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Off-Broadway Review: “Georama: An American Panorama on 3 Miles of Canvas” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)

Photo: Jacob Yates and Ana Marcu. Credit: Jagged Edge Arts.
Off-Broadway Review: “Georama: An American Panorama on 3 Miles of Canvas” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)
Book by West Hyler and Matt Schatz
Music and Lyrics by Matt Schatz
Arrangements, Additional Music and Lyrics by Jack Herrick
Directed by West Hyler
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The Authors’ Note in the program for “Georama: An American Panorama on 3 Miles of Canvas,” currently running at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, claims that John Banvard the subject of their musical “[has] been entirely obliterated by history.” Although that premise is not entirely accurate – articles about Banvard exist in numerous scholarly articles – the musical itself has merit. The musical itself is not new, having been produced at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre in 2016 and workshopped during a residence at The Drama League. Its revival at NYMF indicates the creative team continues to consider the musical to be in development and this review will assume that to be the case.

John Banvard (played with a charming naivete by P.J. Griffith) is a young (and, of course, starving) artist whose mantra might be “Who Needs People” one of the musical numbers. A gifted loner who enjoys making sketches of the land and seascape of the Mississippi River, he thrives on being “Our Across the Mississippi.” After collaborating with showboat owner Chapman (played with entrepreneurial bravado by Nick Sullivan) and “impresario” Taylor (played with an appropriate deplorable grandiosity by Randy Blair), Banvard envisions the panorama, a moving display of scenes along the Mississippi. Envisioned as a ‘georama’ by Taylor, Banvard enlists the help of musician Elizabeth Goodnow (played with an endearing sincerity and vulnerability by Jillian Louis), daughter of Pastor Goodnow (Nick Sullivan) who suggests Banvard “Make Things People Need” and not “abduct” his daughter from his conservative praxis.

“Georama” strives to give substance to John Banvard, to “fill in the blanks” about this elusive artist; however, the scenes provide little of essence about his life. The audience learns more about his love interest and wife Elizabeth than about the inner and outer struggles of the artist. The story jumps quickly from Banvard’s initial employment by Chapman and his collaboration with Taylor to his success, to his betrayal by Taylor (P.T. Barnum), to his travels to London and Egypt, to his ultimate realization that “Art Is a Lie” and his return home to Elizabeth.

Under West Hyler’s direction, the talented cast grapples with their characters with care and considerable authenticity. P.J. Griffith’s and Jillian Louis’s duets are engaging: “Something so Great;” “Who Needs People/Try and Catch Me;” and the reprise of “Across the Mississippi” display their considerable vocal talents. Some of Matt Schatz’s music is derivative and his lyrics (with Jack Herrick) contain an abundance of repetitive rhyming. The musical numbers are, however, pleasing and heartfelt. Scott Neale’s scenic design, Ann Wrightson’s lighting design, and Whitney Locher’s costume design are satisfying and Jason Thompson’s projection design is remarkable.

Three of the musical numbers could easily be eliminated and replaced by solid numbers that reveal more about the “forgotten” artist and serve to move the plot forward. “Something I’d Like to See,” sung by the musicians contributes nothing to the story line. “Perhaps,” sung by Polly (one of the musicians portraying a sex worker who attempts to lure John into a tryst) is puzzling and – even more puzzling – is “Just A Little,” the musical number sung by Nick Sullivan in drag as a Queen Victoria claiming to need sex. How this develops the mystery of Banvard’s obscurity is itself a mystery. The number is at best tasteless.

As a work in progress, “Georama” needs some attention by its creators; however, at its core, it is a fascinating story of the life of an artist whose vision and drive reflected a life that was “Something So Great.” The musical raises rich and enduring questions about creativity, truth and falsehood, and the quest for meaning and acceptance.

GEORAMA: AN AMERICAN PANORAMA TOLD ON 3 MILES OF CANVAS

The cast of “Georama: An American Panorama on 3 Miles of Canvas” includes Randy Blair, PJ Griffith, Jillian Louis, Ana Marcu, and Nick Sullivan. Musicians: Jacob Yates (piano, cello) and Ana Marcu (piano, violin, guitar).

The creative team includes Scott Neale (Scenic Designer), Whitney Locher (Costume Designer), Ann G. Wrightson (Lighting Designer), Jason H. Thompson (Projection Designer), Merrick Williams (Stage Manager), and Mark McDaniels (General Manager). Production photos by Jagged Edge Arts.

The production will run through Sunday, August 6, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/georama-american-panorama-told-3-miles-canvas or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jacob Yates and Ana Marcu. Credit: Jagged Edge Arts.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Saving Stan” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 7, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “Saving Stan” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 7, 2017)
By Gary Morgenstein
Directed by Simcha Borenstein
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The sixty-minute one-act play “Saving Stan” is being presented as part of the inaugural season of the Broadway Bound Theater Festival at 14th Street Y Theater. Playwright Gary Morgenstein has penned a story with an interesting premise; however, at present the script is slightly scattered and confusing. Stan (Carlo Fiorletta) has suffered a severe stroke which leaves him incapacitated, unable to speak, and assisted by health care worker Patrice (Olivia Baseman). His almost bankrupt best friend Jack (Jordan Auslander) comes to visit and for some unknown reason he is the only one who can hear Stan speak. Stan asks Jack to help him commit suicide in exchange for inheriting a sizable amount of money from the estate. Patrice has her own intentions of marrying Stan, this would be his fourth wife, and woos him by singing, dancing with him in his wheelchair and trying to take him to her brother’s house for lunch. All this unfolds before the botched execution of the fatal act.

The numerous short encounters are punctuated by blackouts to indicate a time lapse or a different visit but consequently they interrupt the action, any emotional drive and dramatic arc. There are too many unanswered questions that undermine the plausibility of the plot. When did Stan write his will leaving Jack all his money in exchange for his aberrant help since he is incapacitated? Why is Jack the only one that hears Stan speak? Why does Patrice come back to Stan’s place after she has left and will no longer work there? How did Patrice get access to read Stan’s will?

The characters spend quite a bit of time arguing but there is very little exposition and occasional forced humor. They merely appear as pawns in a very bewildering game of intrigue. As with any mystery drama dealing with a death, the script must be fervid and tight with no loose ends causing doubt.
Perhaps if the device of short vignettes followed by a blackout needs to be incorporated, when the lights come up the audience should be faced with a shocking scene followed by the explanation. This way the audience will engage in anticipation of the next scene. For instance, the scene where Patrice is wooing Stan by singing and dancing ending with a kiss. If the lights came up and Patrice was kissing Stan the audience becomes immediately interested in what is happening and wants the explanation. It is a reverse strategy, shock then explain. It may help the pace of the piece. The end is a bit confusing mostly because of staging (and possibly a technical difficulty). Avoiding a spoiler alert, possibly it needs to be opened up so we can see Stan and his propped-up arm accidently falls which causes the following escapade.

Mr. Morgenstein has an absorbing one-act in the incubator that needs more attention to detail along with an infusion of desperation, motivation and exposition to the characters. It relies on unconventional devices within the plot and therefore requires unorthodox direction and staging.

SAVING STAN

The cast of “Saving Stan” features Jordan Auslander, Olivia Baseman, and Carlo Fiorletta.

Taylor Mankowski serves as lighting designer and stage manager for “Saving Stan.”

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Saving Stan” is 60 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 4, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The American Dream” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Thursday, August 10, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “The American Dream” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Thursday, August 10, 2017)
Written and Directed by Juan Ramirez, Jr.
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Corina’s (Cristy Reynoso) dream is to reach New York City and start a new life. This American Dream begins in Guatemala and reaches a climax in Tucson, Arizona where the twenty-two-year-old illegal immigrant is being held in a “safe house” by her “coyotaje” Efren (Juan Ramirez, Jr.), the human smuggler who has illegally transported Corina from her crossing point into the United States. Corina’s husband is late with the final payment for Efren’s “work” and, unless he makes the Western Union transfer in a relatively short period of time, Efren threatens to kill his captive.

“The American Dream,” currently playing at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, taps deeply into the realms of moral ambiguity to examine the encounter between Corina and her captor Efren as they play what appears to be a life-or-death cat and mouse game culminating in an ending skirting the outer edges of Magical Realism. Every time Efren raises the threat level for Corina, the illegal immigrant “plays” Efren by reminding him of his own journey from Guatemala, claiming she is two-weeks pregnant by proffering an ultrasound image from a woman who is in her second trimester, offering to move in with Efren and do his every bidding, and – finally – revealing that she knows his mother back in Central America.

Mr. Ramirez uses the conflicts of his two characters to address the nature of the American Dream, its promises and its disappointments. The promise of freedom and the new life with her husband appeals to Corina: the reality of his experience as an immigrant in America disappoints Efren. In their exchange, the audience can revisit the rich and enduring questions surrounding the quest for the American Dream: how is life in America better or worse than life in Central America or Mexico; what is an illegal immigrant; why do brave individuals continue to make the dangerous journey across borders to reach America?

Juan Ramirez, Jr.’s script is strong and, with feedback from the experience at the Broadway Bound Festival, the playwright will be able to continue to develop “The American Dream” successfully. He tackles important issues facing not only America but the entire global community. It would help the progression of the play if the audience felt more compassion for Corina, cared about her more. This would reinforce the tension between the characters and accentuate the difference in their world views. Both Mr. Ramirez and Ms. Reynoso address the conflicts of their characters with authenticity.

It is difficult to write, direct, and star in one’s own play. If any one of the roles suffers, it is usually the role of director. Mr. Ramirez’s direction is adequate but needs tightening up in the second act where the pace seems to slow a bit more than it should. Also, in the first act, Ms. Reynoso’s Corina is left for long periods of time standing, wringing her hands, and rocking back and forth from one leg to the other. Again, it is sometimes difficult to direct one’s own play. More physical interaction – including raw violence – between the characters might augment the staging. Efren needs to be far more ruthless and exhibit his ability to terrorize his captive.

“The American Dream” continues the fortuitous conversation about immigration, so-called immigration reform (“Merit-Based Immigration System), human trafficking, legal immigration, illegal immigration, discrimination, the role of ICE officials, and nationalism. There are two more opportunities to see Mr. Ramirez’s important new play: Sunday August 6 at 6:30 p.m. and Thursday August 10 at 4:00 p.m.

THE AMERICAN DREAM

The cast of “The American Dream” features Juan Ramirez, Jr. and Cristy Reynoso.

The creative team includes Amira Mustapha (lighting design) and Angela Reynono (stage manager).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “The American Dream” is 70 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 3, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “In the Room, Waiting” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Sunday, August 6, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “In the Room, Waiting” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Sunday, August 6, 2017)
By Thaddeus McCants
Directed by Tyler Gardella
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Several characters appear in “In A Room, Waiting,” particularly because the room in question is a hospital waiting room. These “visitors” have little else to occupy their time other than browsing outdated magazines or entering a conversation that might either ease their apprehension or perhaps escalate their level of anxiety. Malcolm (Thaddeus McCants) and Aisha (Jarielle Whitney), a young unmarried couple, happen to be at the center of this societal microcosm as they grapple with the issue of an unexpected pregnancy. They disagree on many topics including whether to bring a child into the world given their present dismal situation and precarious relationship. Among the vivid refugees that that infiltrate this isolated encampment from the socio-economic war raging outside its doors, is a mother with a sagacious child, a drug addict looking to steal prescription drugs, a man with a head wound injured by an exploding soup can and a college frat boy ailing from an STD. Then there is the astounding Octavious, (Justin Jorrell) a somewhat prophet that sees people’s lives when high on the drug of the present decade. Beaten, bedraggled and ostracized, a sort of evangelist there to announce the coming of a special child. They are all colorful and persons of color.

Playwright Thaddeus McCants has penned an interesting narrative and created a mélange of characters to support his clever script. As ingenious as it is, it lacks the dramatic arc needed to sustain the important messages that reflect the current social turmoil erupting in our country today. The choice of music in-between scenes, as relevant as it may be, weakens the power and drive of the dialogue by changing the mood. Also, there is a need to clarify the reality versus magical realism that exists. At present, it tempts the audience to think too much, which creates doubt and uncertainty about the characters and the situations presented. The two protagonists need to be fleshed out in order to attain more empathy from the audience. The last scenes after the passing of seven years seem rushed and feigned, prompted mostly by lack of information of what has transpired over that time period that changes the attitude and demeanor of the characters.

The cast is remarkable, tackling the script with honesty and authenticity. Mr. McCants is a welcomed new voice that needs to be nurtured so he does not become a stranger to the much-needed infusion of young playwrights into the network of American theater.

IN THE ROOM WAITING

The cast of “In the Room, Waiting” features Zahaira Curiel, Barry Gibbs, Justin Jorrell, Thaddeus McCants, Jarielle Whitney, and Tangela Wilson.

The creative team includes Jon Degaetano (lighting design) and Thaddeus McCants (sound design). Parker Pogue serves as assistant director.

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “In the Room, Waiting” is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “I Am, I Will, I Do” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Closed Saturday July 29, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “I Am, I Will, I Do” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Closed Saturday July 29, 2017)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Dan Manjovi
Directed by Christopher Scott
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I Am, I Will, I Do” is a new musical being presented as part of NYMF by Dan Manjovi Music. It is classified as a Beta musical which means it is further along than a staged reading but not yet ready for a full production. In other words, it is a platform for the creative team to work out the kinks and hopefully learn enough from audience response and constructive criticism to advance the project to the next level. They have assembled a talented cast to help them achieve this goal and at the same time provide ninety minutes of light, fluffy musical entertainment.

The storyline follows the quest for love and a fulfilling relationship by three different couples who are old college friends. One couple is two gay men, Dave a song writer and Harris a lawyer, searching for a loving partner. Another is frugal Tony and his fiancé Valerie, who is planning her extravagant special day, both looking to solve the conflicts before the big day. The last is already married Nancie and Richard who run a failing business and are now pregnant. They are somewhat linked together by cartoon character Dr. Lara a life coach and therapist who also whines about being single and does not fit into the reality of the situations but provides comic relief.

The book and lyrics by Dan Manjovi do not employ any new outlook on these tired, generic relationships. There is too much whining, arguing and speculation, not enough character development and plagued with predictable happy ever after endings. It provides no resolution or solution and does not reflect the current socio-economic turmoil with little or no dramatic arc. The music provides some pleasant melodies but is repetitious and not diverse enough to provide interest. The lyrics fair better usually moving the plot on to the next scene or commenting on the previous.

At this point the creative team needs to evaluate the content and decide what it wants to be. If it is a modern musical it needs to be real and realize that some relationships don’t work out, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If it is an old fashioned romantic musical the characters need to be fleshed out so the audience cares about them. If it is a satire on the current state of marriage and relationships it needs to be more animated and absurd. The foundation is fine but now there needs to be a better blueprint that clearly defines what is being built.

I AM, I WILL, I DO

The cast of “I Am, I Will, I Do” features Nic Cory, Claire Neumann, Peyton Crim, Grace Leszynski, Devon Goffman, Kyle Robert Carter, Stephnaie D’Abruzzo, and Grace Hightower De Niro.

“I Am, I Will, I Do” features costume design by Deepsikha Chatterjee, and sound design by Patrick LaChance. is AEA stage manager. Matthew Croft is music director.

The production ran through Saturday, July 29, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/i-am-i-will-i-do or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 31, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “A Wall Apart” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 30, 2017)

Photo: Graham Russell and the Company of “A Wall Apart.” Credit: Courtesy of “A Wall Apart.”
Off-Broadway Review: “A Wall Apart” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 30, 2017)
Book by Sam Goldstein and Craig Clyde
Music and Lyrics by Graham Russell
Directed and Choreographed by Keith Andrews
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“A Wall Apart” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row is a stunning and powerful new rock musical about the three Ostermann brothers living in the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War and their struggles to overcome “the wall” that separates them from those whom they love, their paths to freedom, and their quest for meaning and purpose.

Mickey (Josh Tolle) and his girlfriend Suzanne Adler (Emily Behny) and Mikey’s middle brother Kurt (Jordan Bondurant) and his love interest Esther Wilson (Maddie Shea Baldwin) juggle their commitments to one another, their careers, and their families as the “The Antifaschistischer Schutzwall” is constructed separating them from achieving their hopes and dreams and blocking their attempts to find safety for themselves and those whom they love.

Overall, the characters are well developed and their conflicts are realistic and believable and drive an engaging plot with a satisfying dramatic arc. After marrying Suzanne, Mickey is determined to escape with her to the West. Kurt also wants to join Esther on the other side of the Wall. Older brother Hans (played with a stern exterior that veils a vulnerable spirit by Darren Ritchie) seems content to remain in East Berlin and commit himself to the political uncertainties in the GDR. The brother’s aunt Tante Ostermann (Leslie Becker) is the glue that holds the family together joining past and present in as seamless a fabric as she can weave with memories. It is difficult to disclose what happens to Mickey without a spoiler alert; however, his story and that of his son Mickey Jr. (Matt Rosell) are remarkable tales of courage and commitment that reverberate to the very present.

Josh Tolle brings a rugged and pleasing bravado to Mickey and skillfully exposes the character’s layers of unresolved anger, his fear, and his passion for his music. Mr. Tolle’s well-controlled tenor instrument is perfect for Graham Russell’s rock music and easily navigates the ranges needed for both the explosive rock numbers and the tender ballads he shares with Emily Behny. Ms. Behny’s Suzanne is authentic in her quest for both love and learning and her voice is controlled and her interpretation of the lyrics is impressive. The actors excel in their numbers together, including “Do You Mind If I Adore You,” and “We’re Having a Baby.” Ms. Behny’s vocals in “Angel” are pleasing throughout the important musical number.

Likewise, Jordan Bondurant and Maddie Shea Baldwin bring authenticity to their performances as Kurt and Esther and their numbers together and with the ensemble are passionate and engaging. “Meet Me in the Middle,” “I Want to Be in Love with You,” and “A Wall Apart” convince the audience of the commitments of these two endearing characters who push and pull at one another as they search for some middle ground in their developing relationship. It is important to mention the strong performances of Leslie Becker as Tante and Matt Rosell as Mickey Jr. Both have beautiful voices and they shine in their numbers “How Can I Help This Man” (Ms. Becker with Ms. Baldwin) and the soulful “Son of the Father” delivered with depth of meaning and an expansive vocal range by Mr. Rosell.

Graham Russell has composed a strong, driving rock score and written powerful lyrics for that music. Additionally, he has composed beautiful rock ballads that counterpoint the high energy of numbers like “Our City,” “Shake It,” and “A Wall Apart.” The Ballads – “Do You Mind If I Adore You,” “I Want to Be in Love with You,” and “Son of the Father” – exemplify Lord Graham Russell’s ability to capture the vicissitudes of the human condition with exemplary grace and consummate skill. Sam Goldstein’s and Craig Clyde’s book, though adequate, does not measure up to the music and lyrics. Jonathan Ivie conducts the five-member band and plays keyboards.

The Berliners, Guards, and Ensemble (Mili Diaz, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Amanda Downey, Lindsay Estelle Dunn, Sean Green, Jr., Emily Kristen Morris, and Vincent Ortega) sing and dance with evident commitment to the musical. Their vocals and movement add considerably to the success of this new musical.

David Goldstein’s scenic design is remarkably versatile allowing for quick and seamless scene changes and his lighting design provides both the electricity of the rock stage at the Bunker and the moody pools of light for the romantic trysts at the border wall. Dustin Cross’s costumes are period perfect and with Shannon Epstein’s sound design, complement the overall success of Keith Andrews’s staging and exemplary choreography.

“A Wall Apart” is a rich metaphor for all that is currently dividing people in America, Europe, and around the globe. Given the musical’s auspicious run at the New York Musical Festival, it is certain the creative teams will continue to rework the musical and bring it back to the New York Stage hopefully soon.

A WALL APART

The cast of “A Wall Apart” features Maddie Shea Baldwin, Leslie Becker, Emily Behny, Jordan Bondurant, Darren Ritchie, Matt Rosell, Josh Tolle, with Mili Diaz, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Amanda Downey, Lindsay Estelle Dunn, Sean Green, Jr., Emily Kristen Morris, and Vincent Ortega.

The production features Musical Direction and Arrangements by Jonathan Ivie; Scenic and Lighting Design by David Goldstein; Costume Design by Dustin Cross; Sound Design by Shannon Epstein; and Casting by McCorkle Casting LTD. Production photos courtesy of “A Wall Apart.”

The production will run through Sunday, July 30, 2017 at 9:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theater at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/wall-apart or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Photo: Graham Russell and the Company of “A Wall Apart.” Credit: Courtesy of “A Wall Apart.”
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 30, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Play Like a Winner” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 30, 2017)

Photo: Jessica Tyler Wright, Casey Erin Clark, Kristan Espiritu and Karen Burthwright in a scene from Play Like a Winner.” Credit: Shira Friedman Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “Play Like a Winner” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 30, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Erik Johnke
Music by David Wolfson
Directed by Kevin Connors
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The new musical “Play Like a Winner” is based on the stage play “It’s All About the Kids” by Caytha Jentis which comically explores the dark side of competitive soccer moms vying for social status in upscale suburbia. The opening musical number “Sacrifice” is sung by the company surrounding the body of the coach lying dead, center stage impaled with a field flag. The story then begins to unfold with flashbacks leading up to this horrific event. Starting with Kathy (played with Stepford Wife drive by Jessica Tyler Wright) trying to convince her introverted bullied daughter Jenna (portrayed with equal parts angst, determination and vulnerability by Zoe Wilson) to join the soccer team to boost her self-esteem. Mission accomplished and Kathy then finds herself faced with the onslaught of abuse hurled by the leader of the soccer mom club Melissa (a strong, vicious and vindictive Casey Erin Clark) and robust, sexist coach Nick, (played with appropriate arrogance and a formidable baritone by Nicholas Dromard). In a sub plot, best friend Tracy (a charming and pleasant Megan Kane) is losing her husband Gary (Frank Viveros, a comedic bombshell with a silky smooth vocal) to a bromance with Coach Nick. All this and the continuing predictable escapades that follow, lead to the foreshadowed demise featured in the opening prologue.

The book and lyrics provided by Erik Johnke are not clever enough to produce the undercurrents of a true satire but rather remain on the surface with a loutish book and relying on vulgar lyrics to produce laughs. This shock value soon wears thin and becomes abrasive with no redeeming qualities. The music by David Wolfson in unobtrusive and produces some pleasant melodies but at times does not support the intent of the song.

The cast is remarkable and does what they can to elevate the material. It is a pleasure to just sit and listen to their strong vocal, infused with character and pure tonal qualities that linger far after the music ends. They effortlessly execute the pedestrian choreography of Pin Van Amerongen and energetically keep a steady pace under the astute direction of Kevin Connors. As it plays now it may provide a bit of raunchy fun but needs to revamp and find its target audience. Cautionary note: “Play Like a Winner” is not recommended for the sixteen and under audience.

PLAY LIKE A WINNER

The cast of “Play Like a Winner” features Karen Burthwright, Casey Erin Clark, Nicolas Dromard, Kristian Espiritu, John D. Haggerty, Megan Kane, Frank Viveros, Zoe Wilson, and Jessica Tyler Wright.

“The Body Politic” features set design by Starlet Jacobs, costume design by Molly Seidel, lighting design by Michael Blagys. Willie Porter is AEA stage manager. Pim Van Amerongen is choreographer. Production photos by Shira Friedman Photography.

The production will run through Sunday, July 30, 2017 at 9:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/play-winner or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 2 hours.

Photo: Jessica Tyler Wright, Casey Erin Clark, Kristan Espiritu and Karen Burthwright in a
scene from “Play Like a Winner.” Credit: Shira Friedman Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 30, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Peace, Love, and Cupcakes: The Musical” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 30, 2017

Photo: The J Team, (l. to r.) David Hoffman, James Ignacio, Jack Richman, and Diego Lucano. Credit: Russ Rowland/NYMF.
Off-Broadway Review: “Peace, Love, and Cupcakes: The Musical” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 30, 2017)
Book by Sheryl Berk, Carrie Berk, and Jill Jaysen
Music and Lyrics by Rick Hip-Flores
Directed by Rommy Sandhu
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Peace, Love, and Cupcakes: The Musical,” currently running at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, is a sweet bubble gum musical that, on the surface, addresses the issue of bullying at school and its deleterious effects. Based on the book by the same name (the first in the Cupcake Club series by Sheryl Berk), the musical has a book by Sheryl Berk, Carrie Berk, and Jill Jaysen and music by Rick Hip-Flores. The musical’s protagonist is Kylie Carson (played with convincing charm by Madison Mullahey). In the book, Kylie is a fourth-grader. In the musical, Kylie is in eighth grade.

Kylie is the new girl at Blakely Middle School trying to navigate her way through the adolescent maze of making new friends, stumbling on the uphill climb that leads to a modicum of social status, acceptance of one’s socio-economic position, and current skill set. Additionally, Kylie must endure the constant barrage of bullying by her antagonist Meredith (played with a conniving core by Alexa Reeves), the impeccably dressed, uber-talented, fashion-aware leader of the BLAH Girls (think Valley Girls) who keeps her followers (not friends) in tow through intimidation and threats of abandonment. The stated goal of Peace, Love, and Cupcakes is to “inspire kids to embrace their individuality and use their voices to positively impact the world around them. Here, these lofty goals attempt to combat the horrors of bullying.

“Peace, Love and Cupcakes: The Musical” does not deal with the full spectrum of school bullying and its victims. The musical. For example, merely skirts at the issue of social network bullying. Still, it serves, even in its relative innocence, as a vehicle to further the important conversation around school bullying and its detrimental fallout.

Under Rommy Sandhu’s direction, the members of the young cast handle their roles and musical numbers with apparent skill. These fine actors could easily be challenged with more sophisticated choreography than the basic steps provided by Mr. Sandhu. Rick Hip-Flores’s lyrics are less satisfying than his upbeat music. Ms. Mullahey displays a charming and well-controlled voice in her solo “How Do You Deal with a Monster” which exemplifies the ambivalence those being bullied face when attempting to survive.

The musical’s emphasis on feeling good about yourself and loving who you are represent rich and enduring themes; however, on their own, they cannot fully combat the horrors of school bullying that terrify students so much they stop attending school or resort to other self-destructive solutions. True adult advocacy (not the kind provided by the teacher in this musical) is what is required to provide redemption and release to children like Kylie Carson. Baking cupcakes, as delicious as they might be, will not end the scourge of school bullying and bullies like Meredith cannot be converted by sugar-coated acts of reconciliation.

PEACE, LOVE, AND CUPCAKES: THE MUSICAL

The cast of “Peace, Love, and Cupcakes: The Musical” features James Ignacio, Diego Lucano, Eliza Holland Madore, Madison Mullahey, Carrie Berk, Calli McRae, Grace Rundhaug, Lauren Bryant, Victoria Csatay, Miranda Jo DeMott, Mili Green, David Hoffman, Isabelle Livingstone, Cameron Mann, Chloe Manna, Merin McCallum, Casey Nadzam, Ksenia Nakonechny, Alexa Reeves, Jack Richman, Jamilah Rosemond, Tai Sandhu, Blake Devin Sheridan, and Alex St. Andre.

The production features lighting design by Joe Beumer. Louisa Pough is the AEA stage manager. Production photos by Russ Rowland/NYMF.

The production will run through Sunday, July 30, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theater at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/peace-love-and-cupcakes-musical or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Photo: The J Team, (l. to r.) David Hoffman, James Ignacio, Jack Richman, and Diego Lucano. Credit: Russ Rowland/NYMF.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 30, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: Ice Factory Festival’s “The Anthropologists Save the World!” at New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 29, 2017)

Photo: (L-R) Mark Cisneros as Jeff, Michael Ables as Karma, Jean Goto as Edna and Marianne Hardart as Linden in The Lecture, part of “The Anthropologists Save The World!” Credit: Jody Christopherson.
Off-Broadway Review: Ice Factory Festival’s “The Anthropologists Save the World!” at New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 29, 2017)
Conceived by The Anthropologists
Directed by Melissa Moschitto
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Part I of Ice Factory Festival’s “The Anthropologists Save the World!” currently running at New Ohio Theatre, is entitled “The Lecture” and begins with the announcement of a lecture by utopian novelist Aldous Huxley (unfortunately not named in the program). Huxley begins to expound about “Man and the Potentialities for Human Change.” Sue, the absent member of the smoker’s cessation group, has instructed Huxley (resurrected?) to address the group. The lecture part of the “Lecture” is somewhat engaging: the unidentified (baffling) actor delivers Huxley’s ideas in a deadpan but interesting fashion. At first, he lectures to an empty room, then he is interrupted by the group members as they enter for their session. That is when things begin to fall apart in “The Anthropologists Save the World” and there is no recovery through the remainder of “The Lecture” nor in Parts II and III of the performance.

It is difficult to make what is obvious interesting. And that might be the main problem with the Anthropologists’ efforts here. They have not managed to find a new way to negotiate their way through the moral and political problems of the day with any fresh insights.

The cast and creative team work hard to make it work; however, ultimately, the endeavor does not measure up. The characters are not interesting nor are their conflicts. It is impossible, therefore to drive any captivating plot lines. Certainly, there is no opportunity for catharsis.

THE ANTHROPOLOGISTS SAVE THE WORLD!

With Michael Ables, Alexandra Bonesho, Mark Cisneros, Mariah Freda, Jean Goto, Marianne Hardart, Brian Demar Jones, Brianna Kalisch, and Arisael Rivera.

The creative team includes Dramaturg: Lynde Rosario, Lighting Design/Production Manager: Ali Hall,
Sound Design: Andy Cohen, and Stage Manager: Tiffany McCue. Production photos by Jody Christopherson.

Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $20.00, and $16.00 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online at http://NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 212-352-3101. For info visit http://NewOhioTheatre.org, Like on Facebook at https://www.Facebook.com/NewOhioTheatre and https://www.Facebook.com/IceFactoryFestival, follow on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/newohiotheatre) at @NewOhioTheatre, and for up-to-the-minute festival updates follow on Twitter (https://Twitter.com/NewOhioTheatre) at @NewOhioTheatre. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: (L-R) Mark Cisneros as Jeff, Michael Ables as Karma, Jean Goto as Edna and Marianne Hardart as Linden in The Lecture, part of “The Anthropologists Save The World!” Credit: Jody Christopherson.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, July 28, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Arcadia” at PTP/NYC 2016 at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)

Photo: Caitlin Duffy, Jackson Prince, Andrew William Smith, and Stephanie Janssen. Credit: Stan Barouh.
Off-Broadway Review: “Arcadia” at PTP/NYC 2016 at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by Cheryl Faraone
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I'm the kind of person who embarks on an endless leapfrog down the great moral issues. I put a position, rebut it, refute the rebuttal, and rebut the refutation. Forever. Endlessly.” – Tom Stoppard in an Interview with Mel Gussow about “The Real Inspector Hound,” “New York Times,” April 26, 1972

Apparently, Tom Stoppard practices what he preaches. The type of iteration he alludes to in the above-mentioned interview is precisely the iteration Thomasina Coverly (Caitlin Duffy) is deconstructing at Sidley Park in Derbyshire, the nineteenth century setting in Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia,” the complex but quite accessible play currently enjoying a revival by PTP/NYC at Atlantic Stage 2 in repertory with Howard Barker’s “Pity of History.” And the same mathematical process Valentine Coverly is attempting to decipher in the same setting in the twentieth century.

While confounding her tutor Septimis Hodge (Andrew William Smith), Thomasina also draws a diagram of heat exchange in her lesson book suggesting that heat could not “work backwards.” The pre-pubescent Thomasina eventually opines that the universe must at some point in the future wind down, grow cold, and die. No one in the present country house can understand how Thomasina is able to navigate algorithms with such alacrity prior to the invention of the computer.

These academic inquiries ricochet off the other events at Sidley Park that tend to have more to do with the “carnal embrace” Thomasina queries Septimus about at the play’s beginning. In both centuries, the characters “embrace the flesh” (the carnal embrace) – conform to their hubris-filled humanity – in rapid fire “Seven Deadly Sins” fashion. Envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath abide and the greatest of them at Sidley Park is pride.

“Arcadia’s” plot is complex, full of bi-century twists and turns (culminating is a splendid appearance of both centuries on Mark Evancho’s spare but highly effective set), and replete with Stoppard’s signature grappling with words and language. One could parse Richard Noakes’s (played with the perfect commitment to Romanticism by Sebastian LaPointe) watercolor plans for Lady Croom’s (played with a conspiring regal charm by Megan Byrne) expansive garden, or whether – as Bernard Nightingale (played with a delightful and playful arrogance by Alex Draper) posits – Lord Byron shot poet Ezra Chater (played with a bristling naiveite and disregard by Jonathan Tindle), or whether Hannah Jarvis’s (Stephanie Janssen) research on who the hermit is in Noakes’s plans is worthwhile. But, as intriguing as these subplots are, it is not these machinations across the centuries that ultimately empower “Arcadia.”

That is what makes Cheryl Faraone’s staging of “Arcadia” so successful. She has managed to tap deeply into the playfulness of Stoppard’s script. Audience members should not try too hard to “figure out” what Stoppard has already researched and written. Focus, instead, needs to be placed on the “game” of the play itself, its dance, its waltz, its fun. And Cheryl Faraone has understood that game and its rules with consummate insight and skill. It is always a pleasure to witness her vision take shape on the stage.

What makes this shift in focus possible is Professor Faraone’s PTP/NYC cast which she directs with a high dose of care with just the right splash of whimsy. Stephanie Janssen’s Hannah makes her character’s commitments believable. ‘‘It's wanting to know that makes us matter,’’ she stresses to Valentine, ‘‘Otherwise we're going out the way we came in.” Jackson Prince’s Valentine Coverly exposes his admission to the existence of genius, a human impulse that surpasses science, with a palpable vulnerability. The remainder of the ensemble cast is equally brilliant and engaged in the conflicts of their complex characters.

Caitlin Duffy’s Thomasina and Andrew William Smith’s Septimus grapple with the dimensions of loss with extraordinary sensitivity. At one point, Thomasina laments the loss of Alexandria’s historic library: Septimus reassures her, "You should no more grieve for the rest [of the lost Greek tragedies] than for a buckle lost from your first shoe, or for your lesson book which will be lost when you are old. We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind.’’ Nothing is ever really lost.

The recent socio-political events in the United States and England – as well as in other global “hot spots” – have precipitated the need for the kind of discourse about “the great moral issues” provided in Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia.” Whether we will be able to iterate what has been left behind remains to be seen. We have our own Arcadia to flesh out.

ARCADIA

The cast for “Arcadia includes” Megan Byrne, Alex Draper, Caitlin Duffy, Steven Dykes, Stephanie Janssen, Andrew William Smith, Jonathan Tindle, Manny Duran, Sebastian LaPointe, Jackson Prince and Eliza Renner.

The production team includes Mark Evancho (Scenic Design), Hallie Zieselman (Lighting Design), Cormac Bluestone (Sound Design), Mira Veikley (Costume Design) and Elizabeth Goodman (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Stan Barouh.

Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7:00 p.m., and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Schedule varies - for exact days and times visit PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $37.50, $22.50 for students and seniors. Purchase online at PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For more info visit PTPNYC.org, follow on Twitter at @ptpnyc, and Like them on Facebook at Facebook.com/pages/Potomac-Theatre-Project-PTP/32709392256.

Photo: Caitlin Duffy, Jackson Prince, Andrew William Smith, and Stephanie Janssen. Credit: Stan Barouh.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 27, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Pity in Hstory” at PTP/NYC 2016 at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)

Photo: Christopher Marshall (Croop) and the Ensemble of Soldiers. Credit: Stan Barouh.
Off-Broadway Review: “Pity in Hstory” at PTP/NYC 2016 at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)
By Howard Barker
Directed by Richard Romagnoli
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.” – “The Second Coming,” W.B. Yeats

“Pity in History,” currently running at PTP/NYC 2016 at Atlantic Stage 2, raises rich and enduring questions about how humankind might navigate through times when “things [are] fall[ing] apart; the centre [is not] hold[ing];/[and] mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” and emerge relatively unscathed and stable. Why are there wars? In war, which side is right and which is wrong? Is God on anyone’s side? What is idolatry and does idolatry create moral decay? What does art have to offer in the resolution of conflict? Does art need to contribute anything to the making of peace? Are politics and art always at odds? Does humanity learn from history and what are those lessons?

Whether it the sophistication of Yeats “slouching beast” or the whimsy of Burns “best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley,” it remains without question, as the officer Factor asserts, “everything is upside down now and the only skill worth having is skill with a rifle.” Howard Barker addresses these – and other – enduring questions in his 1985 BBC commissioned play (for television) “Pity in History.” Set during the English Civil War that ushered in Oliver Cromwell’s Republic and refashioned the role of the monarchy in British rule. Howard Barker’s skills as a wordsmith permeate this project and those skills are preserved in the current stage production.

Under Richard Romagnoli’s astute direction, the Potomac Theatre Project/NYC has reimagined Barker’s television play for the live stage with considerable success. “Pity in History” is a powerful vehicle for the reexamination of the playwright’s concerns for the present loosened “blood-dimmed tide” that seems to be washing up on American and European shores in the form of nationalism, isolationism, nativism, and hegemony. The cast is uniformly excellent as is the overall staging of this important play. Each cast member delivers an authentic performance that exponentially strengthens the brilliant work of this ensemble cast.

It would be difficult – and it is unnecessary here – to summarize “Pity in History’s” plot skillfully driven by the engaging conflicts of its well-defined characters: Gaukroger a mason (Steven Dykes) and his apprentice Pool (Matt Ball), Boys a sergeant (Christo Grabowski), Croop a chaplain (Christopher Marshall), Factor an officer (Jay Dunn), Murgatroyd a dying cook (Jonathan Tindle), Venables a widow (Kathleen Wise) who wants to memorialize her husband in stone, and five soldiers trying to understand the vicissitudes of war.

Over against the military-religious arguments about mercy: “When shall we show mercy? (Boys) “The day we have won” (Soldiers), the mason Gaukroger proffers that there is “no pity in history.” He tells his apprentice Pool, “Rain falls. Dogs bite. Nurses steal. Shall I go on?” Barker’s premise is a challenging one. Humanity wants desperately to stop autocracy and demagoguery. Citizens want to challenge politicians who care nothing about constituents and make empty promises about reforms and restoring national greatness. But perhaps, if we believe Gaukroger, all humanity can do is wait for the next “savior” to slouch toward the horizon with new visions and promises of peace.

Perhaps the best we can do is what Pool suggests to Michael Gaukroger after returning from his failed attempt at soldering: “Stick with it, Michael, eh?” After expressing his belief, Pool kisses Gaukroger’s hand then apologizes. Michael asks, “Sorry? Why?” Pool responds, “I know 'ow you 'ate sentiment.” Perhaps what might save us through the next bout of anarchy is a decent dose of sentiment, a history that pities.

PITY IN HISTORY

The cast for “Pity in History” includes Matthew Ball, Jay Dunn, Steven Dykes, Christo Grabowski, Christopher Marshall, Jonathan Tindle, Kathleen Wise Kahari Blue, Kaitlynd Collins, Toria Isquith, Sam Tompkins Martin and Connor Wright.

The production team includes Mark Evancho (Scenic Design), Hallie Zieselman (Lighting Design), Cormac Bluestone (Sound Design), Danielle Nieves (Costume Design) and Devin Wein (Production Stage Manager).

Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7:00 p.m., and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Schedule varies - for exact days and times visit http://PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $37.50, $22.50 for students and seniors and $20.00 for previews. Purchase online at http://PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For more info visit http://PTPNYC.org, follow on Twitter at @ptpnyc, and Like them on Facebook at https://www.Facebook.com/pages/Potomac-Theatre-Project-PTP/32709392256.

Photo: Christopher Marshall (Croop) and the Ensemble of Soldiers. Credit: Stan Barouh.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 27, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Fourth Messenger” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)

Photo: Jacob Hoffman, Samia Mounts, and Cali Elizabeth Moore. Credit: Karen Shih.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Fourth Messenger” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Tanya Shaffer
Music and Additional Lyrics by Vienna Teng
Directed by Matt August
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In Tanya Shaffer’s and Vienna Teng’s “The Fourth Messenger,” currently playing at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, the journey of protagonist Sid Arthur (Nancy Anderson) counterpoints the journey of Siddhârtha Gautama the Buddha of the current age. “Mama Sid” – as the world-renowned spiritual leader is addressed by her devotees – is holding forth at a winter retreat at her meditation center in Newfoundland speaking words of wisdom to her “wanderer ascetics.” She seems to be at the height of her “career” and nothing seems able to stop her from achieving even more notoriety except Raina (Samia Mounts) an intern at the failing “Debunk Nation” newspaper.

Raina is returning to the paper after the death of her father pitching a story to her editor (and lover?) Sam (Alan Gillespie) who hopes this might be the “next big story” that halts the paper’s precipitous downward spiral. What does Raina have on this national spiritual treasure? She believes Sid is hiding something and only she can discover what that secret is, what makes Sid as human as the rest.

Although the relationship between Sid and Raina becomes obvious before the “truth is told,” the unfolding of the relationship is engaging and quite interesting and Ms. Anderson and Ms. Mounts scrape away at each other’s layers of deception and denial with consummate skill and unencumbered grace. There is a great deal of Buddha business in “The Fourth Messenger” including the deconstruction of that very concept. However, the core of this musical is the tension between protagonist and antagonist – between Sid Arthur and Raina and the unfolding of Sid’s secrets and Raina’s relentless quest for love.

Tanya Shaffer accomplishes this unfolding through a series of well-constructed flashbacks and well-placed foreshadowings that culminates in the disclosure of Sid’s life-changing secret and Raina’s critical need to make her life-changing decision. Her book and lyrics and Vienna Teng’s music offer a compelling story of “redemption and release.” The rich enduring themes of reclaiming and embracing one’s story, searching for and discovering the truth despite the costs, and the importance of accepting life’s challenges and “moving on” suffuse the show’s musical numbers. Sid’s and Raina’s duets are powerful and exhibit the vocal strength and interpretive skills of the two actors. “Knock Knock” and “This Story Is Mine” stand out. Perhaps the weakest number – “The Real Thing” – needs a second look by the creators.

Under Matt August’s skillful direction, the members of the cast deliver compelling performances. Natalie Malotke’s choreography is serviceable. Caitlin Ward’s scenic design is effective although the staging might depend less on back-lighted scrims and an abundance of fabric that sometimes threatens to (literally) trip up cast members. Nick Solyom’s lighting design and Josh Liebert’s sound design are also effective elements of the overall composition.

As Sid realizes the need to come to terms with her past, she vows to “leave behind all that [she] knew” and move beyond shame and guilt. Does Raina file her story about Sid? Does Sid continue her mission? “The Fourth Messenger” answers these questions and more and is worth the visit.

THE FOURTH MESSENGER

“The Fourth Messenger” stars Nancy Anderson, Allen Gillespie, Matt Hetherington, Jacob Hoffman, Cali Elizabeth Moore, Samia Mounts, Terry Palasz, Josh Powell, and Faith Sandberg.

“The Fourth Messenger” features orchestrations by Ryan O’Connell, choreography by Natalie Malotke, set and costume design by Elizabeth Caitlin Ward, lighting design by Nick Solyom, sound design by Shannon Slater, and music direction by Jesse Lozano. Production photos by Karen Shih.

The production will run through Sunday, July 23, 2017 at 9:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/fourth-messenger/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jacob Hoffman, Samia Mounts, and Cali Elizabeth Moore. Credit: Karen Shih.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Temple of the Souls” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)

Photo: Andres Quintero and Noellia Hernandez in “Temple of the Souls.” Credit: John Quilty.
Off-Broadway Review: “Temple of the Souls” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)
Book by Anika Paris, Lorca Peress, and Anita Velez-Mitchell
Music and Lyrics by Dean Landon, Anika Paris, and Anita Velez-Mitchell
Directed Lorca Peress
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Perhaps “Temple of the Souls,” the new musical being presented as part of NYMF, would be more powerful as an operetta, which would validate the melodrama afforded in this current production. It is yet another version of the ever-familiar love-struck youth from to different cultures, torn apart by their family and resulting in a tragic finale. Inspired by some truthful facts about the massacre of the Taino nation by the Spaniards in Puerto Rico, the fictitious love story and entangled subplots lack the unpredictable ingenuity to support the intermission less two-hour show. Creators Anita Velez-Mitchell, Lorca Peress and Anika Paris pen a laborious book with little credibility and mundane characters. Dean Landon joins Ms. Paris and Ms. Mitchell in producing conventional lyrics that are lackluster and neither subtle nor cunning. Music by Mr. Landon and Ms. Paris is pedestrian but fairs much better when serving the Taino tribal dancing and musical numbers. Ms. Peress lacks the ability of a director to extract plausible characters from her cast who rely on overacting and broad stereotypes.

The cast is uneven except for Lorraine Velez who turns in an emotional, intelligent performance as Nana. Also, Noellia Hernandez portrays the young lover Amada with innocence and the craft to move the character forward gaining strength and conviction.

Kudos to this production for developing a cast that is true to its Latino roots. The opening dance sequence thrives on the native ancestry of the Taino, and the music celebrates their tribal culture. In fact, one of the best musical numbers in the show is the reprise of “I’m Not Dreaming” in Spanish. The romantic language moves this duet to another level that is real and true to the characters existence, overflowing with emotion, reflecting love for each other and their heritage. This number may also stand out because it differs from the usual American Broadway pop style the remainder of the score encounters. Perhaps there is some confusion as to what the project wants to be and what it wants to accomplish. Too much material based on factual history obstructs the fictitious love story that is pure folklore and a capable vehicle to deliver the themes of racism, abuse and male chauvinism, while strongly conveying the pride of a Puerto Rican Heritage.

TEMPLE OF THE SOULS

The production features Danny Bolero, Jacob Gutierrez, Noellia Hernandez, Andres Quintero, and Lorraine Velez. The ensemble includes Ari Aaron, Jorge Enrique Barranco, Theresa Burns, Catalina Gaglioti, Val Nuccio, Isabel Plana, Miguel A. Sierra, and Robert Zelaya.

The production features scenic design by Jennifer Varbalow, projection design by Jan Hartley, mask design by Marla Speer, costume design by Lisa Renee Jordan, and lighting design by Jason Fok. Kenneth Goodwin is the sound designer and C. Renee Alexander is the AEA stage manager. Production photos by John Quilty.

The production will run through Sunday, July 23, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theater at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/temple-souls/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 110 minutes.

Photo: Andres Quintero and Noellia Hernandez in “Temple of the Souls.” Credit: John Quilty.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Night Tide” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Saturday July 22, 2017)

Photo: Tara Martinez as Mora and Patrick Dunn as Johnny in “Night Tide.” Credit: Rob Copeland Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “Night Tide” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Saturday July 22, 2017)
Music by Nathania Wibowo
Book and Lyrics by Taylor Tash
Directed and Choreographed by Luis Villabon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side/Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,/In her sepulchre there by the sea—/In her tomb by the sounding sea.” – “Annabel Lee,” Edgar Allan Poe

Based on the 1963 B Movie of the same name, “Night Tide, currently running at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, is a faithful retelling and a splendid riff of writer and director Curtis Harrington’s “creature feature” thriller. Nathania Wibowo and Taylor Tash have not only brought “Night Tide” to the stage – they have created a top-notch musical about on-shore-leave Johnny’s (Patrick Dunn) falling-in-love with Mora (Tara Martinez) the mysterious woman who dons a mermaid costume and works in Captain Murdock’s (played with a dastardly demeanor by Rick Roemer) sideshow act on the boardwalk. Local legend pins the death of two sailors on Mora who is rumored to be a mermaid-siren like those chronicled in Greek Mythology.

Despite warnings about Mora, Johnny falls deeper and deeper in love with the elusive woman. Repeated warnings come from Odd Sam (played with just enough mystery and bravado by Josh Sassanella), Stormy (played with an aggressive and alluring charm by Kissy Simmons) and Rocky (played with just the right elusive temptation by Ya Han Chang), carousel operator Ellen (played with a steely playful flirtatious exterior by Charly Dannis), and Madam Romanovich (played with a delightful looney respectability by Rebecca Hoodwin) the boardwalk’s “fortune teller” who rarely guesses a client’s zodiac sign. Undeterred, Johnny and Mora spiral deeper and deeper into a relationship that can only end in disaster. How their story ends cannot be revealed here except to say Johnny does not visit the Sherriff’s Office for a lie detector test as Dennis Hopper does in the movie.

Luis Villabon’s staging is over the top superb, landing just short of camp and stretching the bounds of film noir. His choreography sparkles with a variety of styles from the Broadway stage which he spins with his own stamp of authenticity. Watch for all the delectable dances from the 1960s and perfectly-timed backup routines provided by Odd Sam and the Sirens. Nathania Wibowo’s music captures the sounds of the 1960s (Rock and Roll, Doo-Wop) blended with high-energy Broadway belt numbers and soulful ballads. The production values here are exacting and of the highest quality – hand-held spotlight and all.

Under Mr. Villabon’s precise and inventive direction, the entire cast is remarkable. Each member delivers an authentic and believable performance of memorable characters ripped from a screenplay and successfully recreated for the New York stage. Patrick Dunn’s Johnny is deftly carved from the farmlands of the Midwest with a winning charm, a finely honed naivete, and a splendid voice. Tara Martinez knows how to bring a sultry sensuality to her Mora and succeeds in delivering her songs with a powerful and beautifully controlled instrument. Her duets with Mr. Dunn are highlights of the musical: “Man Overboard” and “The Lonely Ocean.”

Although the musical numbers are universally pleasant and appropriate to the staging, two might be reexamined: “Summertime Fling” and “The Stars.” Although they provide some comedic flair, they do not match up to the lyrics and music of the remaining numbers. The musicians, under Andy Peterson’s conducting, are precise and accomplished.

What happens to Mora when she is beckoned to return to the sea? Where did Mora come from? Who is the mysterious woman who beckons her? Did Mora kill the sailors? And why is Captain Murdock so enamored of this half-woman, half-fish? If you cannot make one of the remaining NYMF performances, it seems certain you will have another chance soon.

NIGHT TIDE

“Night Tide” stars Ya Han Chang, Charly Dannis, Patrick Dunn, Rebecca Hoodwin, Tara Martinez, Rick Roemer, Josh Sassanella, and Kissy Simmons.

The production features scenic design by David Starr, stage effects designed by Bill Smith’s Magic Ventures, costume design by Jessa-Raye Court, and lighting design by Chris Steckel. Joan Wyatt is the stage manager. Production photos by Rob Copeland Photography.

The production will run through Saturday, July 22, 2017 at 9:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/night-tide/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 105 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Tara Martinez as Mora and Patrick Dunn as Johnny in “Night Tide.” Credit: Rob Copeland Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 22, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Numbers Nerds” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)

Photo: Tiffany Tatreau, Danielle Davila, Madison Kauffman, and Maisie Rose. Credit: Hunter Canning.
Off-Broadway Review: “Numbers Nerds” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)
Book by Laura Stratford
Music by David Kornfeld
Lyrics by Alex Higgin-Houser
Directed and Choreographed by Amber Mak
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

One of the welcomed distinctions about the new musical “Number Nerds” is that its creation was prompted in response to the need for more female roles available for the high school, college, and community theater circuit. In that respect, it successfully targets that audience with lighthearted comedy, energetic music and a book that promotes good moral values. It is a small cast show which might not meet the needs of the fore mentioned institutions, but the creators have already tested a large cast version with favorable results.

No need to delve into the storyline more than to say it deals with a four-girl competitive math team that ostracizes their team leader for missing a question in competition. When soliciting a replacement, their best prospect is a male student who is new to the school since it has just turned coed from being an all- girl Catholic high school. As the story progresses the team leader is accepted back into the fold after somewhat overcoming her stage fright, with a little help from the former drama teacher now demoted to custodian. Of course, it is a feel good, happy ending that acknowledges adolescent life lessons that help relieve angst and anger.

The competent cast provides a quirky array of characters that deliver an entertaining ninety minutes of comedy and with good vocals. Danielle Davila gives Mary Kate a parochial innocent exterior with an undercurrent of bubbling pubescence. The unicorn reverie of Barbie is captured perfectly by the fanciful behavior of Madison Kauffman concealing her loneliness. Persistent team leader Melissa is portrayed with sincere aspirations and reticent vulnerability by Maisie Rose. The popular snob Amber is defined with controlling adolescent viciousness and underlying insecurity by Tiffany Tatreau. Ms. McGery is given a wholesome, motherly interpretation by Sharon Sachs. It is Jake Morrissy who shines in his depiction of the home-schooled nerd Leroy, with his comedic timing, peculiar movements, awkward behavior and fine vocals.

The book by Laura Stratford is steady but predictable. David Kornfeld’s music is sufficient and lyrics by Alex Higgin-Houser serve the characters and moves the plot forward. Director Amber Mak provides her cast with an energetic pace.

What plagues this production is the overabundance of female vocals. It becomes tiring and sometimes strident. When the male vocal is finally introduced it is more than welcomed adding dimension and diversity to the musical numbers. Also, the temptation to fall into a caricature is somewhat unavoidable, it happens more often than expected. The book can use a bit more tightening especially addressing the one liners that seem to fall flat. Even with these few obstacles, “Numbers Nerds” succeeds in being a very good product for the creator’s target audience and should have a long life in those outlets.

NUMBERS NERDS

The cast of “Numbers Nerds” includes Danielle Davila, Madison Kauffman, Jake Morrissy, Maisie Rose, and Sharon Sachs.

“Numbers Nerds” is presented by the New York Musical Festival. Producer: Larry Little; Music Director: Tom Vendafreddo; Costume Designer: Theresa Ham; Set Designer: Jen Price Fick; Lighting Designer: Michael Cole; Projections Designer: Kevan Loney; Stage Manager: Jessica Forella; General Manager: Simpson & Longthorne Theatricals; Graphic Designer: Simone Bouyer; Public Relations: Paul Siebold/Off Off PR. Production photos by Hunter Canning.

The production will run through Sunday, July 23, 2017 at 1:30 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/numbers-nerds/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Tiffany Tatreau, Danielle Davila, Madison Kauffman, and Maisie Rose. Credit: Hunter Canning.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 22, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Cadaver Synod: A Pope Musical” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)

Photo: David Larsen as Pope Stephen VII. Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Cadaver Synod: A Pope Musical” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Robbie Florian
Directed by Ryan Emmons
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Is it serious or a joke, a love story, a punk rock pseudo opera or possibly a retro piece paying homage to the irreverent, sensational pop musicals of the seventies, which were usually found playing in the then edgy East Village? The fact is it could be all the above, but the problem is, it executes none of them with any inkling of panache. The first act is mostly composed of punk rock electronic music with the actors screaming lyrics that are almost impossible to hear or understand and out of control choreography derivative of Bill T. Jones on a very bad day. The second act reverts to a more traditional musical theatre approach without rhyme or reason but fairs no better in the music and lyrics department. This hodgepodge musical offering goes by the title “The Cadaver Synod: A Pope Musical” with book, music and lyrics by Robbie Florian. This production never reaches a level of professionalism despite the successful creative elements provided by Daryl A. Stone’s costumes and Kevan Loney’s scenic projections. The result merely appears as a lurid and pretentious attempt to marry an inferior book with unpleasant derivative music and banal lyrics.

Act 1 of this new musical is loosely based on the actual historic event called the Cadaver Synod. Pope Stephen VII exhumed the corpse of Pope Formosus and put it on trial assigning a young deacon to defend and speak for the seated skeleton clad in papal attire. The crime was that of seeking the papacy and ruling in two different regions as a Bishop. The verdict is guilty, the corpse is stripped of his vestments and the three fingers used to bestow blessing as a pope were dismembered. This was all done for political reasons and power. The story is good substance for the stage, being both interesting and bizarre. In this production, the story is diminished by minor deviation of the actual events and is overpowered by the music and the manic choreography.

The real departure occurs in Act 2 when the book takes a wrong turn in substantiating the reasons for the event that takes place previously. It is proposed that it was an act of vengeance that led Pope Stephen VII on the mission to posthumously defrock Pope Formosus. The book alleges that the two had a homosexual relationship which Pope Formosus denies while lying in bed together after a simulated sexual act. He explains it is a grave sin the pope could never commit and therefore Stephen ostensibly must be a woman because of his role in the activity. This leads to the demise of the relationship and the skepticism of the validity of the story. It gets worse and basically things fall apart.

This present production comes off as a sensational, vulgar tabloid story supported by aggressive, loud electronic music that diminishes the contextual content of the event and at times sabotages the vocal ability of the of the cast.

THE CADAVER SYNOD: A POPE MUSICAL

The cast includes Charnette Batey, John Paul Cardenas, Brad Greer, Richard Jarrett, Kate Ferber, David Larsen, Evan Maltby, Jeremy Pasha, Sarah Beth Pfeifer, Ethan Gabriel Riordan, Staci Stout, Forest VanDyke, and Noah Zachary.

The creative team includes Nate Bertone (Set Designer), Ryan Hauenstein (Lighting Designer), Daryl Stone (Costume Designer), Kevan Loney (Projection Design), Marte Ekhougen (Puppet Design), Jenny Ainsworth (Production Stage Manager), Abbie Betts (Assistant Stage Manager), and Lisa Dozier King (General Manager). Production photos by Russ Rowland.

The production will run through Sunday, July 23, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theater at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/cadaver-synod-pope-musical/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Photo: David Larsen as Pope Stephen VII. Credit: Russ Rowland.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, July 21, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Body Politic” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)

Photo: Samy El-Noury and Laleh Khorsandi. Credit: Michael Kushner.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Body Politic” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Charles Osborne
Music by Leo Hurley
Directed by Zi Alikhan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The Body Politic,” currently running at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater chronicles the journey of Iphis (Samy El-Noury) a transgender young man from Kabul who emigrates to Chapel Hill, North Carolina at the height of the Afghan War. This new life is offered by Chris, an American Aid Worker, and Iphis leaves his mother Roxana (Laleh Khorsandi) and becomes the Foster Child of Chris’s family in Chapel Hill: his wife Constance (Tina Scariano) and son Michael (Yassi Noubahar). Chris, unfortunately, dies at the hand of the Taliban.

Tensions rise when Iphis (who has completed reconstructive surgery) expands his circle of support to include members of the LGBTQ community, including Eugene (Asher Dubin) the drag performer who comes to dinner at Constance’s home dressed as a nun. The visit stirs up Constance’s conservative values and her difficulty accepting Iphis and the “body politic” he represents. This sub-plot, and several others, obfuscate the important story of being transgender in non-supportive and antagonistic environments. Iphis’s story is a compelling one but its substance is diminished by the writer’s concerns about the Afghan War, gender parity in Afghanistan, obedience to tradition, and America’s 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

The story line (the libretto) cascades between Afghanistan and the United States and is meant to show the difficulties faced by transgender youth and adults. The musical numbers are unremarkable and, although the cast obviously believes in the effort, their performances are often devoid of passion and lack authenticity. Zi Alikhan’s staging is pedestrian and lacks cohesiveness. Cast members move aimlessly across the stage and sometimes stand at length in one place while another cast member completes a musical number. Roxana’s opening number “My Son” is delivered with conviction while Eugene’s “Cowgirl Song” could easily be deleted.

The audience is informed in the program that the cast has both a character name and a “bird” name. Iphis, for example, is identified as “The Euasian Hobby.” The notes in the script and in the program indicate that “each character is based on a different indigenous bird of Afghanistan. These traits manifest in their actions, language, and personal mythology.” This convention simply does not work and, although some musical numbers allude to birdlike behavior (flying, nesting, etc.), the audience makes no connection between the characters and their “bird” alter egos. This critic remains puzzled how an audience member is to decide whether Iphis’s “personal mythology” is manifested in the traits of the Eurasian Hobby.

Written in the operatic style, Leo Hurley’s music depends on certain traditional Afghan styles. The results are interesting and, at first, refreshing; however, the music becomes tiresome: all of the songs in the six scenes begin to sound alike whether the scenes are in Kabul, Chapel Hill, or New York City. Andrew Griffin’s lighting is adequate. Overall, unfortunately, “The Body Politic” seems unready for the New York stage and will require considerable work to move beyond its current community theatre texture.

THE BODY POLITIC

The cast of “The Body Politic” features Asher Dubin, Samy El-Noury, Laleh Khorsandi, Yassi Noubahar, and Tina Scariano.

“The Body Politic” features lighting design by Kate McGee. Matthew Stephens is music director. Production photos by Michael Kushner.

The production will run through Sunday, August 23, 2017 at 9:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/body-politic/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Samy El-Noury and Laleh Khorsandi. Credit: Michael Kushner.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, July 21, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Miss Blanche Tells It All” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Closed Sunday July 16, 2017)

Photo: Brian Charles Rooney as Miss Blanche. Credit: Bjorn Bolinder.
Off-Broadway Review: “Miss Blanche Tells It All” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Closed Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Jason Jacobs
Music and Lyrics by Matthew C. Pritchard
Directed by Gisela Cardenas
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“These parting words, she left behind/These parting words she left behind/And I put them in your hands now/These parting words she left behind.” – The Nun

Lee (Brian Charles Rooney) is the twenty-something female impersonator who graces the small stage at the Golden Lantern, an old bar – a joint – in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The small crowd comes out, as it often has in the past, to enjoy Lee’s “Miss Blanche Tells All” – a drag show that has never disappointed until perhaps on this unusual night. The bar’s piano player Pete (Robert Frost) announces the drag star as the “The Queen of the French Quarter, the belle of every ball, the sweetest magnolia that ever blossomed on the Mississippi.” The drag star does not enter from behind the curtain.

Instead, Lee stumbles onto the stage wearing a light kimono wrap, headcover, with some makeup having been applied. He is still wearing pants, tee-shirt, and shoes and Blanche – he, Lee, and the audience discover – has “been detained” and “regrets she’s unable to lunch today.” After a verbal scuffle with Pete, and a few (more) drinks, Lee vamps into an alternate show about his life as a gay young man growing up in the “dreary suburbs of Kenner,” about thirteen miles from his birthplace in New Orleans.

Lee asks that his trunk, a tall wardrobe steamer, be moved onto the stage. On top of the trunk sits an unopened telegram envelope which Lee places atop the piano. The presence of this trunk is the first powerful bit of foreshadowing in “Miss Blanche Tells It All” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Is this Lee’s trunk? His mother’s trunk? The trunk left behind by someone who occupied Lee’s home prior to his family? Enigmatic questions that will be answered in due time.

Lee’s story is not an unusual one on the surface. He grew up in the 1960s with an abusive alcoholic father who shamed Lee at every opportunity and abused Lee’s doting mother who gave all her attention to Lee and encouraged her son’s interest in the contents of the trunk – the trunk now onstage and, perhaps, belonging to someone close to his family. There is a surprise under every item removed from Miss Blanche’s trunk and behind every corner of Lee’s cavernous and rich memory of his childhood and adolescence. Lee seeks surcease from the abuse in drugs and anonymous sexual encounters and in the attention of a special male teacher – and the women he sees in the “Million Dollar Movie.”

“Miss Blanche Tells It All” continues Lee’s story through a series of flashbacks that reveal – bit by bit – what Lee experienced with his father and his mother. The scenes are often heartbreaking and deeply engaging. Brian Charles Rooney knows his characters well. He has explored every characteristic of the drag star he portrays, Lee’s family, and the environment in which Lee grew up. This is a story richly steeped in the imagination of Tennessee Williams. Lee’s stories are counterpointed by musical numbers that not only support the narrative but extend the conversation beyond the present.

The story is so well crafted by Jason Jacobs and the storytelling by Brian Charles Rooney is so pristine that to give much detail would require a spoiler alert. Mr. Rooney unpeels the layers of Mr. Jacobs’s book with the precision of a skilled surgeon – each incision is either a bit of foreshadowing or the slightest stich of a deep secret just waiting to emerge upon the stage. There is, for example, Lee’s “Saturday adventures” with his mother, visits to a place “like a hotel” where she visits “a friend.” Lee is instructed to stay outside and play and to keep the visits a secret from his father. These visits are not what the audience might presume. And the identity of the “friend” near the end brings everything in the musical to a startling critical juncture. And there is that telegram and Lee’s visit to “the hotel” after his mother’s death and the book left for him after Lee’s mother’s “friend” passed away.

Under Gisela Cardenas’s stunning direction, Brian Charles Rooney delivers a bravura performance that not only engages the audience, but holds each member spellbound for seventy-five minutes. Jason Jacobs and Matthew C. Pritchard have developed a masterful story that – though depending on several well-known theatrical conventions – surpasses other attempts of exploring the physical, emotional, and spiritual journey of a gay child finding his way to the challenges of adulthood and the possibility of taking “roads not taken.”

The audience is ready for the resolution to Lee’s (and Blanche’s) story after the tour de force performance of “Dress to Kill.” But Miss Blanche (yes, the drag star does appear) with the extension of one index finger indicated to the audience there is more to come. And there is. The surprise ending, though thoughtful and engaging, might be the part of the musical that needs some tweaking; however, “Miss Blanche Tells It All” is a finetuned, superbly crafted piece of theatre that will re-emerge soon – soon and very soon – on the New York (and beyond) stage.

MISS BLANCHE TELLS IT ALL

“Miss Blanche Tells It All” stars Brian Charles Rooney as Miss Blanche.

The creative team features lighting design by Christopher Weston and costume design by Philip Heckman. Heather Olmstead serves as production stage manager. The music director is Robert Frost and the choreographer is Nicole Curio. Production photos by Chris Bridges.

The production will run through Sunday, August 16, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/miss-blanche-tells-it-all/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 17, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Time Machine” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)

Photo: The Cast of "The Time Machine." Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Time Machine” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book by David Mauk and Brenda Mandabach
Music and Lyrics by David Mauk
Directed Justin Baldridge
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The new musical “The Time Machine,” presented as part of New York Musical Festival, is an overwrought musical adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic, plagued with too many genres, resulting in a enfeebled main plot. Basically, to become more cohesive, the creative team needs to decide what the product wants to be. Is it a love story, a Sci-fi thriller, or a comic book musical? Is it to be taken seriously or should it be simply an evening of fun entertainment? The message is lost as flippant styles emerge from one scene to the next. The music and lyrics by David Mauk are quite impressive, but seem to embrace a dark, heavy somber tone with little diversity. Teaming up with Brenda Mandabach, their book seems to be the weakest element of the production, with changing intent and shallow characters in search of dimension.

The cast is superb and once again as has often been seen in this year’s festival, outshines the material. Michael Hunsiker creates Thomas, a staunch hero with a sturdy, romantic baritone to match. Randal Keith provides all the necessary elements of a comic book villain supported by bold, powerful vocals that accentuate his character. Soprano, Bligh Voth delivers a pure tonal quality to her vocals, befitting the strong yet vulnerable love interest, Wenissa. The large supporting cast provides a more than adequate execution throughout the performance, producing solid vocals, versatile movement and multiple characters.

Director Justin Baldridge generates a steady pace to the action but also falls prey to the problem of genre identity and character definition. Choreography by Jim Cooney is competent, deftly moving the large cast comfortably around the small stage strewn with inventive and resourceful set pieces designed by Lauren Mills. Costumes range from turn of the 19th century realistic, period to comic book futuristic fantasy designed with faultless fashion by Vanessa Leuck.

THE TIME MACHINE

“The Time Machine” stars Michael Hunsaker, Bligh Voth, Marc Moritz, Barbara McCulloh, Michael Thatcher, Doug Chitel, Lori Tishfield, Martavius Parrish, Randal Keith, and ensemble members Shiloh Goodin, Aisling Halpin, Darrel T. Joe, Lamont Walker II, and Tony II Lorrich.

The creative team includes Lauren Mills (Scenic Design), Vanessa Leuck (Costume Design), Jamie Roderick (Lighting Designer), Patrick LaChance (Sound Design), Don Cieslik (Projections Designer), and Adele Rylands (Fight Director). Alice Pollitt is the Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Russ Rowland.

The production will run through Sunday, August 16, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/time-machine/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 16, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Errol and Fidel” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)

Photo: George Psomas (Center) and Cast of "Errol and Fidel." Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Off-Broadway Review: “Errol and Fidel” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book by Boyd Anderson and Guy Anderson
Music by Peter Kaldor, John Kaldor and Doug Oberhamer
Lyrics by Boyd Anderson
Directed by Michael Bello
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Errol and Fidel,” part of the New York Musical Festival 2017, retells the story of Errol Flynn’s (played with just the right Hollywood bravado by Jonathan Stewart) visit to Havana in 1958 during the shooting of his self-produced B film “Cuban Rebel Girls” where he met Fidel Castro (played with rich revolutionary ruggedness and charm by George Psomas). Flynn is at first enamored by Castro, then becomes disappointed and eventually leaves Cuba. The musical “imagines” what the visit might have been like since Flynn writes very little about Cuba or Castro in his autobiography published a year following his death in 1959.

The account, under Michael Bello’s inventive direction, chronicles Castro’s rise to power, the concerns of the Cuban people about the revolution and adds intriguing bits of espionage, bravado, machismo (Flynn’s and Castro’s), love interests, and cultural divides. The book by Boyd Anderson and Guy Anderson is interesting as are the former’s lyrics; however, neither are remarkable. The lack of Latino performers is somewhat appalling. Could Latino Rebels not also portray American CIA agents?

All things USA are treated as comedic. The CIA under Rimmer’s (played with a smarmy core by Alam M-L Wager) leadership is inept. When he and his agents appear together on stage, they are often found standing at a row of urinals (one cannot make this up) then zipping up as they tap dance. Rimmer (I know, right?) is a buffoon and his right-hand Agent Goode (played with steely resolve by Ryan Bauer-Walsh) does not fare much better. There are allusions to Number 45 and to gun control. Fidel queries Errol, “Americanos they like the guns, no?” Errol replies, “Yes, but not on other people.”

Rimmer is a sexist so the script is laced with sexist remarks. And the disparaging term “queers” shows up in “Daiquiris Mijitos” – always a red flag for this queer reviewer. But lyricist Boyd Anderson needed a word to rhyme with “appears.” Or was it perhaps the other way around? And the beat goes on.

There are three songs that stand out (of the twenty-some in the musical): the lovely “Hialeah” sung by Lola (played with a powerful and resolute core by Claire Saunders) and Mima (played with heartfelt sincerity and wit by the brilliant Sydia Cedeno) with delicious harmonies and tones, “El Gigante” sung by the Rebels, and “What Am I Doing” the duet sung by Lola and Fidel. The remainder are of a variety of musical genres and pleasing enough. The choreography by Justin Boccitto is adequate but derivative: The Fosse-esque routine lacks the requisite precision and execution to be effective. There are many obtuse (and obvious) references to the canon of Hollywood films which movie buffs will enjoy (“I’m ready for my close-up”).

“Errol and Fidel” is indeed a work in progress. The audience at the performance I attended responded with enthusiasm and a standing ovation. The musical simply did not engage me in any significant way.

ERROL AND FIDEL

“Errol and Fidel” stars Jonathan Stewart as Errol and George Psomas as Fidel with Alan M-L Wager, Sydia Cedeno, Ryan Walsh, Claire Saunders, Cole Grissom, Jon Cooper, Alex Drost, Kaitlyn Frank, Rashaan James II, Maiza Miller, and Alexandria van Paris.

The creative team includes Starlet Jacobs (Scenic Designer), Heather Carey (Costume Designer), Isabella Byrd (Lighting Designer), and Shannon Slaton (Sound Designer). Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

The production will run through Sunday, August 16, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/errol-and-fidel/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 2 hours.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 16, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Dorian Gray” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Closed Friday July 14, 2017)

Photo: Brad DeLeone and Lee Cortopassi. Credit: Greg Boulden.
Off-Broadway Review: “Dorian Gray” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Closed Friday July 14, 2017)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Christopher Dayett
Music by Kevin Mucchetti
Directed by Christen Mandracchia
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Oscar Wilde might be turning in his grave, or at least twitching – that is if he has seen a certain NYMF production appropriately titled “Dorian Gray” a musical loosely based on his notorious provocative novel. There is a slight chance he might be flattered that young thespian artists would be interested and intent on creating this version but certainly would not condone the execution nor the altered adaptation.

Director Christen Mandracchia states in the program that she wanted the audience to see “suffering artists” being engaged and empowered by Wilde’s story. She admonishes, “It is noted that before the lights go down, you may notice people onstage reading the novel. Listen to what they are saying. Listen to those who are rejected. The story belongs to them.” I did listen, carefully, since I thought it was an odd choice and ill fitted beginning to such a dark story. What I heard was actors bursting out in song informing us that these “snippets” would be from the show. There were also actors practicing soft shoe routines, conversing with the audience about who they knew in the cast and even planning on where to party after the show. Yes, some carried the novel that no one seemed to have an interest in. All this activity of breaking the fourth wall before the show began, for no apparent reason, seemed disrespectful to the theatrical stage and cast an atmosphere of pretentious, amateur theater. Her direction is pedestrian and misguided.

Christopher Dayett started this endeavor as a subject for his graduate thesis. Thirteen months later with musical collaborator Kevin Mucchetti this latest incarnation has arrived. The story is elementary because of the notoriety of the novel, but Mr. Dayett manages to complicate matters and loses focus, which results in a laborious book. The music is dark but ineffective, unable to create an impact but Mr. Mucchetti, who also serves as musical director, is able to sustain interest with his fetching orchestrations. Lyrics do not serve the story or move the plot forward and at times detract from the music.

The cast is uneven with Brad DeLeone (Dorian Gray) and Topher Layton (Basil Hallward) standing out both vocally and demonstrating the craft of carving out characters with interest and edge. The vocals of the remaining cast are less than adequate with performances being over the top caricatures. This product might be well suited for a thesis but is not yet ready as a professional production for the New York stage. It is still meritorious that such a young group of thespians invested their time and talents in such a risky venture which, hopefully, evoked a stimulating learning experience.

DORIAN GRAY

“Dorian Gray” features Brad DeLeone as Dorian Gray, Lee Cortopassi as Lord Henry Wotton, Topher Layton as Basil Hallward, and Maura McColgan as Sibyl Vane/Beth Wotton. Rounding out the cast are Courtney Boches, Kevin Durkin, Carter Horton, Tyreese Kadle, Brie Knight, and Samantha Solar.

The production features scenic and lighting design by Christen Mandracchia, costume design by Courtney Boches, sound design by Greg Boulden, and props design and production stage management by Lauren Davenport. Production photos by Greg Boulden.

The production ran through Friday, August 14, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theater at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/dorian-gray or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 2 hours.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 16, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “My Dear Watson” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)

Photo (L to R): John DiDonna and Kyle Stone. Credit: Chris Bridges.
Off-Broadway Review: “My Dear Watson” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jami-Leigh Bartschi
Directed by John DiDonna
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“My Dear Watson,” part of the New York Musical Festival 2017, is a musical testament to the genius of “consulting detective” Sherlock Holmes (John Didonna) and the deep friendship between the iconic fictional detective and his devoted sidekick Dr. John H. Watson (Kyle Stone). Jami-Leigh Bartschi’s musical has been in development for nine years, yet “My Dear Watson” seems to still be in the early stages of its formation.

The book, music, and lyrics are at best unremarkable and the performances range from barely adequate to completely inadequate. John DiDonna’s direction is haphazard and the staging is sophomoric. It is difficult to discern what precisely contributes to the lack of success of this musical. The characters – drawn from fiction – are not believable and their conflicts, though based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, are not interesting. Equally uninteresting is the plot these conflicts struggle to drive. In the battle between Holmes and Moriority (Jason Blackwater), one really does not care who survives.

Then there are the odd “empty spaces” filled with music at the beginning of each act (attempts at an overture and an entr’acte?) with either an empty stage or actors wandering aimlessly around the stage. Mr. Stone’s Watson, wounded by a bullet in the leg during the Afghan War, rarely uses his cane, sometimes remembers to limp, but more often scampers or runs across the stage with grace and ease.

“My Dear Watson” has the distinct flavor of community theater and needs considerable work to move forward. If nothing else, the musical reminds the audience that Holmes and Watson had a fictional bromance to beat the band.

MY DEAR WATSON

The cast of “My Dear Watson” includes Jason Blackwater, Liz Curtis, John DiDonna, Jackson McLaskey, Justin Mousseau, Kyle Stone, and Jaz Zapatos. Musicians: Pati Sayers (pianist) and Deri Park (violinist). Production photos by Chris Bridges.

The production will run through Sunday, August 16, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/my-dear-watson/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with one 10-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 15, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)

Photo: Jennifer Blood and Wayne Wilcox. Credit: Michael Kushner.
Off-Broadway Review: “Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book by Emilie Landmann and Carrie Morgan
Music by Jonathan Quesenberry
Lyrics by Carrie Morgan and Jonathan Quesenberry
Directed Tom Caruso
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Matthew McConaughey vs The Devil: An American Myth” is yet another version of the story based on the fictional character “Faust” here set in Hollywood and dealing with an unsuccessful actor who makes a deal with Satan’s agent to sell his soul in return for winning an Oscar. It is assumed that this musical was created as a parody, lampooning and mocking the actor’s habits, talent and career. This is probably where the project goes wrong. Mr. McConaughey was a very successful actor long before he won the Academy Award for best actor, with an impressive list of credits, therefore there is nothing to mock. The jokes become senseless even with a long stretch of the imagination.

It is truly amazing that the producers could assemble such a stellar cast that is far superior to the material. The book by Carrie Morgan is finagled, shallow and implausible which tends to sabotage most of the attempted comedy. Jon Quesenberry’s music fairs much better, offering a variety of styles, both interesting and entertaining always assisting the remarkable vocals. Their combined effort at producing lyrics is mostly successful, often helping to move the plot along with an engaging and amusing approach. Director Tom Caruso moves the action along at a steady pace but starts to lag in the last thirty minutes, especially during the extensive dream sequence that comes much too late in the production to captivate interest. Costumes by Daryl A. Stone are appropriate, clever, and imaginative and serve the actors and production well.

Now for the incredible cast that is the sole and soul reason to see this current incarnation. It is a pleasure to just sit and savor their fine craft while relishing their impressive vocal ability. Wayne Wilcox excels in the manifestation of Mr. McConaughey with puppy dog vulnerability, comedic flexibility and a clear strong vocal. As the Devil’s agent, Lesli Margherita is as powerful as the bright red dress she wears perfectly and is a seductive, facetious villain with a broad Broadway belt. Max Crumm gives a sincere and honest portrayal of best friend Woody and Jennifer Blood chisels out a determined, faithful yet vulnerable Penny with a pure soprano. The qualified ensemble does all it can to insure support despite the pedestrian choreography of Billy Griffen.

The major problem with this production is that the content fails to engage the audience or energize the hard-working cast. It may pass as being slightly entertaining but lacks any substance that may make it memorable.

MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY VS. THE DEVIL

The production stars Jennifer Blood, Max Crumm, Lesli Margherita, Wayne Wilcox as Matthew, and the ensemble includes Cameisha Cotton, Koh Mochizuki, David Park, Frankie Shin, Riza Takahashi, and Nicole Vande Zande.

The production features scenic design by James Fenton, costume design by Daryl Stone, and lighting design by Zach Blane. Andrew Keister is the sound designer and Victoria Navarro is the production stage manager. Kampfire PR is the publicist. Production photos by Michael Kushner.

The production will run through Sunday, August 16, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/matthew-mcconaughey-vs-devil/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 15, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: Ice Factory Festival’s “True Right” at New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 15, 2017)

Photo: Brittany K. Allen (George W. Bush) on floor, Gemma Kaneko (Jeb Bush) on Brittany. Credit: Lauryn McCarter.
Off-Broadway Review: Ice Factory Festival’s “True Right” at New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 15, 2017)
Written by Gemma Kaneko, Brittany K. Allen, and Adin Lenahan
Directed by Gemma Kaneko
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Originally devised by Bess and George, “True Right” is a scrappy and loose retelling of Sam Shepard’s tale of sibling rivalry “True West” without the grit and depth and requisite existential core of the original play. Written by and featuring Gemma Kaneko, Brittany K. Allen, and Adin Lenahan, “True Right” is the third installment in the New Ohio Theatre’s Ice Factory 2017 Festival and – according to the program – claims to be part of Bess and George’s “work for and about the overlooked.” However, the only overlooked entities here are good writing, good direction, and good acting. Unfortunately, none of these ingredients for the success of a play is present and the piece never rises above the level of sophomoric silliness and patronizing pretense.

As in “True West” – and it is sorrowful to compare the two plays – there are estranged brothers, a vacationing mother, and a proposed road trip. The play takes place at the Bush Ranch and consists of scenes of bickering between George W. Bush (Ms. Allen) and the younger (and less successful) Jeb Bush (Ms. Kaneko). Jeb pleas for George to help him in the 2016 Presidential Campaign by traveling with him to South Carolina. George W. baits Jeb as he always has and pummels Jeb with layers of disregard while working on his painting (no screenplays in this one).

The audience learns nothing about anything in “True Right,” certainly nothing of substance about George W, Jeb, Barbara, or the family patriarch George H. W. Bush. The writing rarely rises above lines like the one uttered by Jeb early on while discussing “Bushcare” with his potential campaign manager Sleve Earp (Mr. Lenahan): “Bush is good for oral health!” Maybe there is some obtuse reference to the current Health Care Bill? Perhaps a pretentious pandering to “the overlooked?” Doubtful.

Regrettably, the writers and the director strike out in “True Right” and the audience suffers through eighty-five minutes of deadly discourse.

TRUE RIGHT

The cast of “True Right” includes Brittany K. Allen, Adin Lenahan and Gemma Kaneko.

The creative team for “True Right” includes Bailey Bretz (Choreographer), Yoshi Nomura (Set Design),
Lauryn McCarter (Lighting Design), Ben Gullard (Creative Technology), and Angie Nortz (Stage Manager). Production photos by

Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. at the New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street). Tickets are $20.00, and $16.00 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online at http://NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 212-352-3101. For information, please visit http://NewOhioTheatre.org, Like on Facebook at https://www.Facebook.com/NewOhioTheatre and https://www.Facebook.com/IceFactoryFestival. For up-to-the-minute Festival updates follow on Twitter (https://Twitter.com/NewOhioTheatre) at @NewOhioTheatre. Running time 85 minutes with no intermission.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 15, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Spoon River” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Saturday July 29, 2017)

Photo: Ensemble of "Spoon River." Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Off-Broadway Review: “Spoon River” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Saturday July 29, 2017)
Adapted from Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology” by Mike Ross and Albert Schultz
Composed by Mike Ross
Directed by Albert Schultz
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Upon entering Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre to view a new musical adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters’ 1915 “Spoon River Anthology,” we became a bit leery about the execution of this undertaking (no pun intended) as we walked down a dark hallway past Bertie Hume lying at rest in a casket. Continuing in the dark, we turned to walk through a cemetery of old tombstones, turned again and finally entered the seating area of the theater. It was rather peculiar and unnecessary since it is not immersive theater. It seemed to cast an inept and amateurish tone, rather than prepare us for what was to come. Never let a gloomy cemetery fool you!

A few moments after Mr. Pollard (played with sensitive substance by Diego Matamoras) begins to spout his beliefs and his perspective on death, informing us he “seems to be the only one here old enough to pretend to be wise, and young enough to make it up to the top of this hill, we know we are in for a great evening of storytelling. Then “The Hill” comes alive, first with men, followed by women, and then joined together in song, rising from the dead to introduce themselves and greet the passersby (audience). As though they were “lined up” at the Pearly Gates ready to make their case for entrance, they share their engaging life-stories hoping, perhaps, to find forgiveness, redemption, understanding, or just to celebrate who they were while traversing the human plane.

Some of the stories are delivered as prose-poems with one character, or a couple, or a group of characters sharing their lives and their deaths. Other stories are sung through and a few combine word and song. Passersby hear of the troubled marriage of Mr. McGee (Brendan Wall) and Mrs. McGee (Raquel Duffy) and the lonely and abused Nancy Knapp (Michelle Monteith) who “Set fire to the beds and the old witch-house went up in a roar of flame.” Stories of “drunks” – Didymus (Daniel Williston), Deacon (Diego Matamoros), and Oscar (Stuart Hughes – and “women of the night” – Minnie Lee (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster), Lucille Lusk (Sarah Wilson), Mary Howe (Miranda Mulholland), and Laura Santini (Raquel Duffy) – challenge conventional views and mores and other societal norms and strictures.

The songs that are perhaps most memorable are the Widow McFarlane’s (Jackie Richardson) admonition for the residents of Spoon River that they have “woven a snow-white strip of cloth” wasting it all “at the loom of live.” “Widow McFarlane [is the] weaver of carpets for all of the village.” Ms. Richardson’s brooding contralto tones shake the recesses of the soul and her character’s “dire warnings” connect deeply with the vicissitudes of the human experience. The song of Two Mothers” is equally soulful and transcendent. Emily Spark (Michelle Monteith) and Elsa Wertman (Raquel Duffy), one the birth-mother of Hamilton Green (Jeff Lillico), the other the adoptive mother sing (with Jeff) the plaintive song “Where Is My Son” that examines privilege and injustice with harmonically-rich tones of unbridled grief.

The other songs that stand out come at “Spoon River’s” conclusion. Bertie Hume (Hailey Gillis) comes up from the grave at the end and delivers a plaintive tribute to life and living and all things left behind at death. Ms. Gillis’s voice is rapturous as she reminisces over the “kisses of vanished lips, the eyes of rapture, the whispers of sacred midnights, and the blue of October water.” Bertie Hume’s lament segues into Edmund Pollard’s (Diego Matamoras) and “the chorus of the dead’s” appeal to “all who pass by” the graveyard to reexamine and celebrate the “light of life, the sunlight of delight.” This mixture of textured voices is beautifully chilling and its repetition a somber yet celebrative reminder of the preciousness of life’s adventure: “Leave no balconie where you can climb, nor golden heads with pillows to share, nor no cups while the wine is sweet.”

This adaptation by Soulpepper Theatre Company’s Mike Ross and Albert Schultz is top-notch, honoring the original poems of Edgar Lee Masters yet giving them a freshness and vitality that reverberates with authenticity and reflects the mid-World War I fears of mortality and survival. Albert Schultz’s staging is strong and exceptional and Mike Ross’s music is emotionally rich, passionate, and often mesmerizing. The ensemble cast seems to welcome the music into the depth of their sinews and delivers the songs with riveting and polished performances. Ken MacKenzie’s sparse and adaptable set and his mood-specific pools of light, Erika Conner’s costumes and Andres Castillo-Smith’s sound are the perfect accompaniments to Mr. Schultz’s effective staging. See Soulpepper’s “Spoon River” before it leaves New York City.

SPOON RIVER

For the members of the cast and the creative team of “Spoon River,” please visit https://soulpepper.ca/performances/spoon-river/3336. Production photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Performances of the Soulpepper Theatre Comapany’s “Spoon River” run through Saturday July 29 at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (480 West 42nd Street) as part of the Soulpepper on 42nd Festival. For the schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, please visit https://soulpepper.ca/performances/spoon-river/3336. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: “Dylan Brody’s Driving Hollywood” at the PIT Underground (Through Saturday July 22, 2017)

Dylan Brody in: "Dylan Brody's Driving Hollywood"
Review: “Dylan Brody’s Driving Hollywood” at the PIT Underground (Through Saturday July 22, 2017)
Written and Performed by Dylan Brody
Directed by Nancy Carlin
Reviewed by Anthony J. Piccione for Theatre Reviews Limited

Until the time of reviewing this show, I had never been to the People’s Improv Theater during the past year that I’ve spent thus far living in New York. I’d heard many good things, and I’d even considered the possibility of one day taking another improv class (my first since my high school days) at a theater such as the PIT. With this show, I was excited to finally have the chance to pay a visit. After arriving early to get my ticket and a bit of waiting, the house was eventually open, and I had a seat in the very relaxed, intimate venue that was the PIT Underground, where there was a stage that had a vintage-style microphone and a typewriter on a small table in place, and eventually, out came the leading man of our show who started out by sitting behind it and typing.

The man I am referring to is Dylan Brody, the star of the one-man show I’d come to see called “Dylan Brody’s Driving Hollywood.” For those who are unfamiliar, Brody is an award-winning writer and comedian who has written several acclaimed books such as “Laughs Last and A Tale of a Hero” and “The Song of Her Sword,” had previously written for TV programs such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, received the 2005 Stanley Drama award for his play “Mother May I” and whose work has previously been praised by legends such as Carl Reiner, George Carlin and Robin Williams. I was eager to find out what exactly I was in store for this evening, given the high praise I have heard of him.

As one could imagine, given that the show was written and is performed by a comedian, there are quite a few moments of humor in here. However, at the core of this show – directed by Nancy Carlin and produced by Blue Panther Productions – is the story of Mr. Brody’s life, which on occasion, proved to be quite full of poignant moments. When listening to the life stories of various artists – but especially, this can be the case for comedians – we often see how many aspects of their lives might not always feel so pleasant, even as they have succeeded in entertaining so many people in their careers, and that’s exactly what we see here in this show, where he talks about various moments from his childhood days in 2nd grade to some of his earliest successes and disappointments as a comedian and writer.

Still, there were many parts in there that I found to be funny, as did the rest of the audience in attendance. I don’t want to give away too many of the jokes, but among the ones I personally enjoyed most were when he got sent to the principal’s office for submitting a review for his school newspaper of his school’s production of “Oklahoma” which was critical of how off-key the singing was, as well as a bit where he talked about performing in a chapel – during his early stand-up years – and making drug-related and sexually explicit jokes. Although then again, I will say, he briefly said during the show that he rewrites the show a bit for each night, so it’s quite possible that if you go, you might be treated to a slightly different show from the one I enjoyed!

Generally, I found it to be an enjoyable work, and a good look into the life of a comedian and writer that I’m sure many in the arts could relate to, in some way or another. As I was seated in the audience, it seemed that many of the others in that room tonight had also enjoyed themselves and stayed to talk with Mr. Brody afterwards, so if what I’ve described to you sounds like something you might be interested in, I would recommend it and encourage you to consider coming down to the People’s Improv Theater and seeing the show for yourself.

“Dylan Brody’s Driving Hollywood” runs at the PIT Underground from July 6-22. For more information, please visit www.bluepantherproductions.com/dylan-brodys-driving-home/. Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 8, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Of Human Bondage” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through Wednesday July 26, 2017)

Photo: Sarah Wilson and Gregory Prest. Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Off-Broadway Review: “Of Human Bondage” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through Wednesday July 26, 2017)
Written by Vern Thiessen (Based on the Novel by W. Somerset Maugham)
Directed by Albert Schultz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Soulpepper Theatre Company brings its Toronto production of “Of Human Bondage” to the Soulpepper on 42nd Festival. Vern Thiessen adapted W. Somerset Maugham’s novel for the stage – the first stage adaptation of the iconic novel. Soulpepper is to be commended for taking on this formidable challenge. The results are both blazoned with success and tempered by the temptation of pretense and over-production.

First, the areas of success. Vern Thiessen has created a splendid retelling of Maugham’s novel. Even the audience member who never read the novel or viewed the film adaptations can easily comprehend the tragic story of Philip Carey – and Everyman – caught in the dragnets of self-doubt, unbridled passion, and debilitating fear. Philip’s struggle with balancing medical school with his friends from his “art days” and with the women who find him or whom he finds attractive is clear. Maugham’s words matter and Mr. Thiessen has made sure they continue to matter in this retelling of the novel for the stage.

What falls short is the staging itself. Director Albert Schultz has assembled a talented cast and creative team; however, some of his choices seem to detract from the action of the play and its dramatic arc, focusing more on “conventions” than concrete storytelling. Also falling short are some of the performances. The cast delivers unevenly and does not fully form the important connections between characters needed for the delivery of believable and authentic performances. There is no chemistry between the play’s main characters Philip (Gregory Prest) and his romantic nemesis Mildred Rogers (Michelle Monteith). What should be a sizzling cat-and-mouse game between the two is nothing more than a simpering series of bickering banters.

In Albert Schultz’s “Artist Note,” he describes the two aesthetic challenges Soulpepper’s designers created for themselves when bringing “this massive work to life.” The sixteen-foot, blood-red square at the center of the stage is Philip Carey’s “cage” – the actor can never leave it. In addition, any sounds must be made by the other actors on stage. Neither of these mandates seem necessary and, indeed, might place constraints on the production that are counterproductive. Philip Carey’s “bondage” is spiritual and psychological – there is no need for a staging convention to confirm that. Most of the sounds created by the onstage actors are unnecessary and add nothing to the performances. Some, like the multi-bowed bass (doubling for a cadaver) at the opening of the play, seem pretentious.

Mr. Prest’s confinement to the “red square” and the director’s choice to over-emphasize his physical challenge detracts from the actor’s ability to engage himself in his important role as protagonist. A subtler convention to indicate Philip’s clubfoot would have sufficed. Also, there is no need to make the actor remain lying on the stage during the entire twenty-minute interval to emphasize his entrapment.

Holding empty picture frames or sitting in them to “create” Philip’s works of art creates interest the first time the convention is introduced – as does the clinking of teacups to simulate a “full” teahouse. However, after the third or fourth occurrence of the conventions, the audience begins to yearn for silence in order to focus on the craft of the actors on stage despite all the busy-work swirling around them. W. Somerset Maugham’s words – words matter – and Vern Thiessen’s solid adaptation are both able to stand on their own and provide all the essential tools necessary for actors to grab onto and bring the script to vibrant life.

In short, choices made by the creative team inadvertently collude to lessen the potential power of this staging of “Of Human Bondage.” What is needed moving forward is a reevaluation of the staging and judicious re-casting of roles that burden the strength of the ensemble.

OF HUMAN BONDAGE

The cast of “Of Human Bondage” includes Oliver Dennis, Raquel Duffy, Stuart Hughes, John Jarvis, Richard Lam, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Jeff Lillico, Michelle Monteith, Gregory Prest, Paolo Santalucia, Brendan Wall, and Sarah Wilson.

The creative team includes Lorenzo Savoini (set and lighting design), Erika Connor (costume design), and Mike Ross (sound design and composer). Robert Harding serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Performances of the Soulpepper Theatre Comapany’s “Of Human Bondage” run through Wednesday July 26 at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (480 West 42nd Street) as part of the Soulpepper on 42nd Festival. For the schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.soulpepper.ca/performances/of-human-bondage/3278. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including one 20-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Kim’s Convenience” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Saturday July 15, 2017)

Photo: Ins Choi. Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Off-Broadway Review: “Kim’s Convenience” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Saturday July 15, 2017)
Written by Ins Choi
Directed by Weyni Mengesha
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In a transformative eighty-five minutes, Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) identifies “his story” in two very different ways. These diverse – and seemingly mutually exclusive stories – are the grit of Ins Choi’s “Kim’s Convenience,” currently running at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre as part of the Soulpepper on 42nd Street Festival.

Appa has built a successful business in Canada after leaving North Korea and has given his life to maintain the business. Even the threat of a Walmart opening in his now gentrified neighborhood does not deter his resolve not to sell his business to Mr. Lee (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) his “black friend with Korean last name.” In a conversation with his daughter Janet (Rosie Simon), Appa sums up the first version of his story: “What is my story? Hm? What is story of me, Mr. Kim? My whole life is this store. Everybody know this store, they know me. This store is my story. And if I just sell store then my story is over. Who is Mr. Kim? Nobody know that. You take over store, my story keep going.” So, if Janet – who aspires to be a photographer – agrees to take over running the store, Appa’s “story” will continue.

This is a rather selfish concept and serves to distinguish first and second-generation arrivals to America from other countries – each having vastly different cultural values and expectations. Unrelated to cultural differences might be Appa’s demeaning attitude toward his daughter and his wife Umma (Jean Yoon). Playwright Ins Choi burdens Appa with a mean-spirited disposition that makes the character rather unlikable and casts doubt on Appa’s turn-around at the play’s end when, after greeting his “lost son,” the father redefines what “his story” is.

Appa’s son Jung (Ins Choi) left home at 16 after a horrible fight with his father that landed the teenage in the hospital “for a few days” and prompted him to empty the business’s safe and run away. When Jung returns (first revealing himself to his mother in church), he is contrite of spirit and heart and, like the prodigal son, is welcomed by the father (who gave him everything, after all) with open arms and the gift of the business. Appa’s new story is: “What is my story? What is story of me, Mr. Kim? My whole life I doing this store. Is this store my story? No. My story is not ‘Kim’s Convenience’. My story…is you. And Janet. And Umma. And Sonam. You understand?” This “conversion,” though sudden but predictable, defines the everyone lives happily ever after ending of the play.

Much happens between the recounting of Mr. Kim’s stories, including Appa’s acceptance of Janet’s aspirations – after another brutal physical exchange between father and daughter, an exchange oddly seen as funny by the audience. Or perhaps the reaction is not too odd. The play is a well-written episode of a sit-com replete with ethnic, sexist, and racist encumbrances, the kind often found on television sit-coms. The kind audiences continue to find funny. Freud was right, we laugh at things we find uncomfortable and unfamiliar. In fact, “Kim’s Convenience” has found its way onto Canadian television as a new series co-produced by Soulpepper and Thunderbird Films.

Under Weyni Mengesha’s astute direction, the ensemble cast tackles their characters with a high level of believability. Ken MacKenzie’s set is a splendid reproduction of a convenience store which the audience was warned ad infinitum “not to photograph.” A warning in the pre-curtain announcement would have sufficed.

If sit-com is something an audience member likes, then “Kim’s Convenience” works as likable product. If one is looking for something a bit more serious related to generation gaps and cultural conflicts (works by Amy Tan, James McBride, or Jamaica Kincaid for example) one might find oneself wondering what all the hooting and hollering is all about.

KIM’S CONVENIENCE

The cast of “Kim’s Convenience” includes Ins Choi, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Ronnie Row Jr., Rosie Simon, and Jean Yoon.

The creative team includes Ken MacKenzie (set and costume design), Lorenzo Savoini (lighting design), and Thomas Ryder Payne (sound design). Robert Harding serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Performances of the Soulpepper Theatre Company’s “Kim’s Convenience” run through Saturday July 15 at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (480 West 42nd Street) as part of the Soulpepper on 42nd Festival. For the schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, please visit http://tickets.youngcentre.ca/auxiliary/PSDetail.aspx?psn=9944. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “True North: A Concert of Canada” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Closes Sunday July 2, 2017)

Photo: Mike Ross and Jackie Richardson. Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Off-Broadway Review: “True North: A Concert of Canada” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Closes Sunday July 2, 2017)
Co-Written by Mike Ross, Marni Jackson, and Albert Schultz
Directed by Frank Cox-O’Connell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Soulpepper on 42nd Street, the ambitious month-long presentation by Canada’s highly acclaimed Soulpepper Theatre Company, features original productions of “Spoon River,” “Kim’s Convenience,” “Of Human Bondage,” plus concerts and cabaret performances (and more). “True North: A Concert of Canada” opened the Festival with a diverse cast of performers and musicians that celebrated a distinguished collection of Canadian singers, songwriters, and poets. After a lengthy introduction by Soulpepper’s Artistic Director Albert Schultz, the concert began with a tap-dancing, fiddle-playing prelude segment that energized the audience and set the stage for the concert.

Sixteen songs, introduced by readings by narrators Diego Matamoros and Nancy Palk, lifted up the history and culture of Canada, the rich history and culture so closely tied to the United States. Often the readings and songs stood alone as testaments to the joys and the heartbreaks of the Canadian people. Sometimes, reading and song counterpointed one another in powerful expositions about mining (“Working Man” by Rita MacNeil, performed by Jackie Richardson), urban renewal (Spadina,” Mike Ross/Dennis Lee, performed by Mike Ross), and northern expansion (“Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers, performed by Andrew Penner). Readings and performances were complemented by the overhead video projections designed by David Costello and Laura Warren.

The forward movement of energetic concert was hampered somewhat by an unexpected unevenness in both performances and narrations. The movement of the narrators on and off the stage was distracting and some of the songs just did not work on this opening night. What should have been a stunning pairing of Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush” and the “Ave Maria” (J.S. Bach/Charles Gounod) lost its footing after just a few measures: Mike Ross was not able to maintain the admittedly difficult pairing with “Ave Maria” which was performed flawlessly by Neema Bickersteth (unfortunately, not mentioned in the program). There were also off-putting difficulties with the sound mixing which sometimes left the singers struggling to be heard by the audience.

Overall, however, the Concert was a powerful tribute to all things Canada with the following outstanding performances. Jackie Richardson’s stunning vocal virtuosity and depth of interpretation was displayed in her renditions of Joe Sealy’s “Deep Down Inside” and Rita MacNeil’s “Working Man.” Hailey Gillis brought a brilliant rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “River” and one of Leonard Cohen’s “Songs of Love and Hate” – “Famous Blue Raincoat.” Miranda Mulholland’s pure vocals explored the range of emotions in Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain.” And Alana Bridgewater found the psychological nuances in Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina.”

It was Hunter Cardinal’s interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” that was the concert’s highpoint. After his reminder of the history of the Lenape Nation, the original native New Yorkers, Mr. Cardinal brought a depth of understanding and interpretation to “Both Sides Now” that tore at the heart, mind, and spirit of the audience. Unfortunately, the creative team decided to follow the performance with an encore “The Weight.”

TRUE NORTH: A CONCERT OF CANADA

“True North: A Concert of Canada” is part of “Soulpepper on 42nd Street.” For information on Soulpepper Theatre Company’s United States Debut and its original productions from July 1 through July 29, please visit https://www.soulpepper.ca/new-york/on-stage. Information on the performers, the creative teams, and the production teams can be found there as well as information on scheduling and ticketing. Running time of “True North” is 80 minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 2, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Aran Islands” at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)

Photo: Brendan Conroy in "The Aran Islands." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Aran Islands” at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)
By John Millington Synge
Adapted and Directed by Joe O’Byrne
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

At the suggestion of W. B. Yeats, John Millington Synge visited the The Aran Islands (Inishmore, Inisheer, and Inishmaan) during a part of each year from 1898 until 1902. Yeats urged Synge to live there as if he was one of the people themselves and “express a life that has never found expression.” His journals from these visits – “The Aran Islands” – were published in 1907. Director Joe O’Byrne has adapted this body of work for the stage. Currently running at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre, this adaptation stars the master storyteller Brendan Conroy and provides one-hundred minutes of scintillating – often brilliantly bizarre – tales Synge shared during the time he enmeshed himself into the people and culture of these unique Irish islands off the coast of Galway.

Under Mr. O’Byrne’s thoughtful direction, Brendan Conroy emerges from the shadows of Margaret Nolan’s spare but serviceable set and “disembarks” on the Aran Islands and instantly embodies the spirit of John Millington Synge. With irrepressible energy and indomitable enthusiasm, Mr. Conroy takes the audience on Synge’s island adventures delivering each story, canvassing every rock and every resident with exacting care. Synge’s imagery tumbles off Conroy’s tongue as he describes his hosts, his blind guide, the storyteller he meets (Pat Dirane), and the countryside he reveres.

Pat’s stories and the anecdotes of the old man in Inishmaan take center stage here and Brendan Conroy delivers them with such precision and energy one might think he is speaking Gaelic. He can transport the audience into the matrix of the stories with authenticity and believability. Words glide into the audience with a gracefulness and passion that is engaging and easily connects to the real world of each audience member. One identifies with the characters in the story of the two farmers in County Clare. The old man from Inishmaan shares anecdotes of “things that happened in his lifetime” including the story of the Connaught man who killed his father and was protected from the police by the residents of the island. The logic for protecting the criminal: “If a man has killed his father, and is already sick and broken with remorse, they can see no reason why he should be dragged away and killed by the law.”

The solo show ends with the story of meeting Pat before leaving the island. “’I'll not see you again,' he said, with tears trickling on his face, 'and you're a kindly man. When you come back next year I won't be in it. I won't live beyond the winter.’ And so it would be, when I came back the following year he had indeed passed away. ‘But listen now to what I'm telling you; let you put insurance on me in the city of
Dublin, and it's five hundred pounds you'll get on my burial.’”

Pat’s wit and wisdom thread through “The Aran Islands” and Mr. Conroy’s retelling of Synge’s account of his time on the Islands gives palpable truth to every word of wisdom and wit teeming from the “lonely rocks” Synge ultimately visited for the last time.

THE ARAN ISLANDS

“The Aran Islands” stars Brendan Conroy. The creative team includes Margaret Nolan (set design), Marie Tierney (costume design), Joe O’Byrne (lighting design), and Kieran Duddy (original music). Michael Palmer serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Performances of “The Aran Islands” run through Sunday July 23 at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) in the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre 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. General admission tickets are $50.00 and can be purchased by visiting https://irishrep.org/ or by calling 212-727-2737. Running time is 100 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 30, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: Ice Factory Festival’s “Fernando” at New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 1, 2017)

Photo: Christian Durso and Vivia Font in “Fernando.” Credit: Jonathan Freeland.
Off-Broadway Review: Ice Factory Festival’s “Fernando” at New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 1, 2017)
Written by Steven Haworth
Directed by Jamie Richards
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Jamie Richards deftly directs Steven Haworth’s intriguing psychosexual farce “Fernando” at the Ice Factory Festival at New Ohio Theatre. Mr. Haworth has written an engaging story about Zachariah Smythe (Christian Durso) an art scholar who has come to a museum in Madrid to continue his research on the Spanish painter Fernando Rafael Vasquez de la Cruz. The museum’s curator Terese Flores (Vivia Font) reminds Zach that Fernando stopped painting at sixty years old, disappeared, and has been missing for three years. Undeterred, Zach is determined to prove Fernando’s greatness claiming the missing artist “belongs in the company of Miró, Tàpies, and Dalí.

Teresa discovers assistant professor Zach needs to publish an article to remain in his teaching position and uses this information to begin to mercilessly impugn his motivations and his reputation. However, all of this is a ruse to seduce Zach into Teresa’s web of deceit and desire for revenge against Fernando who, Zach discovers, was Teresa’s “secret lover.” In a complicated and ingenious cat-and-mouse game of intrigue – and in a story wherein Teresa’s love affair with Fernando parallels her love affair with Zach – the playwright teases the audience to wonder what might come next as a mysterious blind man appears claiming to be a friend of Fernando’s and Fernando himself crawls out of the woodwork threatening (as the bind man) to murder Zach if Zach does not return to America for finish his project.

Vivia Font and Christian Durso deliver authentic performances as Teresa and Zach. Both actors reveal the underbellies of their characters with skill and rapid-fire dialogue. Chris Ceraso gives both the blind man and the “returned-from-the-dead” Fernando charming comedic qualities and lighten the play’s overall dramatic mood. Someone’s throat gets slit, several shots are fired from Fernando’s gun – one or two apparently deadly. Yet, in the end, no one is among the dead and Teresa gets to be “in love with yet another madman.”

Maiko Chii’s set design, Anna Grigo’s costume design, Greg MacPherson’s lighting design, and Benjamin Furiga’s sound design all serve successfully to heighten the play’s mysterious mood. Although Mr. Haworth’s ending seems truncated and a bit less than satisfying, the overall play is brilliantly conceived, directed, and acted and makes a successful beginning to one of the Summer’s important theatre festivals.

FERNANDO
The cast of “Fernando” includes Chris Ceraso, Christian Durso, and Vivia Font.

The creative team for “Fernando” includes Maiko Chii (scenic design), Anna Grigo (costume design), Greg MacPherson (lighting design), Benjamin Furiga (sound design), and Emilie Grossman (prop design). Andrew Watkins serves as production stage manager. Production photos by

Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. at the New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street). Tickets are $20.00, and $16.00 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online at http://NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 212-352-3101. For information, please visit http://NewOhioTheatre.org, Like on Facebook at https://www.Facebook.com/NewOhioTheatre and https://www.Facebook.com/IceFactoryFestival. For up-to-the-minute Festival updates follow on Twitter (https://Twitter.com/NewOhioTheatre) at @NewOhioTheatre. Running time 95 minutes with no intermission.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 29, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Bastard Jones” at the cell (Through Friday July 14, 2017)

Photo: The Cast of "Bastard Jones (Evan Ruggiero, Center). Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Bastard Jones” at the cell (Through Friday July 14, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Marc Acito
Music and Lyrics by Amy Engelhardt
Directed by Marc Acito
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There are numerous reasons to see “Bastard Jones,” the new musical now playing at the cell, but topping the list is to purely enjoy an evening of raucous fun. Vying for that acclaimed position would be the prodigious cast that provides the farcical, sometimes titillating escapades of Tom Jones based on the irreverent novel by Henry Fielding. Next the book by Marc Acito, music by Amy Engelhardt with their combined effort to produce the lyrics, are as exhilarating as the performances, adding to the exuberant atmosphere that reverberates throughout the evening. Mr. Acito has deftly directed his motley cast with a distinct madcap style, never losing sight of the underlying affirmative message of human rights. Throughout the evening the audience may be reminded of the timelessness of the story when comparing situations and actions to current issues and tensions.

The inclusivity of this production is remarkable and certainly needs to be recognized and applauded. It is admirable but unpretentious, human not preposterous and a reflection of an authentic society. Race, color, gender and physical disabilities are set aside escalating the importance of a nonjudgmental creative arts forum.

Evan Ruggiero gives a remarkable indefatigable portrayal of Tom Jones, searching, wanting, needing and living life to the fullest while conquering every obstacle that may come before him. His voice is infectious, pure and smooth and his performance is honest and natural. Elena Wang is a demure Sophia Shepherd but determined and calculating with a powerful soprano to compliment her character. Their duet “I Am There” is a highlight of the show and exhibits fine vocal craftsmanship. Crystal Lucas Perry
flaunts a bawdy Lady Bellaston with a ribald rendition of “Have Another Oyster, Dear” to open the indecorous second act. The entire cast each stands on their own and embraces the word ensemble with undeniable support and understanding of the material and the prominence of comradery.

Do not miss this limited engagement which certainly deserves a continued life in the vibrant New York theater scene. Spend a pleasant summer evening smiling, laughing, enjoying a drink and supporting an outstanding group of artists opening their minds to change and their hearts to assimilation. Profits from this production are being donated to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund.

BASTARD JONES

The nine-member cast of “Bastard Jones” stars Evan Ruggiero in the title role. The production also features, Alie B. Gorie, Crystal Lucas-Perry, Matthew McGloin, Tony Perry, Rene Ruiz, Adam B. Shapiro, Cheryl Stern, and Elena Wang.

The production team features Joe Barros (choreography), Matthew Liu (musical director), Gertjan Houben(lighting), M. Florian Staab (sound), Siena Zoe Allen (costumes), Bethany Mullins (costume associate), Louisa Pough (production stage manager), Kayla Santos (assistant stage manager), and Chris Steckel (production manager). Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

BASTARD JONES runs June 14 (Flag Day) to July 14 (Bastille Day) on the following schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. the cell is located at 338 W 23rd Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues -- accessible from the C and E trains at 23rd Street. Tickets are $40.00 for general admission, $60.00 for reserved seating, available at 800-838-3006 or www.thecelltheatre.org. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 29, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” at the Jerry Orbach Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Saturday September 30, 2017)

Photo: Ben Curtis, Kathleen Huber, Julie Campbell, and Jacques Mitchell. Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” at the Jerry Orbach Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Saturday September 30, 2017)
Written and Directed by Dewey Moss
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After a successful run at the 2016 Midtown International Theater Festival, “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” moves to the Off-Broadway stage at the Jerry Orbach Theater. There have been changes in this revival – not all of them necessary – but the heart of the play remains intact.

Big Jim’s (James Kiberd) Baptist Mega-Church is expanding. More space is need for its growing congregation. That conservative congregation also seems to need a television studio and a gym with a basketball court for outreach and youth ministries. One of the church’s young recruits is Connor Stephens the teenager the church took in “and helped him and his mama get off the streets.” Connor ends up shooting and killing Tess Williams the six-year-old daughter of Big Jim’s son Jim Jr. (played with a brooding sadness that masks a deep-seated rage by Ben Curtis) and Jim Jr.’s husband Kris (played with a sweetness and deep sadness by Alec Shaw) who is also wounded by Stephens. After the shooting Connor takes his own life.

Dewey Moss’s “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” deals with the events on the day of Tess’s funeral service as the extended family gathers at Jim Jr. and Kris’s small-town Texas home. Jim Jr.’s mother Marianne (played with a submissive explosiveness by Katherine Leask), his Grandma Vivi’n (Kathleen Huber), Kris’s sister Kimmy (played with a charming strength and willfulness by Julie Campbell) and her husband Bobby (played with a charming and powerful devotion by Jacques Mitchell) gather to mourn and to support Jim Jr. and Kris. The surprise guests are Big Jim and Connor’s coach Dean (played with a clever disingenuous loyalty by Clifton Samuels). When Big Jim shows up, all hell breaks loose and the grit of Mr. Moss’s script unfolds.

Big Jim is a preacher who commands not only his pulpit but his wife, his mother, and his congregation. The only family member he fails to command is his gay son Jim Jr. Big Jim despises not only what he considers “the sin of his son being gay;” he also despises his son for not succumbing to his authoritarian demands to “return to the fold.” Playwright Moss has created one of the most despicable characters in recent memory. Big Jim’s deep-seated homophobia, his hypocrisy, and his abusive behavior toward his wife and mother are only superseded by his enormous ego. Although James Kiberd successfully captures Big Jim’s character and brings a level of honesty and rich authenticity to his powerful performance, one wishes for a more layered emotional arsenal. Mr. Kiberd depends too much on volume and histrionics (odd hand and arm motions) to establish Big Jim’s persona.

It is difficult to say much about the secrets that are revealed when Big Jim visits his son on the day of Tess’s funeral without a spoiler alert. What Big Jim and Dean know about Tess’s death is revealed through a series of flashbacks (one of Big Jim’s sermons), confessions by Grandma, and hard evidence provided by a letter from Connor written to Dean just after that Big Jim sermon and just prior to the shooting. It is enough to know that these secrets – once revealed – explain not only the events surrounding the shooting of the six-year-old, but disclose decades of “skeletons” in Big Jim’s closet (the death of his brother Joey). Kathleen Huber delivers a solid performance as the aging matriarch Grandma Vivi’n who has “held her tongue” far too long and chooses honesty and grace as her way forward.

As those skeletons are unearthed, “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” unfolds across the stage with an emotional core that brings the day’s considerably bumpy ride to an explosive cathartic resolution.

Dewey Moss directs his engaging play with the care of a playwright and – after creating some distance between himself and his work – he will surely quicken the pace of the action to more exactly match the emotional strength of this important play. The intermission seems unnecessary and serves to break the action and affect the energy of the performances in the second act.

“The Crusade of Connor Stephens” could not be more relevant in the current climate of the strengthening of the religious right and in the face of the anti-LGBTQ platform seemingly supported by the current Administration.

THE CRUSADE OF CONNOR STEPHENS

The cast of “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” includes Julie Campbell, Ben Curtis, Kathleen Huber, James Kiberd, Katherine Leask, Jacques Mitchell, Clifton Samuels, and Alec Shaw.

James Noone is the scenic designer. Teresa Snider-Stein is the costume designer. Zach Blane is the lighting designer. David Lawson is the sound designer. Production photos by

Performances will be held at The Jerry Orbach Theater at The Theater Center (210 West 50th Street in New York City) on the following schedule: Mondays at 7:30 p.m., Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m., Thursdays at 8:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Tickets, priced $59.00, are available by visiting http://www.Ticketmaster.com or by calling (212) 921-7862. Premium tickets are available for $79.00. For more information about the show, please visit http://www.thecrusadeofconnorstephens.com/. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The End of Longing” at MCC Theater (Through Saturday July 1, 2017)

Photo: Sue Jean Kim, Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Perry, and Quincy Dunn-Baker in MCC Theater's "The End of Longing." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “The End of Longing” at MCC Theater (Through Saturday July 1, 2017)
By Matthew Perry
Directed by Lindsay Posner
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The End of Longing,” now playing and extended by popular demand at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is yet another example of the evermore trending evidence that the use of star power will attract an audience regardless of the merit of the vehicle. In this case it is Matthew Perry starring in his less than interesting playwriting debut, which only succeeds at being a poorly written rom com that is implausible, with one dimensional characters spouting one-liners that for the most part are not funny. The old adage “write what you know” rings true here. Mr. Perry has written about three seasons of sitcom episodes condensed into one-hundred minutes that expose ridiculous situations completely void of emotional content.

Perry’s characters simply do not feel anything and neither does the audience, so they laugh. Jack (Matthew Perry) is a slovenly, appalling alcoholic that picks up Stephanie (Jennifer Morrison) a gorgeous, well put together, educated, high end escort, while her pill popping, neurotic best friend Stevie (Sue Jean Kim) who works for a pharmaceutical company, happens to have already slept with Jack’s dumber than dumb construction worker best friend Jeffrey (Quincy Dunn-Baker) and they all live happily ever after. It is all predictable and when trying to take a couple of dramatic turns it fails miserably. Director Lindsay Posner who also directed the West End production keeps a smart brisk pace so as not to leave the audience pondering the glib one-liners too long, moving on to the next quickly. Scenic design by Derek McLane is clever, with creative inventive walls of empty bottles that revolve to reveal the next scene. It could represent the alcoholic addiction addressed, the vacuous dialogue of the script, or possibly the utter indulgence in low brow humor.

Despite the play’s overwhelming deficits, at the end of the performance attended, the audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation possibly in keeping with the vacuous tone of the evening. If an actor was as successful as Mr. Perry in the 90’s, and is a recognized, rejuvenated star of syndicated television for a new generation, he must be good. When leaving the theatre there was a line of fans who had not even seen the production, waiting at the stage door for a glimpse and autograph of the star. Perhaps the new theatre community and audiences are more concerned with persona rather than performance.

THE END OF LONGING

The cast of “The End of Longing” includes Quincy Dunn-Baker, Sue Jean Kim, Jennifer Morrison, and Matthew Perry.

The design team for MCC’s “The End of Longing” includes scenic design by Derek McLane, costume design by Sarah Laux, lighting design by Ben Stanton, and sound design by Ryan Rumery. Casting is by Telsey + Co/William Cantler, C.S.A. Prodiction photos by Joan Marcus.

“The End of Longing” plays through July 1st at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street). For tickets and info, visit www.mcctheater.org. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, June 26, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “In a Word” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday July 8, 2017)

Photo: Laura Ramadei, Justin Mark & Jose Joaquin Perez. Credit: Hunter Canning.
Off-Broadway Review: “In a Word” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday July 8, 2017)
By Lauren Yee
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

If America – and the global community – has learned anything since January 20, 2017 it is the message that “words matter.” Words – spoken and left unspoken – play the central role in Lauren Yee’s “In a Word” currently playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre’s Studio Theatre. Words – comforting and unacceptable – are stored on a shelf in Fiona’s (Laura Ramadei) and Guy’s (Jose Joaquin Perez) emotionally sterile home. The other words – those spoken between the couple two years after their seven-year-old son Tristan’s (Justin Mark) disappearance – are laced with anger, resentment, despair, and mistrust.

Tristan is kidnapped from Fiona’s car when she stops for gas after being placed on a leave of absence from her teaching job. The details surrounding Tristan’s disappearance are revealed over time in this non-linear somewhat surreal play and it would require a spoiler alert to disclose those chilling details. It is enough to say that Tristan’s adoption has been less than trouble free. Guy’s friend Andy (Justin Mark) knows a girl who has a kid and, at Guy’s urging, he and Fiona agree to adopt the twenty-four-month-old boy who, they discover, has ADHD. As he ages, this diagnosis places a strain upon the couple and exacerbates the couple’s pre-existing dysfunction and deep ennui.

Over Tristan’s seven years with Fiona and Guy, his mother claims he has always been “fine.” His father admits their son has been “difficult.” In a series of scenes that alternate between the past and the present, “In a Word” explores the dynamics of loss: loss of love; loss of self-worth; loss of caring; and loss of future. With a hefty sprinkling of magical elements into the realism of the narrative, this engaging play connects deeply with the emotions and raises rich and enduring questions.

Whether Fiona and Guy can reconnect two years after Tristan’s disappearance is addressed in one of Fiona’s final monologues: “And in the space between my heart and my lungs Between a beat and a breath, it hits you, meaning it occurs to you like a ton of bricks: Worse case [sic] scenario is, this is it. Just me, myself, and Guy: Nobody here but us chickens, We cowards. Worse case [sic] scenario is: he was right under my nose and I lost him.”

Under Tyne Rafaeli’s steady hand, the action moves forward with clarity and precision. The audience always knows whether the action is in the present or the past or, perhaps, somewhere in-between. The cast is uniformly believable, delivering authentic performances, exhibiting real conflicts that drive the intriguing plot. Although the issues raised here, the themes addressed, are not new, Ms. Yee’s handling of these important concepts gives them a freshness and a mystery that is agreeable and worthwhile.

Oona Curley’s scenic and lighting design and Stowe Nelson’s sound design heighten the magical realism and the movement between present and past. Objects from the past remain on stage in the present and take on significant meaning. In the last scene, Fiona reiterates her doubt about the future: “I need to find who did it. ‘Cause if I can’t get justice, it’s just us—(corrects) Just me.” Whether the couple can survive this tragedy is the question Ms. Yee struggles with and invites the audience to grapple with her.

IN A WORD

“In a Word” stars Justin Mark, Jose Joaquin Perez, and Laura Ramadei. The creative team includes scenic and lighting design by Oona Curley, costumes by Andrea Hood, and sound by Stowe Nelson. Production photos by Hunter Canning.

“In a Word” runs through Saturday July 8 on the following schedule: Wednesday – Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. with an additional performance on July 2 at 8:00 p.m. Cherry Lane Theatre is located at 38 Commerce Street (three blocks south of Christopher Street, just west of Seventh Avenue – accessible from 1 train to Christopher Street). Tickets are $25, available at 212-352-3101 or www.lesseramerica.com/box-office. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, June 25, 2017

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.
3 Comments - Read Comments | 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

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