ruined a job as tailor to the stars of jazz. This is Pittsburgh poetry, August Wilson style, and it is very fine indeed.

JITNEY

The cast features Harvy Blanks, Anthony Chisholm, Brandon Dirden, André Holland, Carra Patterson, Michael Potts, Keith Randolph Smith, Ray Anthony Thomas, and John Douglas Thompson.

The creative team for August Wilson’s “Jitney” includes David Gallo (scenic design); Toni-Leslie James (costume design); Jane Cox (lighting design), Darron L West (sound design); Bill Sims, Jr. (original music); and Thomas Schall (fight director). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

The performance schedule for “Jitney” varies. For the performance schedule, visit the website at http://www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com. Tickets are available at Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. Ticket prices are $60.00-$140.00. Running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, January 30, 2017

Off Off-Broadway Review: AdA: Author Directing Author at La Mama Ellen Stewart Theatre (Through Sunday February 5, 2017)

Photo: Margaret Colin and Gabby Beans in "After the Dark." Credit: Theo Cote.
Off Off-Broadway Review: AdA: Author Directing Author at La Mama Ellen Stewart Theatre (Through Sunday February 5, 2017)
Written and Directed by Neil LaBute, Marco Calvani, and Marta Buchaca
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Neil LaBute has teamed up with Marco Calvani and Marta Buchaca to present three plays that are “surprising takes on the idea of ‘power dynamics.’” He believes the plays “make for a fun and thought-provoking evening of theater.” Certainly power – its use and misuse – is a relevant topic for this third installment of Author Directing Author given the current political climate in America and across the globe. How relevant and thought-provoking these plays are in that climate is somewhat problematic. In all three short plays – two in translation – the conflicts and motivations of the characters are clear. What is not clear is why these believable conflicts drive such muddled plots and often less-than-fun plots.

Marco Calvani’s “After the Dark” deftly deals with the delicious shifting of power between what appears to be an alpha female and her subordinate assistant. Veteran actor Margaret Colin plays Susie a designer whose work seems to be less than enthusiastically received at the trade show she attends with her assistant Jessie played by Gabby Beans. Susie started designing lamps because of her childhood fear of the dark – hence the title. And the power play between Susie and Jessie occurs after dark in the budget hotel Susie books for the trade show. Mr. Calvani sets up a plausible conflict between the two women that involves dynamics of race, age, and money – the three dynamos of power. However, the plot is thin and predictable and fails to wring the pathos out of this conflict. Under Marta Buchaca’s listless direction, Ms. Colin and Ms. Beans struggle mightily to make Mr. Calvani’s script work for the stage. Unfortunately, even their combined formidable craft cannot convince the audience of the importance of this lackluster play.

Marta Buchaca and Neil LaBute do not fare much better in (respectively) “Summit” and “I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From.” Ms. Buchaca’s play suffers from being less impressive than the current headlines its attempts to address. The new Mayor of a major city (Dalia Davi) scraps with the ex-Mayor (Victor Slezak) about qualifications and effectiveness and the seemingly innocent imbroglio explodes into the new Mayor’s involvement in a racist Tweet that threatens to unravel her election. Under Neil LaBute’s prosaic direction, the actors seem ill at ease with their roles. Shades of the presidential campaign are apparent in the script including allusions to the improper use of technology and egomaniacal conceits.

Mr. LaBute’s play, the darkest of the three, explores the broken relationship between Simon (Richard Kind) an overbearing father who cheated on his former wife and his daughter Janie (Gia Crovatin) who arranges a meeting at an upscale restaurant to attempt to reconcile with her father so he can see his grandchild. From the start, the meeting unravels when Janie presents to her father a document that will assure he begins a new relationship without foul language or tardiness. However, in this play full of unbelievable action, not showing up for family events is the least of Simon’s problems. The multi-layered script slowly reveals the depth of dysfunction and abuse in this fractured family system. Unfortunately, under Marco Calvani’s erratic direction, both Mr. Kind and Ms. Crovatin are visibly uncomfortable with the script and appear somewhat wooden and spiritless. Perhaps Mr. LaBute should decide whether realism or absurdism serve his theme better.

Neil Patel’s set design and Alex Jainchill’s light design are functional throughout all three plays. Jeff Mahshie’s costume design struggles too hard to do what rich characterization ought to accomplish.

ADA: AUTHOR DIRECTING AUTHOR

The cast of “AdA” includes Gabby Beans, Margaret Colin, Gia Crovatin, Dalia Davi, Richard Kind, and Victor Slezak.

The creative team for “Ada” includes set design by Neil Patel; lighting design by Alex Jainchill; costume design by Jeff Mahsie; stage management by Miriam Hyfler. US Management and promotion by Unamism LLC NY. Production photos by Theo Cote.

“AdA: Author Directing Author” performs January 19 through February 5. Performance schedule is Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. and Sundays at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 and $13.00 and can be purchased online at www.lamama.org or by phone at 212 352 3101. Running time is 1 hour and thirty-five minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, January 30, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Liar” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday February 26, 2017)

Photo: Tony Roach, Christian Conn, and Carson Elrod in "The Liar." Credit: Richard Termine.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Liar” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday February 26, 2017)
By David Ives
Directed by Michael Kahn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Adapted from the play “Le Menteur” by Pierre Corneille, David Ives’s “The Liar” currently running at Classic Stage Company is a superb farce replete with delightful stereotyped characters caught up in hilarious exaggerated situations. “The Liar” lands on stage at the perfect time and reminds theatre goers of the enduring importance of vaudeville in times of political upheaval.

After a first act brimming with exposition, the second act of “The Liar” assembles the puzzle pieces of the situations introduced earlier. There are mistaken identities, two sets of twins, onstage duels, garden trysts with a Cyrnao tableaux, love matches gained and lost, liars morphing into truthtellers, one committed to the truth learning to lie. And there is an ending far superior to Corneille’s original dissolution.

Episodic in nature (rather than character driven), “The Liar” focuses on the ne’re-do-well Dorante (Christian Conn) who excels at prevarication and exaggeration and upon his arrival in Paris, engages the “Servant for Hire” Cliton (Carson Elrod) to explore the city and its eligible young women. In the traditional style of the farce, several improbable but extremely funny scenarios are added to the delicious matrix of mayhem and madness. Donate’s father Geronte (played with a charismatic gravitas by Adam Lefevre) arrives to arrange a marriage for his son. Durante (having already been smitten by Lucrece (Amelia Pedlow) – or perhaps it was Clarice (Ismenia Mendes) – claims he cannot allow his father to arrange the marriage since he is already married to one Orphise.

Matters get more complicated with the arrival of Dorante’s friend Alcippe (played with the perfect balance of panache and languor by Tony Roach) who thinks Dorante has had a tryst with Clarice (mistaken identity and prevarication abound!). This is only one thread in “The Liar.” Cliton falls for Isabelle who has a twin Sabine (both played with priceless comedic timing by Kelly Hutchinson) who feels nothing for Cliton. And there’s Alcippe’s friend Philiste (played with foppish charm by Aubrey Deeker) who’s also on the prowl. It just gets better and better every minute of the two-hour extravaganza. Watch for delightful anachronisms and clever literary allusions.

David Ives earns his wordsmith accolades in this ‘translaptation’ (a translation with a heavy dose of adaptation per Mr. Ives) of the 1644 “Le Mentuer.” His decision to “translate” in rhythm (pentameter) and rhyme drives the piece forward with joyous energy. The rhymes, sometimes quite interesting, add to the linguistic feast.

The cast is uniformly impressive. Carson Elrod’s jester-esque Cliton is the perfect foil to Christian Conn’s fulsome Dorante. Mr. Elrod delivers his pentameter with unquavering crispness giving his lines the most natural rhythm of speech. Ismenia Mendes and Amelia Pedlow as Clarice and Lucrece respectively make mistaken identity look like a parlor game. Their vacillation between keen interest in their suitors and utter disdain for all things male is engaging and priceless.

Director Michael Kahn keeps the energetic cast moving at break-neck speed appropriate to the farce. Alexander Dodge’s set design is simple and functional with ample opportunities for quick entrances and exits. Murell Horton’s period costumes are exquisite and Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting is appropriate.

Dorante’s closing monologue sums up the exercise succinctly, “But think, before you hit the subway booth,/How this was all a lie – and yet the truth./Impossible? Don’t hurt your spinning head./Just hie thee happily home and lie – in bed!”

THE LIAR

The cast of “The Liar” includes Christian Conn, Aubrey Deeker, Carson Elrod, Kelly Hutchinson, Adam Lefevre, Ismenia Mendes, Amelia Pedlow and Tony Roach. Set design is by Alexander Dodge, costume design by Murell Horton, lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger, original music by Adam Wernick and sound design by Matt Stine. Production photos by Richard Termine.

“The Liar” will perform Tuesday through 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 from $60.00. For tickets, visit www.classicstage.org, call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111, or in person at the box office (136 East 13th Street). Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, January 29, 2017

Broadway Review: “In Transit” at Circle in the Square Theatre (Open Run)

Photo: The cast of "In Transit." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “In Transit” at Circle in the Square Theatre (Open Run)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth
Directed and Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"How do you get to where you are going if you don’t know where you are?" – Boxman

“In Transit,” currently running at Circle in the Square Theatre, is a charming and uncomplicated new musical with a simple message delivered convincingly by a splendid cast. Set primarily in a New York City subway station, the musical is narrated by Boxman (Steven “Heaven”Cantor) and centers on the stories of Jane (Margot Seibert) the aspiring actor working at a temp agency awaiting her Broadway break, Steven (Colin Hanlon) and Trent (Arbender Robinson on January 12, 2017) the gay couple struggling with issues of honesty and a religious right “in-law,” Nate (James Snyder) the out-of-work broker, and Ali (Erin Mackey) who left her Seattle home to chase after love interest (and cad) Dave (David Abeles).

Moya Angela (Ms. Wiliams, Momma, Althea), Gerianne Perez (Kathy), Mariand Torres (Nina), and Nicholas Ward (Chris) round out the talented cast that does its best to bring life and energy to “In Transit.” Despite the heroic effort of the creators to spin a musical tale that connects deeply with urban dwellers and their current challenging exigencies, the musical remains formulaic and less than distinguished. Undercutting the clever and refreshing acapella performances is the unnecessary amplification in a space with above average acoustics.

Stand out musical numbers are “Deep Beneath the City/ “Not There Yet,” “Broke” (Nate), “Keep It Goin’” (Althea), Ms. Williams’s (Moya Angela) “A Little Friendly Advice,” “Choosing Not to Know” (Trent), “We are Home” (Steven and Trent), and Jane’s summative “Getting There.” These numbers successfully support the musical’s theme of focusing on “the here and now” as opposed to yearning to know more about life’s journey.

The creative team has been re-working “In Transit” for several years but has not yet found a way to add the level of sophistication and depth needed to move the project forward in convincing ways. And although the cast is diverse ethnically, it is woefully not diverse in age. The performance we attended seemed to be comprised of many tourists who – to be fair – seemed to connect to this musical in a positive way and embraced the suspension of disbelief with ardor.

IN TRANSIT

“In Transit” is produced by Janet B. Rosen for Six Train Productions. Scott Landis serves as Executive Producer.

The cast of “In Transit” includes David Abeles, Moya Angela, Adam Bashian, Steven “HeaveN” Cantor, Justin Guarini, Laurel Harris, Telly Leung, Erin Mackey, Gerianne Pérez, Margo Seibert, Chesney Snow, James Snyder, Mariand Torres, Nicholas Ward, and Aurelia Williams.

“In Transit” features scenic design by Donyale Werle, costume design by Clint Ramos, lighting design by Donald Holder, sound design by Ken Travis, vocal arrangements by Deke Sharon, music supervision by Rick Hip-Flores, and casting by Binder Casting, Inc. Production photos by

The playing schedule for “In Transit” at Circle in the Square Theatre (235 West 50th St., New York, NY) is as follows: Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “In Transit” range from $89 - $159 and are available at www.InTransitBroadway.com. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, January 27, 2017

Off Broadway Preview: Matthew Broderick Joins the New Group’s “Evening at the Talk House” by Wallace Shawn at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre

Photo: Wallace Shawn in "Evening at the Talk House." Credit: Catherine Ashmore.
The New Group has announced that two-time Tony Award winner Matthew Broderick joins Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House, with, as previously announced, Jill Eikenberry, John Epperson, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, Claudia Shear, Annapurna Sriram and Michael Tucker, representing full casting for this U.S. premiere directed by Scott Elliott. Previews for Evening at the Talk House begin January 31 in advance of an Official Opening Night on February 16 at The Pershing Square Signature Center (The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street). A limited Off-Broadway engagement is slated through March 12.

Remember when we felt we could do anything, when there was still nothing to fear? Yes, things have changed a bit, haven’t they? And people keep saying there’s nothing to be afraid of! In Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House, everyone’s invited to join the company of Robert (Matthew Broderick)’s under-appreciated masterpiece, Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars, at a get-together to raise a toast on the 10th anniversary of its opening night. To recall that wonderful creative atmosphere, which we all miss so much, Nellie (Jill Eikenberry) will host this celebration at the old haunt, the Talk House (which, despite everything, remains open). Please come. We need each other.

Evening at the Talk House features Matthew Broderick as Robert, Jill Eikenberry as Nellie, John Epperson as Ted, Larry Pine as Tom, Wallace Shawn as Dick, Claudia Shear as Annette, Annapurna Sriram as Jane and Michael Tucker as Bill.

Directed by Scott Elliott, this production features Scenic Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Jeff Mahshie and Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton. Production Supervisor is Production Core. Production Stage Manager is Valerie A. Peterson. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA.

This new production of Evening at the Talk House, a U.S. premiere, reunites Wallace Shawn and director Scott Elliott, whose previous collaborations for The New Group include Aunt Dan and Lemon, The Fever and Marie and Bruce. Evening at the Talk House premiered in November 2015 at the National Theatre.

The New Group’s 2016-2017 season launched with the current production Sweet Charity choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, directed by Leigh Silverman and starring Sutton Foster (now through January 8); and continues with Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House, directed by Scott Elliott; the world premiere of All the Fine Boys, from writer and director Erica Schmidt, with Abigail Breslin, Isabelle Fuhrman, Joe Tippett and Alex Wolff (begins February 14, 2017); and the world premiere of The Whirligig, by Hamish Linklater, directed by Scott Elliott, with Norbert Leo Butz, Zosia Mamet and Maura Tierney (begins May 2, 2017; additional casting to be announced).

Subscriptions and memberships for The New Group’s 2016-2017 season are available now. For subscription purchases and season info, please visit www.thenewgroup.org. Subscriptions can also be purchased by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12-8pm daily).

Tickets for Evening at the Talk House, on sale now, start at $75. Performance schedule as follows: Tuesday - Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 2:00pm & 8:00pm and Sunday at 2:00pm.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Othello” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through Wednesday January 18, 2017)

Photo: Rachel Brosnahan, David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig star in the New York Theatre Workshop production of “Othello.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Othello” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through Wednesday January 18, 2017)
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Gold
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on” – Iago in Shakespeare’s “Othello,” Act III, Scene 3

Whatever reasons that might be attributed to reimagining Shakespeare’s “Othello” – whether to create interest, heighten symbolism, or foster accessibility – what will always remain, front and center, is the tragic hero who is devoured by the green-eyed monster. In the most recent interpretation at New York Theatre Workshop, director Sam Gold updates the activities to a soldier’s barracks, somewhere very hot, presumably the mid-east. This explains the plywood clad walls, floor, and ceiling by set designer Andrew Lieberman that surround the audience, encompass the actors, and holds the action prisoner so it might linger in your mind. Also, costume design by David Zinn relies on Nike athletic wear, shorts, tee shirts and sportswear leggings to imagine the climate which exists outside of the raw wooden encampment. Eschewing common Fresnel, PAR, and ellipsoidal theater lights, designer Jane Cox concocts unconventional ways of illuminating the action, which rely on total darkness, LED work lights, miners’ headlamps, cell phones and more to spotlight intimacy or flood the precinct with a harsh white glare to enhance powerful conflicts. This creative team is spot on in their collaborative efforts to bring to life Mr. Gold’s progressive rendering, but once this magnificent cast affords the words of this masterpiece, these efforts all but disappear, as the emotional execution of the language erupts to consume all the senses.

Daniel Craig depicts Iago as a coy chameleon like terrorist, changing moods and allegiance and constantly plotting to achieve power and success. He understands and exhibits the ability to convince vulnerable opponents to join his forces without them ever realizing their efforts will only contribute to their own demise. He is a master of deceit, even capable of seducing an audience to fall into his web of treachery. Then there is David Oyelowo who inhabits the role of Othello with every fiber of his being with powerful outbursts of anger, clever intellectual explanations and soothing emotional moments that act as a sedative to the turmoil that swirls around him. He is honest to a fault, understands the capacity to love, never insecure even when swindled and responsible for his actions at every turn. His impassioned performance is haunting and heart rending. Rachel Brosnahan portrays a simple, engaging Desdemona, forthright, faithful and resilient, filled with fortitude. Fleshing out the remaining principal characters are Mathew Maher (a delightful, frivolous, lisping Rodrigo), Finn Whittrock (a determined, disarming Cassio), Marsha Stephanie Blake (a dedicated, focused, fearless Emilia) and Nikki Massoud (a rational but embittered Blanca).

This production stands on its own merit, telling the timeless, tragic, tale of psychological warfare with an unparalleled balance of clarity and emotion. It manages to involve the audience in the action, immerse them in the emotional content, and deliver the poetic language, while never conceding to phenomenalism.

OTHELLO

The cast of William Shakespeare’s “Othello” features David Wilson Barnes, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Rachel Brosnahan, Daniel Craig, Blake DeLong, Glenn Fitzgerald, Slate Holmgren, Anthony Michael Lopez, Matthew Maher, Nikki Massoud, David Oyelowo, Kyle Vincent Terry, and Finn Wittrock.

“Othello” features scenic design by Andrew Lieberman, costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Jane Cox, sound design by Bray Poor, and fight direction by Thomas Schall. Andrew Wade serves as voice coach and Michael Sexton serves as dramaturg and text consultant. “Othello” is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Production photos by

Single tickets for “Othello” at the New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street between Bowery and 2nd Avenue) are sold out. A limited number of tickets are available to members of our patron program, the Society of Repeat Defenders, and to the Benefit Performance on Thursday, January 12 at 6:30 PM. For further information, please visit http://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 3 hours and 10 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, January 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Sweet Charity” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday January 8, 2017)

Photo: Emily Padgett, Donald Jones Jr., Sutton Foster, Joel Perez, and Cody Williams star in Sweet Charity, directed by Leigh Silverman, for the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center. Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “Sweet Charity” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday January 8, 2017)
Book by Neil Simon, Music by Cy Coleman, and Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Directed by Leigh Silverman and Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Although it is difficult to experience a musical like “Sweet Charity” without comparing the current production at the New Group with previous productions, that is the only fair way to be critical of the current incarnation of that iconic work done by Neil Simon, Cy Coleman, and Dorothy Fields. “Sweet Charity” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center should be judged on its own merit and not how it does or does not stand up to the 1966 Broadway production choreographed by Bob Fosse. The New Group’s “Sweet Charity” is unique, brilliantly cast, impeccably staged, and discovers the deep, rich underbelly of this musical that seems to have escaped notice until now.

It seems the most appropriate critical strategy for “reading” this new production of “Sweet Charity” is the new historicist criticism and the cultural criticism. Like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” the New Group’s “Sweet Charity” is a compelling and rich trope for none other than ‘America,” the same scarlet ‘A’ of Hawthorne’s novel. Like America, Charity Hope Valentine (played with a powerful introspective spirit by Sutton Foster has often been too trusting, too willing to compromise beliefs, too dependent on others for wellbeing, and often far too confident about the future. America, like Charity, has also been self-effacing to the point of self-destruction.

“Sweet Charity’s” predominant theme of identity counterpoints profoundly with the Nation’s search for identity. The musical peels away the layers of Charity’s past revealing her vulnerability and her less explored – but equally evident – inner strength. “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” with Nickie (Asmeret Ghebremichael) and Helene (Emily Padgett) becomes the musical’s mantra and Charity’s anthem. They deliver with an earnest longing, “And when I find me some life I can live/I’m gonna get up I’m gonna get out/I’m gonna get up get out and live it.”

Under Leigh Silverman’s sharp direction, the members of the impressive cast deliver authentic performances animated with deep honesty and endearing charisma. Derek McLane’s multipurpose set design serves as the dance hall, Vittorio Vidal’s (Joel Perez) apartment, the elevator where Charity meets Oscar (Shuler Hensley), the park, and other New York City locations sometime in the 1960s. Costumes by Clint Ramos and lighting by Jeff Croiter’s add rich levels of realism to the musical’s strength. The six-member all-female Sweet Charity Band does justice to Cy Coleman’s score and Joshua Bergasse’s choreography is stunning.

Nothing is the same. Not “Sweet Charity.” Not America. The New Group gives us a new “Sweet Charity” unencumbered by the past. The new historicist “reading” looks forward to a new America unencumbered by its past. Just as Charity wonders where she is going at the musical’s conclusion, so America can ask, “What am I all about and where am I going?” And America can confess, “Looking inside me. What do I see? Anger and hope and doubt, what am I all about?” No more moral cowardice for Charity. And no more moral cowardice for America. America, now more than ever, needs “dream its dream.”

SWEET CHARITY

Based on an original screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, and Ennio Plaiano, “Sweet Charity” is presented by The New Group in association with Kevin McCollum.

“Sweet Charity” features Yesenia Ayala, Darius Barnes, James Brown III, Sutton Foster, Asmeret Ghebremichael, Shuler Hensley, Sasha Hutchings, Donald Jones, Jr., Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Emily Padgett, Joel Perez, and Cody Williams.

This production features Scenic Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Clint Ramos, Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by Leon Rothenberg, Wig and Hair Design by Charles G. LaPointe, Make-Up Design by Joe Dulude II, Orchestrations by Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Music Direction by Georgia Stitt. Production Supervisor is Production Core. Production Stage Manager is Valerie A. Peterson. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

The performance schedule at the Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street) is Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., with matinee performances on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. For additional performances and further information on the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit The New Group’s website at http://www.thenewgroup.org/sweetcharity.html.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 30, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: MCC Theater’s “Ride the Cyclone” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Thursday December 29, 2016)

Photo: Gus Halper and the cast of "Ride The Cyclone" Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: MCC Theater’s “Ride the Cyclone” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Thursday December 29, 2016)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond
Directed and Choreographed by Rachel Rockwell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I KNOW THIS DREAM OF LIFE IS NEVER ENDING,/IT GOES AROUND AND 'ROUND AND 'ROUND AGAIN,
YOU KNOW THE SUN IS RISING WHILE DESCENDING,/IT GOES ON AND ON AND NEVER ENDS.” – Jane Doe AKA Penny Lamb

Like most of humankind residing earth side, the six young victims of a rollercoaster malfunction in “Ride the Cyclone” are trapped in a netherworld-like existence either waiting for the ferryman Charon to escort them across the rivers Styx and Acherin or some other conveyance to a life beyond death. The “bank of the river” here is a warehouse chock full of the debris from the amusement park where the young members of the Saint Cassian Choir met their death on the doomed Cyclone ride.

At some time “far in the future,” the sextet finds themselves being addressed by The Amazing Karnak (played with a robotic sensuality by Karl Hamilton) a mechanical fortune-telling machine intent on having the ghostly youth advocate for the opportunity for only one of their number to return to life. That individual must receive a unanimous vote which precludes anyone from voting for himself or herself. Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (played with an acerbic vulnerability by Tiffany Tatreau), daughter of “far left of center humanists,” finds Karnak’s challenge nothing more than a game.

She protests, “First, I don’t know how it is in your culture, but in ours, playing games where peoples’ lives are on the table? Super illegal.” Adding, “Um…and if I just vote for myself, what is the moral? If I chose myself… if I choose myself, the moral of the story is that humans suck.” Karnak’s response is less than comforting to Ocean, “That would be a valid interpretation, yes.” His comeback begins to chisel away at the underbelly of the theme of “Ride the Cyclone.”

Despite Karnak’s protestation that “Not every story has a lesson,” Ocean bravely affirms, “No. Every story has a lesson… every story…” Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond seem to be offering Ocean’s “cautionary tale of hubris” as their musical’s lesson. The competition gives the victims the opportunity to advocate for the opportunity to return to living out their lives and each performance is remarkable and provides its own counterpoint teaching to the musical’s main “lesson” of how to manage one’s movement through the ride called “life.”

Mischa Bachinski (played with a steely but romantic persona by Gus Halper), Noel Gruber (played with delicious sensuous ambiguity by Kholby Wardell), Ricky Potts (played with a vulnerable and contentious core by Alex Wyse), and Jane Doe (played with an endearing creepiness by Emily Rohm) raise rich and enduring questions in their “entries” and – in the process – exhibit just how challenging it is to navigate one’s way through the vicissitudes of life.

Mischa bemoans his lack of money and opportunity. Noel raises awareness for the LGBTQ community and the sexually non-conforming. His lament, “Being the only gay man in a small rural high school is kind of like having a laptop in the Stone Age. I mean sure you can have one, but there’s nowhere to plug it in.” Ricky’s physical challenges give him a new understanding of what is really important: “I guess all I have to say is this: if sacred places are spared the ravages of war... then make all places sacred. And if the holy people are to be kept harmless from war... then make all people holy.” Constance yearns to be more than the "nicest girl in homeroom" and celebrate her history and hometown values. And Jane Doe challenges her peers to transcend stereotypes and preconceived "speculations."

Whether all people will be considered holy for the next four years remains to be seen. “Ride the Cyclone” gives the audience an opportunity to address that important question. Under Rachel Rockwell’s astute direction, the cast of the musical excel in every way and tackle Ms. Rockwell’s choreography with impressive skill. Scott Davis’s set design handily imagines the caverns of the human mind and is equally matched in effectiveness by Theresa Ham’s costumes and Greg Hofmann’s doleful lighting.

“The world will keep on spinning/With no ending or beginning/So just take a look around.” The world will keep on spinning to be sure. “Ride the Cyclone” helps us sort out the quality of that particular ride.

RIDE THE CYCLONE

The cast of “Ride the Cyclone” features Lillian Castillo, Gus Halper, Karl Hamilton, Taylor Louderman, Johnny Newcomb, Emily Rohm, Emily Walton, Kholby Wardell, and Alex Wyse.

“Ride the Cyclone” features scenic design by Scott Davis, costume design by Theresa Ham, lighting by Greg Hofmann, sound by Garth Helm, and projections by Mike Tutaj. Musical supervision by Doug Peck and musical direction by Remy Kurs. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Ride the Cyclone” will be performed at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street). It is currently scheduled through Thursday December 29. Tickets are now on sale. For more info, visit www.mcctheater.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 23, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday January 1, 2017)

Photo: Jake Broder is Lord Buckley in "His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley" at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Vincent Scarano.
Off-Broadway Review: “His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday January 1, 2017)
Written and Performed by Jake Broder
Directed by David Ellenstein
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” – The Real Donald Trump at 5:56 a.m. on November 19 2016

Just when you think the theatre is a safe place again after the president-elect’s recent challenge to the producers and creative team of “Hamilton,” Jake Broder barrels into Manhattan and onto the stage at 59E59 (the “little cavern in 59 squared”) with “His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley” inviting the audience “to commune with your subconscious mind and ask yourself just who in the hell do you think you are.” Obviously, the underbelly of the conscious mind is not the safest place to play although Mr. Broder’s delicious ninety-minute two-set foray to those depths are special indeed and a must-see event.

Jake Broder’s character is based on the ineffable Lord Richard Buckley (1906 – 1960). Assisted by The Hip News Man Michael Lanahan and backed by hippest jazz trio in town, Mr. Broder delivers an unbridled full bore fusillade against racism, sexism, (oddly not against homophobia), xenophobia and all things president-electoral and offers the possibility of a world where non-judgmental and unconditional love would reign over God’s “stash, God’s “Great Lake of Love.”

After an opening set of “up” bop tunes (Duke Ellington’s version of “Money Jungle” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia”) Mr. Lanahan introduces Lord Buckley who, after explaining “hip semantics,” launches into three stunning examples of that artful genre giving new “hip” meaning to Charles Dickens’ Scrooge, Robert Browning’s “Pied Piper of Hamelin,” and a humorous but challenging reading of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” that reeks of Trump’s disturbing uber-ego. Equally challenging is counterpointing the about to be president’s parsimony with that of Scrooge and his history of not keeping promises: “So, Willy, let you and me be wipers/Of scores out with all men--especially pipers!/And, whether they pipe us free, from rats or from mice,/If we’ve promised them ought, let us keep our promise” (Robert Browning).

Truth has a way of thinning a crowd and after Mr. Broder’s dark “retelling” of “Georgia on My Mind” (Ray Charles) including images of a lynching, the audience returned after the intermission with fewer patrons around the cabaret-style tables that replaced Theater B’s traditional theatre seating.

In his second set (Act II), focuses more on the possibilities for humankind post recent political fallout. Mr. Broder shares a hip version of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (with Mr. Lanahan as “Lanky Link”), a splendidly compressed life of Mahatma Gandhi (the “Hip Ghan”), and a skillful re-telling of “The Nazz’s” Sermon on the Mount. Under David Ellenstein’s careful and generous direction, Josh Broder’s writing and performance challenge not only the substratum of the human psyche but also the physical landscape the psyche must traverse. Mr. Lanahan, who counterpoints Mr. Broder with brilliant rapport, provides engaging performances throughout.

Mr. Broder’s honesty and authentic performances are true insights into the human condition and the state of the nation in the present. He is engaging, informed, and understands the role of comedy in effecting significant change. In his book “Chronicles,” Bob Dylan said "Buckley was the hipster bebop preacher who defied all labels." Jake Broder reimagines that stage performer and delivers a performance that establishes him – like the Nazz – to be among the “coolest, grooviest, swingin'est, wailin'est, swingin'est cat that ever stomped on this jumpin' green sphere.”

As he introduces the stellar band, Jake Broder’s Lord Buckley challenges the audience with “I have a dream that one day, this country will rehearse love so hard that every cat and kittie, red white and blue will be swingin it together, level, in font! Don't get mad, love harder! If you dig that, can I get a hallelujah?” Hallelujah indeed.

HIS ROYAL HIPNESS LORD BUCKLEY

Jake Broder is joined by actor Michael Lanahan and a jazz trio featuring Brad Russell (bass), Mark Hartman (piano), and Daniel Glass (drums).

The lighting and sound design is by Aaron Rumley. The Production Stage Manager is Norah Scheinman. Production photos by Vincent Scarano.

“His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, January 1. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM & 7:15 PM. Please note the Holiday performance schedule: Sat. Dec 24 & 31 at 2:15 & 5:15 only; no performances on Sun. Dec 25; Sun. Jan 1 at 3:15 only; added performances on Wednesday, Dec 21 at 2:15, and Friday Dec 23 & Dec 30 at 5:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 - $40 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes including an intermission.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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