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Off-Broadway Review: “The Low Road” at the Public’s Anspacher Theater (Through Sunday April 8, 2018)

Photo: Chukwudi Iwuji and Chris Perfetti in “The Low Road” at the Public’s Anspacher Theater. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Low Road” at the Public’s Anspacher Theater (Through Sunday April 8, 2018)
Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Michael Greif
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft a-gley.” – Robert Burns

Ever wonder how Adam Smith might spin his own free market economic theory in the throes of the current global economic turmoil? Ponder no more. “The Low Road,” currently running at the Public’s Anspacher Theater, ends the need for further speculation. In the engaging and entertaining play by Bruce Norris, the iconic eighteenth-century Scottish economist and philosopher (played with unscrupulous charm by Daniel Davis) narrates a tale of two centuries and how his economic theory “worked out” in the gap between theory and praxis.

The earlier tale takes place in eighteenth century America and finds Adam Smith devotee Jim Trewitt (the captivating and engaging Chris Perfetti) attempting to apply the economist’s “Wealth of Nations” theories to his sex workers’ business at his benefactor Mrs. Trewitt’s (the comedic and endearing Harriet Harris) establishment. It is no holds barred for the young entrepreneur who manages to utilize theory for his personal gain at any expense: his greed and disregard for any moral center is without limit. Jim’s penchant for monetary gain counterpoints his entrenched white privilege as well as his moral depravity. His disregard for his “property,” his servant John Blanke (the intense and gracious Chukwudi Iwuji) is as despicable as his xenophobia and the depth of his corruptibility.

Is Jim Trewitt’s preference for taking the low road something specific to this eighteenth-century spin on a free market economy? Apparently not if the beginning of the second act of “The Low Road” is any indication of the forward movement of humankind. The action moves to the twenty-first century where the audience “looks in” on a roundtable discussion led by Margaret Low (Harriet Harris) during which the participants (from a variety of backgrounds) boast about the “blessings” of wealth and its unbridled accumulation. The connection between past and present is clear and taking the low road remains the economic path of choice.

Under Michael Greif’s exacting and precise direction, the action moves forward smoothly with clarity and determination. The cast of eighteen, many of whom play multiple roles, are uniformly remarkable in their delivery of authentic and believable performances. In addition to those cast members already highlighted, Gopal Divan remains throughout fully committed to his various roles and engages with his colleagues with a welcomed intensity. Daniel Davis (Adam Smith) is remarkable in his ability to so successfully hold the sprawling piece together.

David Korins’ set is compact and serviceable. The multiple exits/entrances at the Anspacher keeps this compactness from seeming claustrophobic. The costumes by Emily Rebholz ring with credibility in both decades and the lighting by Ben Stanton seems to anticipate the moods of the action with uncanny accuracy. “The Low Road” is often unsettling; however, its importance to current discussions on greed and corruption is undebatable.

THE LOW ROAD

The complete cast of “The Low Road” features Tessa Albertson; Max Baker; Kevin Chamberlin; Daniel Davis; Crystal A. Dickinson; Gopal Divan; Harriet Harris; Jack Hatcher; Josh Henderson; Chukwudi Iwuji; Johnny Newcomb; Chris Perfetti; Susannah Perkins; Richard Poe; Dave Quay; Aaron Michael Ray; Joseph Soeder; and Danny Wolohan.

“The Low Road” features scenic design by David Korins; costume design by Emily Rebholz; lighting design by Ben Stanton; sound design by Matt Tierney; wig, hair, and make-up design by design J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova; and music composition by Mark Bennett. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“The Low Road” runs at The Public’s Anspacher Theater through Sunday, April 8 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Public Theater Partner, Supporter, Member, and single tickets, starting at $75.00, are available by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Chukwudi Iwuji and Chris Perfetti in “The Low Road” at the Public’s Anspacher Theater. Credit: Joan Marcus.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Jerry Springer – The Opera” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Sunday April 1, 2018)

Photo: Terrence Mann and Will Swenson. Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “Jerry Springer – The Opera” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Sunday April 1, 2018)
By Richard Thomas (Music, Book, Lyrics) and Stewart Lee (Book, Additional Lyrics)
Directed by John Rando
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When one thinks of the Jerry Springer Show (past and present), one might not think of ‘opera.’ However, in 2000, the seeds of that exact concept were planted by Richard Thomas at London’s Battersea Arts Centre with his “Tourette's Diva” and in 2001 with his “How to Write an Opera About Jerry Springer” at the same venue. The success of those productions, and teaming up with Stewart Lee, culminated in “Jerry Springer – The Opera” which has found its way to the New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre.

Does the name-calling, bickering, and often offensive banter of the television series work as an onstage opera in four acts? The short answer is ‘yes.’ Jerry Springer has often described his television as “silly.” Silliness abounds in “Jerry Springer – The Opera” supported by the more sophisticated “bones” of the operatic genre. And the combination is delightful, particularly given the none-too-subtle themes of confession, forgiveness, and redemption. The success of “Jerry Springer – The Opera” springs from the treatment of the original television series as an extended metaphor, an allegory in fact, that exposes the redemptive quality of “getting it all out there” (confession), having an audience offer some sort of “acceptance” (confession), and somehow “moving on with one’s life” (redemption). All this theological discourse with a bit of purgatory and hell thrown in seems to satisfy.

This is a sung-through musical (except for Jerry’s (Terrence Mann at the performance reviewed here) spoken narrative and the Warm-Up Man’s (Will Swenson) brief narratives. Under John Rando’s direction, the action moves forward quickly, and the members of ensemble cast uniformly deliver engaging performances. Their voices blend easily with the operatic style and their arias, recitatives, and chorus numbers are compelling – even when the lyrics are less than “polite” or “genteel.” Just ponder the titles of these two numbers in Act I: “Diaper Man” and “This Is My KKK Moment.”

There is no reason to rehearse the story line (the book) of the opera. “Jerry Springer – The Opera” is entertaining and has a pleasing message. Despite the “language” and a few questionable “choices,” what could be wrong with a musical that ultimately encourages the audience members to “Take care of yourselves and each other” and features a “dying Jerry” exhorting his “followers” with this: “I’ve learned that there are no absolutes of good and evil, and that we all live in a glorious state of change.” And how can one disagree with Jerry’s belief that “for better or for worse, history defines us by what we do or what we choose not to do. Hopefully what will survive of us is love. Love.” You only have until April 1 to decide.

JERRY SPRINGER – THE OPERA

“Jerry Springer – The Opera” features Jennifer Allen, Florrie Bagel, Brandon Contreras, Sean Patrick Doyle, Brad Greer, Luke Grooms, Nathaniel Hackmann, Billy Hepfinger, Justin Keyes, Beth Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth Loyacano, Terrence Mann, Tiffany Mann, Jill Paice, Kim Steele, Will Swenson, and Nichole Turner. Beginning March 13, Matt McGrath joins the company in the role of Jerry Springer.

This production also features Michael Brennan (Music Direction / Keyboard), Rick Bertone (Keyboard), Harry Hassell (Woodwinds) and Adam Wolfe (Drums); Orchestrations by Greg Anthony Rassen; Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Costume Design by Sarah Lauwx; Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter; Sound Design by Joshua D. Reid; Projection Design by Olivia Sebesky and Fight Direction by Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum. Casting is by Telsey + Company, Cesar A. Rocha, CSA. Production Stage Manager is James Harker. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

Tickets for “Jerry Springer – The Opera,” now through April 1, are on sale now. General playing schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday matinees at 2:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Regular tickets start at $95.00. For single ticket purchases, please visit www.thenewgroup.org. Single tickets can also be purchased by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12:00-8:00 p.m. daily). Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Photo: Terrence Mann and Will Swenson. Credit: Monique Carboni.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “At Home at the Zoo” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s The Irene Diamond Stage (through Sunday March 25, 2018

Photo: Paul Sparks and Robert Sean Leonard. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “At Home at the Zoo” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s The Irene Diamond Stage (through Sunday March 25, 2018)
By Edward Albee
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Hey, I got news for you, as they say. I'm on your precious bench, and you're never going to have it for yourself again.” – Jerry to Peter

Was anyone putting the disparity between “the one percent” and the remaining “ninety-nine percent” under the cultural microscope in the late 1950s? The Baby Boomers were booming and most believed the middle-class was firmly entrenched in an ever-expanding story of financial success. Unfortunately, not enough attention was being paid to the underbelly of this post-war ebullience nor to those clinging to that nether portion of the socio-economic divide.

One of those “paying attention” was playwright Edward Albee whose first play “The Zoo Story” (written in 1958 and first produced in Berlin in 1959) “explores themes of isolation, loneliness, miscommunication as anathematization, social disparity and dehumanization in a materialistic world.” In the absurdist play, currently running as Act Two of Edward Albee’s “At Home at the Zoo,” textbook publisher Peter (Robert Sean Leonard) joins in a rambling repartee with Jerry (Paul Sparks) who approaches Peter on a park bench to announce he had “been to the zoo.” One has the feeling this is not the first time Jerry has told this story; however, this is the first (and last) time Jerry manages to seduce his listener into doing what Jerry has desired for quite some time.

Paul Sparks delivers a scintillating performance as Jerry who has “come to a great weariness” and has discovered a conniving means to a desirable end. The lithe, leering Jerry he creates seduces Peter from his Upper East Side comfort zone and brings him to the brink (and beyond) of ego strength dissolution. Robert Sean Leonard’s Peter provides a perfect foil to Jerry, first replying to the intruder with his bookish weltanschauung and then succumbing to Jerry’s psychological attacks. Mr. Sparks and Mr. Leonard skillfully navigate the playwright’s cat-and-mouse game bringing it to a horrific and somewhat unexpected ending. The audience hangs on Mr. Sparks’ every word as he describes Jerry’s living situation and his descent into isolation and dehumanization and draws Peter further into his maelstrom of despair and unrepentant rage.

That rage is expressed in Jerry’s existential challenge to Peter’s complacency. “You don't even know what you're saying, do you? This is probably the first time in your life you've had anything more trying to face than changing your cats' toilet box. Stupid! Don't you have any idea, not even the slightest, what other people need?” The irony here is that Jerry can get exactly what he needs from Peter on

But what happened to Peter just before he headed out of his house to sit in the nearby Central Park on his favorite bench? Why did his encounter with Jerry unnerve him so? How could he allow Jerry’s rambling story about why he visited the zoo provoke him to resort to “animal” behavior? Those answers come in “Homelife” which Mr. Albee wrote in 2004 as the first act to “The Zoo Story” and intended to be performed only with the earlier play.

To be clear, the audience (unless formerly familiar to “The Zoo Story”) does not know about Peter’s encounter with Jerry but learns Peter’s back-story – the back-story Jerry later teases from Peter’s life of denial and uses to “win him over” to his seditious plot.” “Homelife” is the story of Peter and his wife Ann (Katie Finneran) and their family of daughters and pets. Katie Finneran’s Ann, like Jerry in “The Zoo Story,” needs to talk to Peter about something he’d rather avoid. She is as isolated from Peter and her sense of self as Jerry is from society. Their conversation covers everything from Peter’s circumcision and Ann’s possible diagnosis of cancer to the couple’s somewhat unsatisfying (at least to Ann) sex life – and all things in between. Like the conversation with Jerry later, this encounter opens a Pandora’s Box of disharmony, disillusionment, denial, and destruction. Under Lila Neugebauer’s capable direction, the three actors distill Edward Albee’s characters with authenticity and believability. No captives are taken here in this brilliant battle for survival, personhood, and forgiveness in two oddly similar zoos.

AT HOME AT THE ZOO

The cast “At Home at the Zoo” includes Katie Finneran, Robert Sean Leonard, and Paul Sparks.

The creative team includes Andrew Lieberman (Scenic Design), Kaye Voyce (Costume Design), Japhy Weideman (Lighting Design), Bray Poor (Sound Design), UnkleDave’s Fight House (Fight Direction). David Lurie-Perret is the Production Stage Manager. Casting by Caparelliotis Casting. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“At Home at the Zoo” runs through Sunday March 25th, 2018 on The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues). For further information, please visit https://www.signaturetheatre.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Paul Sparks and Robert Sean Leonard. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, March 23, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Hal and Bee” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday March 31, 2018)

Photo: Candy Buckley and Jeff Hayenga” in “Hal & Bee” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Hunter Canning.
Off-Broadway Review: “Hal and Bee” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday March 31, 2018)
By Max Baker
Directed by Sarah Norris
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

What are two aging ex-hippies supposed to do when the socio-political environment around them escalates its full-frontal assault on the values they espoused and fought so passionately for in the sixties and seventies? Not only do they continue to feel “stalked” by “corporate bastards” like the cable company, but they are about to be evicted from their rent-controlled apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, so the owner of their building can realize its intention “to restructure a number of rental units to better reflect the market opportunities in [the] neighborhood.” The heated “discussions” around these external topics counterpoint the internal animus between Bee (a supercharged and rascally Candy Buckley) and her longtime husband Hal (a malcontented and “tuned-out” Jeff Hayenga).

This animus is the combative “stuff” of Max Baker’s “Hal & Bee,” currently being presented by Stable Cable Lab Company and The New Light Theater Project at 59E59 Theaters. In this allegorical extended metaphor, “civilization and its discontents” camps at the doorstep of the scrapping couple’s apartment in a rapid-fire exchange laced with flights of fantasy and just the hint of buyer’s remorse. Without disclosing too much of the plot driven by the exaggerated (albeit authentic) conflicts of the play’s colorful and well-developed characters, it is probably sufficient to mention there are multiple murders, a myriad of cover-ups, and a morsel of a suicide attempt. Whether these events are real, or the trappings of fantasy need to be decided by the members of the audience.

Hal and Bee bicker in the style of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf’s” George and Martha. The arguments in “Hal & Bee” are not exacerbated by a real or imagined child but by are exacerbated by the real or imagined success of the “baby” of the boomers’ generation. Daughter Moon (a misdirected and “old soul” Lisa Jill Anderson) tries to ignore the parental caterwauling and simply sell drugs to her dad and navigate her own adventures at finding love. And the Bug Man (a brilliant and convincing Arthur Kriklivy at this performance) reframes Hal’s savage fantasies with stories of discovering and removing mold in one’s house. Under Sarah Norris’s astute direction, the cast handily delivers Max Baker’s intriguing script with energy and determination.

Brian Dudkiewicz’s Upper West Side apartment is stunning and beautifully crafted, lighted carefully by Michael O’Connor. Hopefully, before the end of the run, the black curtain outside the apartment door will be replaced with a “wall.”

What goes on at 450 West 99th Street might rattle the imagination; however, Hal and Bee’s story confirms the discontents of the current inhabitants of the global neighborhood and seems to portend that all we might have to look forward to is a survival signaled by the sound of our breathing, as we nestle together in an attempt to stave off “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that threaten to undo us and mire us in self-pity and fear.

HALL AND BEE

The cast of “Hal and Bee” features Lisa Jill Anderson, Candy Buckley, Jeff Hayenga, and Arthur Kriklivy.

The creative team includes Brian Dudkiewicz (scenic design), Genevieve V. Beller (costume design), Michael O’Connor (lighting design), Andy Evan Cohen (sound design), and Scott Barrow (fight director). Nikki Castle serves at production stage manager. Production photos by Hunter Canning.

The performance schedule is Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 PM; Saturday at 7:30 PM; and Sunday at 2:30 PM. There is an added matinee performance on Saturday, March 31 at 2:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison). Single tickets are $25 ($20 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.59e59.org. Run time is I hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Candy Buckley and Jeff Hayenga” in “Hal & Bee” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Hunter Canning.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, March 18, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 22, 2018)

Photo: Ben Caplan and Mary Fay Coady in “Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story.” Credit: Stoo Metz Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 22, 2018)
Created by Hannah Moscovitch, Ben Caplan, and Christian Barry
Written by Hannah Moscovitch
Directed by Christian Barry
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Steeped in tradition, a musical commentary relevant to the current socio-political atmosphere, and an old tale told with songs that echo the poets of the past and the spoken word of the present, are the skeleton of “Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story,” the Klezmer-folk music-theater hybrid now playing at 59E59 Theaters. The Wanderer (a captivating Ben Caplan) is the soul, casting a spell that captures your emotions, sneaks into your heart, shrouding it with sadness and then leaves you filled with joy ready to celebrate the human spirit. A showman, emerging from a shipping container, he has traveled from somewhere, only stopping to share a revelation, then moving on and as his hands artfully punctuate the music, he weaves together the stories of two Jewish Romanian refugees, who fled to Canada in 1908. He travels with a motley group of talented actor-musicians, who bring the narrative of two refugees to life and accompany him with klezmer music. As he twirls and drifts across the stage he reinforces a cultural heritage, using dance to express joy, mourning or any other emotion related to the time and event. He is mesmerizing.

Chaya (a simply striking Mary Fay Coady) enhances the sorrow of her troubled journey to a new land that resulted in the death of her husband. She orchestrates her somber emotions with words and the lament that wails from her violin. Chaim (an innocent and determined Chris Weatherstone) manifests the will of a young man who experienced the horrors of war but clings to hope. He challenges despair with honesty, integrity and the haunting sounds of his woodwinds. Graham Scott on keyboard and accordion, along with Jamie Kronick on percussion complete the skillfully accomplished ensemble.

The deft direction by Christian Barry keeps the journey fluid, never wasting a glance or movement to communicate an emotion. Playwright Hannah Moscovitch presents a script that is clear, concise and colored with empathy but never sentimental. Mr. Caplan and Mr. Barry produce songs that transcend time and bridge centuries providing an understanding of the human condition regardless of race, color or creed. The set and lighting design by Louisa Adamson and Christian Barry is dark and moody but illuminates the story and sheds the proper glow to make the players shine. Costume designer Carly Beamish clads this troupe in the appropriate attire whether an impresario or immigrant. The entire creative team has created a remarkable experience that could only be accomplished with true theatrical collaboration. This is a not-to-be-missed theatrical event everyone should behold and like Chaya and Chaim possibly be persuaded to look “into the eyes of God.”

OLD STOCK: A REFUGEE LOVE STORY

The cast of “Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story” features Ben Caplan, Mary Fay Coady, Jamie Kronick, Graham Scott, and Chris Weatherstone.

The design team includes Louisa Adamson and Christian Barry with Andrew Cull (set design); Louisa Adamson and Christian Barry (lighting design); and Carly Beamish (costume design). The Production Stage Manager is Louisa Adamson. Production photos by Stoo Metz Photography.

“Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, April 22. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Friday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison). Single tickets are $25 - $70 ($25 - $49 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.59e59.org. Running time is 80 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Ben Caplan and Mary Fay Coady in “Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story.” Credit: Stoo Metz Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, March 18, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Amy and the Orphans” at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday April 22, 2018)

Photo: Vanessa Aspillaga, Jamie Brewer, Debra Monk, and Mark Blum in “Amy and the Orphans.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Amy and the Orphans” at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday April 22, 2018)
By Lindsey Ferrentino
Directed by Scott Ellis
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

In the new play “Amy and the Orphans,” disability, dysfunction, and delusion are the contentious components that drive an anomalous family unit to a place they were not expecting to visit called reality. Presented by Roundabout Theater Company at The Laura Pels Theatre, the play is carefully and skillfully penned by Lindsey Ferrentino, is inspired by her own family members, and explores the journey of three adult siblings, one of whom has Down Syndrome, as they reunite in the wake of their father’s death. The situation unearths deep-seated secrets, provokes frustration, challenges the definition of family, and observes the choices that occur when seeking survival, a sanctuary of reassurance or unconditional love. It is a brave undertaking which reveals the fragile, yet selfish and broken elements of the human condition. Under the astute tutelage of director Scott Ellis, the excellent cast delivers remarkable performances.

Formulated like a split screen that is decades apart, there are two plays in which one is a prelude to the present main attraction. No need to mention a sort of spoiler alert. The present action plays out as siblings Maggie (an irrefutable neurotic Debra Monk) and Jacob (a compulsive eccentric Mark Blum) retrieve sister Amy (the inspiring Jamie Brewer) who has Down Syndrome, from her group home to inform her of their father’s recent demise and mother’s death a year ago, as they begin a journey to their childhood home on Long Island to plan the funeral. They are joined on the road trip by health care worker Kathy (the big-hearted, blunt and opinionated Vanessa Aspillaga), who informs them that she is now Amy’s legal guardian since their father signed her care over to the state. It is a wildly humorous ride with enough bumps and sudden sharp turns to keep the trip more than interesting and entertaining. The characters may seem too broad or stereotypical, but this is merely the armor they wear to protect from the slings and arrows of the truth. Amy speaks like a pundit, with recycled dialogue from her favorite films, which she has most likely seen several times since she has now been promoted to manager of the local movie theater. Jacob, born into a Jewish family is now a born again Christian and juicer. Maggie mistakes a skittle fallen into her bra, for a lump in her breast causing a cancer scare. There is no deliberation of who might be dysfunctional and needing attention.

So after finally arriving at reality, these characters are faced with the consequences of abandonment, whom they left behind, whom they choose to love and how it affects their relationships. Perhaps we learn the disabled are fully functional and the dysfunctional are truly disabled. It is not a perfectly scripted play but is able to use humor to provide a powerful and potent message. Ms. Brewer rises to deliver an exceptional performance full of fierce bravery, standing tall to deliver an unwavering curtain closing speech comprised of familiar movie lines that cuts to the emotional core. It is a moment that is so honest the words spoken take on a completely new meaning that resonate heartbreaking hope.

AMY AND THE ORPHANS

The cast includes Vanessa Aspillaga, Mark Blum, Jamie Brewer, Diane Davis, Josh McDermitt, and Debra Monk.

The creative team includes Rachel Hauck (Scenic Design), Alejo Vietti (Costume Design), Kenneth Posner (Lighting Design) and John Gromada (Sound and Original Compositions). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Amy and the Orphans” runs at the Laura Pels Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street) through Sunday April 22, 2018 on the following schedule: Tuesday through Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. with Wednesday, Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets and further information, including performance times, are available online at www.roundabouttheatre.org. Run time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Vanessa Aspillaga, Jamie Brewer, Debra Monk, and Mark Blum in “Amy and the Orphans.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Kings” at the Public Theater’s LuEsther Hall (Through Sunday April 1, 2018)

Photo: Gillian Jacobs and Eisa Davis in “Kings.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Kings” at the Public Theater’s LuEsther Hall (Through Sunday April 1, 2018)
By Sarah Burgess
Directed by Thomas Kail
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

If there was any doubt about the monumental influence of lobbyists on Members of Congress in Washington, D.C., that uncertainty was dispelled quickly after the tragic murder of seventeen students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday February 14, 2018. Barely had the nations bereavement process begun before the NRA and the massive “I Carry” movement swept in blaming everything and everyone except the easy access to firearms in the United States. The NRA lobbyists were already at work to ensure their agenda would continue to prevail. And after the Florida Legislature passed a progressive gun control bill, that same NRA recently sued the State of Florida.

Though not quite as strident as the NRS’s spokesperson Dana Loesch, Iridium Policy Group’s Kate Totten (Gillian Jacobs), the aggressive lobbyist for the Podiatrists’ Association, tries to cultivate Rep. Sydney Millsap (Eisa Davis) at her fundraiser in Vail to introduce legislation that would require “a patient on Medicare or Medicaid who sees a non-specialist physician and complains about severe pain in the ankle or foot would have to see a podiatrist before receiving a prescription for any opioid-based painkiller.” Millsap is “the first woman and first person of color ever to represent [her] district,” so Kate (inappropriately) uses these status issues to garner the Representative’s support.

Shortly thereafter, Lauren (Aya Cash) lobbies Sydney Millsap to vote “No” on a bill (The Carried Interest Fairness Act) the congressperson supports. And Sen. John McDowell (Zach Grenier) tries to convince Millsap to leave Washington and return home to Texas for a civilian job. All this backhanded chicanery gets extremely complicated: it gets probably more complicated than it needs to be and obfuscates the important themes driven by the characters’ important and relevant conflicts.

It is difficult for a script and a cast of actors, even as talented at this “King’s” cast, to compete with the reality of the headlines. The challenge comes not only from the vigor of the daily news, bit also from the somewhat dated material in the narrative itself. Under Thomas Kail’s uneven direction, the actors often appear to be talking “at” one another instead of engaging in believable conversation.

Somewhere beneath the veneer of relevance, there are buried rich, enduring questions. However, the burdensome script obfuscates these with the odor of freshly made and served on-stage Chili’s fajitas, and cumbersome conversations cluttered with predictable rhetoric. For example, is it true in the realm of American politics that “no good deed goes unpunished” or that honesty and integrity will always be upended?

Occasionally, Eisa Davis’s Millsap and Zach Grenier’s McDowell ratchet up that rhetoric with compelling performances that briefly enliven the otherwise bland action. Whether those moments justify the remainder of staging remains up to the audience member who can make that judgement until April 1, 2018.

KINGS

The cast of “Kings” features Aya Cash, Eisa Davis, Zach Grenier, and Gillian Jacobs.

The creative team for “Kings” features Scenic Design by Anna Louizos, Costume Design by Paul Tazewell,
Lighting Design by Jason Lyons, and Original Music & Sound Design by Lindsay Jones. CJ LaRoche serves as Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Kings” runs at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday March 25, 2018. For more information, including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.publictheater.org/Tickets/Calendar/PlayDetailsCollection/17-18-Season/Kings/. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Gillian Jacobs and Eisa Davis in “Kings.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 12, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “A Letter to Harvey Milk” at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)

Photo: Adam Heller, Cheryl Stern, and Julia Knitel in “A Letter to Harvey Milk.” Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “A Letter to Harvey Milk” at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)
Lyrics by Ellen M. Schwartz with Additional Lyrics by Cheryl Stern
Music by Laura I. Kramer
Book by Jerry James, Ellen M. Schwartz, Cheryl Stern, and Laura I. Kramer
Directed by Evan Pappas
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The new musical “A Letter to Harvey Milk” has good intentions but becomes confusing as it attempts to address too many issues and wavers from emotional drama to Borsht Belt comedy. Death and grieving, homosexuality, Judaism, rejection, loneliness, and creativity are just a few of the topics unearthed in a short ninety minutes but never fully developed. It almost seems that the four writers (Ellen M. Schwartz, Cheryl Stern, Laura I. Kramer and Jerry James) collaborated on the book and each chose a favorite issue and ran with it but in all different directions, never ending up in the same place. The lyrics by Ms. Schwartz, with Ms. Stern adding her touch, deal with each scene effectively, whether executed for humor, drama or sentimentality, but seem isolated, not moving the plot forward, but merely contributing to and punctuating each scene. There is no connective tissue. The music is derivative merely serving the lyrics and does not provide emotional reinforcement.

The story begins as Harry (Adam Heller), a widower, lost and lonely, is lying awake in bed writing and is suddenly visited by his dead wife Frannie (Cheryl L. Stern), who pops out of the bed and lies next to him. She manages to stick around throughout the evening, eaves dropping and boldly commenting on the activities, in a stereotypical rendition of a relentless Jewish mother. Harry discovers a creative writing class at the local community center and is persuaded to join by the writer-blocked teacher Barbara (Julia Knitel) who is a lesbian ostracized by her family. For one assignment Harry writes a letter to Harvey Milk, the openly gay politician, assassinated some eight years ago, with whom he had formed a close father-son relationship. Barbara wants the letter to be published by a gay magazine called “Triangle,” whose logo the pink triangle she also proudly displays on the T-shirt she is wearing. This angers Harry and stirs up buried memories from the past when he was held in a concentration camp and had a brief homosexual encounter with Yussl (Jeremy Greenbaum). All is revealed and resolved in an emotional denouement. Sounds complicated and confusing? It is.

The characters seem to be messengers delivering information without an emotional investment. What adds to the disconnect, is the overload of comic relief and lack of focus on any specific topic. The book manages to provide a catharsis for the characters but not for the audience. The cast is more than competent but cannot overcome the tedious and disjointed script. Mr. Heller gives a toned down, subtle performance that is sincere and honest. Ms. Knitel turns in a high spirited performance along with a fine vocal. Michael Bartoli gives a believable representation of Harvey Milk. Based on the short story by Leslea Newman, the play deals with an interesting time in the history of the Gay movement but fails to provide a positive outlook or generate interest in the events of the past.

LETTER TO HARVEY MILK

The cast of “A Letter to Harvey Milk” features Michael Bartoli, Jeremy Greenbaum, Adam Heller, Julia Knitel, Aury Krebs, CJ Pawlikowski, and Cheryl Stern.

The creative team includes set design by David Arsenault, costumes by Debbi Hobson, lighting design by Christopher Akerlind, and sound design by David Margolin Lawson. Sara Sahin serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Russ Rowland.

“A Letter to Harvey Milk” runs through Sunday May 13, 2018 at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre (410 West 42nd Street) on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays - Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $79.00 - $99.00 and can be purchased at www.Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting https://www.lettertoharveymilk.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Adam Heller, Cheryl Stern, and Julia Knitel in “A Letter to Harvey Milk.” Credit: Russ Rowland.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, March 10, 2018

Broadway Review: “Farinelli and the King” at the Belasco Theatre (Through Sunday March 25, 2018)

Photo: Iestyn Davies, Mark Rylance, and Melody Grove in “Farinelli and the King.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Farinelli and the King” at the Belasco Theatre (Through Sunday March 25, 2018)
By Claire Van Kampen
Directed by John Dove
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Italian castrato Farinelli (Sam Crane) soothes the troubled mind of Spain’s King Philippe V (Mark Rylance) who suffers from what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders would code as a bipolar disorder. Despite support from the King’s physician Dr. Jose Cervi (Huss Garbiya), the Chief Minister of Spain Don Sebastian De La Cuadra (Edward Peel) advocates for the King’s abdication because of his assumed mental illness (“possession”). Philippe’s wife Isabella Farnese (Melody Grove) insists the King’s behavior is not due to a mental illness but “a disposition” that “will pass.” While in London, Isabella discovers Farinelli and brings him back, hoping his singing will somehow “cure” the King.

This remarkable story (based on fact), is the substance of Claire Van Kampen’s “Farinelli and the King,” currently running at the Belasco Theatre. Director John Dove’s staging gives the breadth and depth of Ms. Van Kampen’s script the “space” it needs to unfold and embrace the audience with its pathos and ethos. The scenes between Farinelli and the King brim with effusive energy, beginning with the scene where Farinelli first visits Philippe and awakens him with his singing (Iestyn Davies and James Hall alternate). Mark Rylance gives awakening to the recitative from Handel’s “Ho perso il caro ben” a truly mystical tone. And Sam Crane brings an authentic vulnerability to his role as Farinelli that counterpoints brilliantly with the tempered desperation of Mark Rylance’s Philippe.

Amidst palace intrigue and political shenanigans, the relationship between Farinelli and the King blossoms as Philippe identifies deeply with the famous maestro, comparing their “regal” identities and the concomitant “imprisonment” their “reigns” afford them. This consanguinity between “patient” and “healer” (an “affair” that parallels that of David and King Saul) thrives in the palace and in the King’s new “forest home.” Whether their relationship can survive La Cuadra’s attempt to send Farinelli away, or Isabella’s fondness for Farinelli comes into question.

The King’s death, Isabella’s mourning, and Farinelli’s new role in the palace consume the ending of the play and seem to need more detail to strengthen the narrative; but, the denouement is necessary to fully appreciate the importance of Farinelli in Philippe’s life and reign and how his voice “kept away the other voices” in the King’s head that threatened to undo him.

Jonathan Fensom’s design and Paul Russell’s lighting deepen the overall success of this new play. Although I expected to be moved more deeply by the singing of Handel’s arias, it is clear to the audience how Farinelli and the King walked together in distinction and in imprisonment.

FARINELLI AND THE KING

The cast of “Farinelli and the King” features Sam Crane, Iestyn Davies, Huss Garbiya, Melody Grove, James Hall, Lucas Hall, Colin Hurley, Edward Peel, and Mark Rylance.

The creative team includes Jonathan Fensom (Designer), Claire van Kampen (Music Arranger), Paul Russell (Lighting Designer), Bill Barclay (UK Music Supervisor), Evangeline Rose Whitlock (Production Stage Manager), James Latus (Stage Manager), and Jim Carnahan, C.S.A. (US Casting). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets for “Farinelli and the King” can be purchased by visiting www.telecharge.com, calling Telecharge at 201-239-6200, or by visiting the Belasco Box Office (111 West 44th Street). For additional information, including the performance schedule, please visit http://farinelliandthekingbroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Photo: Iestyn Davies, Mark Rylance, and Melody Grove in “Farinelli and the King.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, March 9, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Hangmen” at Atlantic Theater Company (Through Sunday March 25, 2018)

Photo: Johnny Flynn and Sally Rogers in “Hangmen.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
Off-Broadway Review: “Hangmen” at Atlantic Theater Company (Through Sunday March 25, 2018)
By Martin McDonagh
Directed by Matthew Dunster
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.” – “To A Mouse” by Robert Burns

Despite his claim to be “quite content to keep [his] own counsel, as [he] sees fit, and leave the jibber-jabber to the riff-raff, the riff-raff,” former hangman Harry Wade (played with a menacing panache by Mark Addy) seems quite content to “tell all” to anyone who asks his opinion about almost anything, including his spin on his feelings about the abolition of hanging in England in the mid-1960s. Harry has been a “servant of the Crown in the capacity of hangman” for twenty-five years and currently, with his wife Alice (played with a repressed steely strength by Sally Rogers) runs a pub in Oldham, England where they live with their teenage daughter Shirley (played with a playful and whiny wisdom by Gaby French).

Somewhere between a bedroom farce and film noire, Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen,” currently running at Atlantic Theatre Company, spins an intriguing tale about “truth” and “consequences.” The play begins with a jaw-dropping scene set in a prison cell in 1963. Hangman Harry Wade and his sidekick Syd Armfield (played with a pandering exterior that camouflages a sinister interior by Reece Shearsmith) arrive with guards to escort convicted prisoner James Hennessy (played with a cloying innocence by Giles Geary) off to the gallows. Harry, not much concerned about guilt or innocence, is focused on one thing: hanging Hennessy. Wade is less concerned about justice than he is about the convict’s mention of the hangman’s nemesis Albert Pierrepoint (played with regal superiority by Maxwell Caulfield).

In the second scene, the action shifts to Harry’s bar where he holds forth with his three regulars, a local journalist Clegg (Owen Campbell), and a plainclothes policeman Inspector Fry (David Lansbury). The regulars include Bill (Richard Hollis), Charlie (Billy Carter), and the “touch deaf” Arthur (the curmudgeonly John Horton). Think the Three Stooges meet the Keystone Cops and the tone of the setting becomes clear. Clegg has arrived from Manchester to interview Harry about the abolishing of hanging. All this bantering sets the stage for the arrival of “the young stranger” Mooney (played with demonic delight by Johnny Flynn) and the Martin McDonagh bumpy tide begins in earnest.

Mooney’s arrival sets in motion a myriad of conflicts tailormade for the playwright’s fascinating characters: each of these conflicts drives a plot filled with moral ambiguity and gumshoe grit worthy of a Dashiell Hammett novel. After a salacious conversation with Shirley, Mooney convinces her to go to the beach with him. In a meeting with Syd, Mooney claims he has locked Shirley “in a garage in Formby” and he learns Syd has inadvertently (?) implicated Mooney in the murder blamed on the now deceased Hennessey. This tragicomic turn of events wobbles deliciously between slapstick and pathos and keeps the audience on edge.

Shirley’s absence and Syd’s implication lead to another hanging: who’s in the noose, where he is hanged, how, when, and where the hanging takes place is the brilliant game playwright McDonagh plays with the audience’s mind (and heart). Just when it seems clear who Mooney is and whether he kidnapped and harmed Shirley, Albert Pierrepoint shows up at Harry’s pub to “discuss” the derogatory comments Harry made to the reporter. But something is behind the curtain that challenges the moral fiber of the characters and the moral compass of a nation.

Under Matthew Dunster’s keen direction, the members of the cast uniformly deliver stunningly authentic performances that honor Martin McDonagh’s rich, dark approach to disturbingly significant themes, many of which are playing out currently on the national and global stages.

HANGMEN

The cast of “Hangmen” features Mark Addy, Owen Campbell, Billy Carter, Maxwell Caulfield, Johnny Flynn, Gaby French, Gilles Geary, Richard Hollis, John Horton, David Lansbury, Sally Rogers, and Reece Shearsmith.

“Hangmen” features scenic and costume design by Anna Fleischle, lighting design by Joshua Carr, sound design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph, dialects by Stephen Gabis, fight choreography by J. David Brimmer, UK casting by Amy Ball, CDG, and US casting by Telsey+Company; Adam Caldwell, CSA; Will Cantler, CSA; Karyn Casl, CSA. Production photos by Ahron R. Foster.

“Hangman” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, March 4th, 2018 Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater (336 West 20th Street). For more information, including performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://atlantictheater.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Johnny Flynn and Sally Rogers in “Hangmen.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 8, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The Amateurs” at Vineyard Theatre (Through Thursday March 29, 2018)

Photo: Kyle Beltran and Jennifer Kim in “The Amateurs.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Amateurs” at Vineyard Theatre (Through Thursday March 29, 2018)
By Jordan Harrison
Directed by Oliver Butler
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Whether medieval or modern, no plague is comfortable. The first part of “The Amateurs,” currently playing at Vineyard Theatre, is uncomfortable in a different way and the audience wonders, “Can this play be as amateurish as it appears. What is the Vineyard thinking?” As it turns out, the iconic Off-Broadway theatre is thinking outside-the-box and out with the fourth wall, inviting the audience into a rigorous session of metacognition: how do theatre professionals think they make theatre successfully? Should actors be thinking about how they do what they do when they are doing it? And playwright Jordan Harrison uses the story of a medieval itinerant troupe of actors attempting to outrun the “Black Death” ravaging fourteenth-century Europe to address these essential questions.

Larking (Thomas Jay Ryan) does his best to interest his intrepid troupe to improve their craft as they rehearse their play “Noah’s Flood” for presentation before the Duke in two weeks’ time. Larking is hoping that an audience before the Duke of Travo and a successful performance by the troupe will convince the Duke to allow the actors to live within the Duke’s village and avoid death by plague. Mr. Harrison also alludes to the HIV/AIDS plague and the quest for safe spaces and cures.

In the midst of the slow-moving narrative in Act One, secrets are revealed about Rona’s (Jennifer Kim) pregnancy, assumptions are made about the possible father of the child, members of the cast die from the plague, sexual identities are revealed, and a stranger (The Psysic played by Greg Keller) enters the encampment concealing his own agenda in the quest for safety. Some of these secrets are revealed in two well-staged intercessory prayer scenes. Rona prays to St. Felicitas to make her a virgin again, or if that is “asking too much,” at least to “make him a boy.” Brom (Kyle Beltran) begs St. Theresa to help him forget Henry whom he assumes God took back to “wash him clean” of him. And Larking prays to both Saints Dominic and Cosmas to help his troupe “to act well.”

In Act Two, Jordan Harrison decides to break the fourth wall. The actor who portrays Gregory (Michael Cyril Creighton) takes center stage and launches on an extended monologue about the provenance of his fear of being gay, his fear of AIDS, the historical development of “individualism,” and assorted other topics. He ends his exposition with, “This is all to say that I didn’t sit down to write a play about Mr.
Goldsworthy, or the Bubonic plague, even. No, for some reason I was interested in a small strange scene from the 14th century morality play “Noah’s Flood.”

Dissecting the scene between Noah (Brom/Kyle Beltran) and his “unnamed” wife (Hollis/Quincy Tyler Bernstine), “the director” links namelessness with powerlessness – a sort of plague of humankind. This discussion is valuable and raises the questions outlined in the first paragraph of this review; however, the need for the lengthy first act becomes questionable as does the playwright’s choice to use this vehicle to make his important arguments.

Under Oliver Butler’s direction, the actors wrestle with the plays disparate themes (perhaps too many unresolved conflicts?) with honesty. Happy Endings, guilt, fear, catharsis – all get bandied about at the play’s end with more questions raised than answers given. Whether catharsis is “innately complacent” (Playwright) or “delicious” will be up to the audience to decide. We are all, after all, amateurs at this humanity gig.

THE AMATEURS

“The Amateurs” features Kyle Beltran, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Michael Cyril Creighton, Greg Keller, Jennifer Kim, and Thomas Jay Ryan.

The creative team for “The Amateurs” includes David Zinn (scenic design), Jessica Pabst (costume design), Jen Schriever (lighting design), Bray Poor (original music and sound design), Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas (wig, hair, and make-up design), and Raphael Mishler (mask and puppet design). Rachel Gross serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“The Amateurs” runs at Vineyard Theatre (108 East 15th Street between Union Square East and Irving Place) through Thursday March 29, 2018. For further information, including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.vineyardtheatre.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Kyle Beltran and Jennifer Kim in “The Amateurs.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, March 4, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “An Ordinary Muslim” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 11, 2018)

Photo: Purva Bedi, Rita Wolf, Ranjit Chowdhry, and Sanjit De Silva in “An Ordinary Muslim.” Credit: Suzi Sadler.
Off-Broadway Review: “An Ordinary Muslim” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 11, 2018)
By Hammaad Chaudry
Directed by Jo Bonney
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“It won’t stay this – go back to Richard, make amends, sort your life out – but things will get better, easier, with time, people such as yourself ‘n your family start integrating more.” – David to Azeem

What does it mean to be an ordinary Muslim? What does it mean to be an ordinary Christian? What does it mean to be an ordinary Hindu? What does it mean to be an ordinary Jew? What does it mean to ask those questions and what might it indicate about the questioner?

Azeem Bhatti (Sanjit De Silva) is a Pakistani Muslim who was born and raised in the United Kingdom and struggles with the racism and xenophobia he experiences from his boss Richard at the bank where he works. Azeem is hoping for a transfer to the Clapham branch where he would be manager. His longtime friend David Adkins (Andrew Hovelson) has gone behind Richard’s back to assist Azeem in getting the transfer, and Azeem, unwilling to ask Richard for the required reference to seal the transfer, needs David to write the reference instead.

David reminds Azeem that he and Richard were “friends.” Azeem reminds David, they were “not friends, friendly. When he thought I was a secular Muslim. When he saw me sneak out for Friday prayers, saw that Allah and Islam stuff mattered to me, he was not so friendly anymore.” To which David replies, “You hide it pretty well, people assume you’re just an ordinary Muslim not” someone who takes his faith seriously.

Hammaad Chaudry’s new play, “An Ordinary Muslim,” currently running at the New York Theatre Workshop, addresses the difficulties Azeem and his wife Saima (Purva Bedi) experience in West London in 2011 and invites the audience to connect their personal histories to the experiences of Muslims globally who face the increase of nationalism in the countries where they were born or settled as immigrants.

Azeem and Saima – who also faces discrimination at work – live with Azeems’ parents Akeel (Ranjit Chowdhry) and Malika (Rita Wolf) whose dysfunctional relationship exacerbates the difficulties the couple experience in their workplaces. Akeel continues to abuse Malika despite Azeem and his sister Javeria’s (Angel Desai) attempts to intervene. Further complicating their struggles is Saima’s decision to wear her hijab to work, her frequent visits to her mosque, and her growing attachment to Hamza Jameel (Sathya Sridharan) the “son of a preacher man” who currently runs the mosque.

As the distance between Azeem and Saima widens and Azeem’s reluctance to compromise his values strengthens, his life begins to spin out of control. What happens to Azeem, how he reconciles his identity to his “citizenship,” is the captivating and engaging story Mr. Chaudry develops with a commitment to authenticity and believability. Director Jo Bonney gently teases the pathos and ethos of the script and supports the actors’ choices throughout. These extraordinary actors expose the hypocrisy behind demanding Muslim citizens to be “ordinary” and “start integrating.”

AN ORDINARY MUSLIM

The cast for “An Ordinary Muslim” includes Purva Bedi, Ranjit Chowdhry, Angel Desai, Sanjit De Silva, Andrew Hovelson, Harsh Nayyar, Sathya Sridharan, and Rita Wolf.

“An Ordinary Muslim” features scenic design by Neil Patel, costume design by Susan Hilferty, lighting design by Lap Chi Chu, sound design by Elisheba Ittoop, and fight direction by Thomas Schall. Dawn-Elin Fraser serves as dialect coach, with Stage Management by Lori Ann Zepp. Production photos by Suzi Sadler.

“An Ordinary Muslim” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street) through Sunday March 11, 2018. For more information, including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including intermission.

Photo: Purva Bedi, Rita Wolf, Ranjit Chowdhry, and Sanjit De Silva in “An Ordinary Muslim.” Credit: Suzi Sadler.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, March 2, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Disco Pigs” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday March 4, 2018)

Photo: Colin Campbell and Evanna Lynch in “Disco Pigs.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Off-Broadway Review: “Disco Pigs” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday March 4, 2018)
By Enda Walsh
Directed by John Haidar
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“It will take a Captain Hook like my very own bes pal ta sniff it out, hey! What a treasure you bot are. Dis is really it, Pig!” – Runt

The 20th Anniversary Production of “Disco Pigs,” currently running at Irish Repertory Theatre, is a soul-ripping exploration of the psychological process of separation and individuation and the sometimes-painful experience of facing adulthood without what would seem requisite practice.

Pig (Colin Campbell) and Runt (Evanna Lynch), best pals from birth, have found ways to protect themselves from the world of 1996 Cork City, County Cork, Ireland: the pair has created their own language, sort of a plug-in to personalize the County Cork Dialect; they have kept their relationship platonic, avoiding the complications of a romantic involvement; and they have chosen activities they both enjoy and visit venues where they feel safe.

Under John Haidar’s exquisite direction, “Disco Pigs” follows Pig and Runt through their burgeoning adolescence where they begin to discover disappointment, danger, bullying, and the awareness of others. Just when Pig is “ready” to explore a deeper relationship with Runt, his longtime “pal” and “queen” gets “schlapped” (literally) by reality in the guise of Danny Boy’s girlfriend who “opens up da nose and blood all drip drip drop from da Runt.”

Like other tragic events that encroach upon the adolescent’s sense of safety in seclusion from the world, the event at the disco shatters Runt’s world view and her understanding of self and her relationship with Runt. Eventually, she confronts Pig, “An Runt race good dis time! Mus get away! No mo all dis play and pain! I wan for something else! Somethin differen! Freedom!” Runt discovers her need to get away from the “play” with Pig.

There’s a deep sadness in “Disco Pigs” as well as an exhilarating exploration of freedom found. Pig and Runt will no longer be what they were staring across from one another in the hospital nursery, or growing up next-door to one another, or taking the stage at the disco (what a wonderful trope for the adolescent Weltanschauung). Adulthood collapses in upon adolescence with a vengeance and shatters the protective walls of innocence.

Evanna Lynch finds the core of Runt’s dilemma with a superior acuity. Colin Campbell captures the chilling time when playfulness can become profound commitment. Their characters are authentic, and their performances are astonishingly believable. Their inner conflicts with themselves, each other, and their now frightening world connect powerfully with anyone on a journey of self-discovery.

Richard Kent’s set and costume design heightens the womb-like world of the disco pair and Elliot Griggs’s murky lighting surrounds the couple with the shadows of impending adulthood and all its vicissitudes.

Runt discovers that the sun “it really a beautiful big thing” and that it is “okay” and “all righ” to be alone – a lesson it takes most of us a lifetime to learn.

DISCO PIGS

The cast of “Disco Pigs” features Evanna Lynchand Colin Campbell. Both actors will make their US stage debuts with the Irish Rep production.

The creative team for “Disco Pigs” includes set and costume designer Richard Kent, lighting designer Elliot Griggs, sound designer Giles Thomas, and movement director Naomi Said. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

The run of “Disco Pigs” at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 W 22nd Street) has been extended through Sunday March 4, 2018. For further information, including performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://irishrep.org/. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Colin Campbell and Evanna Lynch in “Disco Pigs.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, February 26, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 4, 2018)

Photo: Yuval Boim, Mariella Haubs, and Adam Green in “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz.” Credit: James Leynse.
Off-Broadway Review: “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 4, 2018)
By James Inverne
Directed by Andrew Leynse
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In two thirty-five-minute acts, playwright James Inverne attempts to convince the audience that “music helped Israel find its cultural identity during its formative years.” In the first short act that takes place in 1926, Yehuda Sharett (Yuval Boim), a “kibbutznik from the Ukraine” and advocate for a Jewish homeland, takes a walk with Jascha Heifetz (Adam Green) and engages the virtuoso violinist in a conversation about making music and the importance of music to the identity of a people and country. After listening carefully, Heifetz suggests that Yehuda go to Berlin “where [the great composers] eat and drink and breathe music. And it’s full of Jewish musicians. German Jews there are living a great new dream.”

During this first act, violinist Mariella Haubs struts across the stage counterpointing the conversation between Yehuda and Jascha. Although it is not clear why the onstage violinist is needed, her presence and playing are more pleasant than Mr. Inverne’s dialogue between the two men.

In the second short act that takes place in 1946 in Yehuda’s house at Kibbutz Yagur, Yehuda’s brother Moshe Sharett (Erik Lochtfeld) visits to both console Yehuda and urge him to return to “making music.” Yehuda’s wife Tzivia, his sister Rivka and her daughter died in a car crash and Yehuda has not been able to recover from his overwhelming grief. The conversation quickly turns to thirty-five minutes of political rhetoric about the importance of the formation of the State of Israel. The play is no longer about authentic and realistic characters; rather, underdeveloped characters become conduits for a playwright’s polemic. Even though Moshe urges Yehuda to “find the music to bring you through this. Find once again the harmony that can make life make sense for you,” this compassion dissolves into a logos driven diatribe.

Although “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz is more docudrama than drama, Mr. Inverne chooses not to document the complexities of the Jewish migration into Palestine under British rule, complexities which continue to exist in the present. Obviously, this was not the purpose of his play; however, this omission leaves the audience with only a partial understanding of the development of the State of Israel and the continued absence of a Palestinian State.

That said, “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz” does not allow the actors or the director (Andrew Leynse) to exercise their craft within the parameters of a satisfying dramatic arc that provides a cathartic resolution.

A WALK WITH MR. HEIFETZ

The cast of “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz” features Yuval Boim, Adam Green, Mariella Haubs, and Erik Lochtefeld.

The creative team for “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz” includes Wilson Chin (scenic design), Jen Caprio (costume design), John Froelich (lighting design), and M. L. Dogg (sound design). Michael V. Mendelson serves as production stage manager. Production photos by James Leynse.

“A Walk with Mr. Heifetz” runs at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Sunday March 4, 2018. For further information, including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit http://primarystages.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Yuval Boim, Mariella Haubs, and Adam Green in “A Walk with Mr. Heifetz.” Credit: James Leynse.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, February 21, 2018

“John Lithgow: Stories By Heart” at Roundabout Theatre Company at American Airlines Theatre (Through Sunday March 4, 2018)

Photo: John Lithgow in “Stories By Heart.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
“John Lithgow: Stories By Heart” at Roundabout Theatre Company at American Airlines Theatre (Through Sunday March 4, 2018)
Adapted and Performed by John Lithgow
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Currently in its Broadway debut, John Lithgow’s “Stories By Heart” first took shape in 2008 at Lincoln Center Theater in a special repertory presentation directed by Jack O’Brien. Then, Mr. Lithgow told one story on each of two nights. Since then he has evolved the play in theaters around the country, produced by Staci Levine, on evenings away from his filming schedule. In this current incarnation, the two stories from a collection of short stories selected by W. Somerset Maugham called “Tellers of Tales” are shared in two acts: the first act features “Haircut, by Ring Lardner; the second act features “Uncle Fred Flits By,” by P.G. Wodehouse.”

“Stories By Heart” is not just the reading of two somewhat obscure short stories. Mr. Lithgow shares with the audience, “I’m also going to tell you some stories about these stories. I’m going to tell you why these two particular stories are important to me, how they connect to my life, and how, over the years, they have helped turn me into a storyteller. /And along the way, I intend to do a little offhand philosophizing about storytelling itself.”

The two short stories seem an odd choice: neither one seems appropriate for children; neither is particularly funny; and neither seems to capture the attention of the audience. What apparently brought the Lithgow children to peals of laughter seems to elude the audience which proffers only occasional laughter and stifled at that. What is spellbinding is Mr. Lithgow’s stories about his father (whom he adored) and how he influenced Lithgow’s life and career in the theatre. The craft of story-telling overshadows the choice of stories and the evening is enjoyable and memorable.

Daniel Sullivan’s direction is competent and allows Mr. Lithgow to tell his stories with effectiveness. John Lee Beatty’s set and Kenneth Posner’s lighting provide space and mood for the actor to capture both the essence of the short stories and the heart of the audience.

John Lithgow is a joy to watch and a joy to listen to. He remains one of our finest actors on stage and on screen. His performance in his “Stories By Heart” is no exception to those expectations. And since “Stories By Heart” is a story within a story paying homage to Lithgow’s father, mother, and three siblings, the result is even more compelling and emotionally charged.

JOHN LITHGOW: STORIES BY HEART

The creative team for “John Lithgow: Stories By Heart” includes John Lee Beatty (Set Design), Jess Goldstein (Costume Design), Kenneth Posner (Lighting Design) and Peter Fitzgerald (Sound Design). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“John Lithgow: Stories By Heart” plays at American Airlines Theatre (227 West 42nd Street) on the following schedule: Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.

Tickets for “John Lithgow: Stories By Heart” are available by calling 212-719-1300, online at roundabouttheatre.org, and in person at any Roundabout box office: American Airlines Theatre Box office (227 West 42nd Street); The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street) and Studio 54 (254 West 54th Street). Ticket prices range from $39.00-$139.00. For groups of 10 or more please call 212-719-9393 x 365 or email groupsales@roundabouttheatre.org. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.

Photo: John Lithgow in “Stories By Heart.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, February 19, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Party Face” at New York City Center Stage II (Through Sunday April 8, 2018)

Photo: Hayley Mills and Gina Costigan in “Party Face.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Off-Broadway Review: “Party Face” at New York City Center Stage II (Through Sunday April 8, 2018)
Written by Isobel Mahon
Directed by Amanda Bearse
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is yet another theatrical party occurring on stage at City Center developed by Isobel Mahon and billed as the new comedy entitled “Party Face.” This soiree is celebrating the newly designed kitchen by the absentee husband of Mollie Mae (played with distinct dismal despair by Gina Costigan), who has just been released from the psychiatric ward after having a nervous breakdown in the middle of the cereal aisle at the grocery store. The first guest to arrive, complete with gourmet nibbles to replace the chips and hummus, is her widowed mother, Carmel, a hard-hitting social hurricane from the suburbs (portrayed with radiant energy and devious charm by the wonderful Haley Mills). Next to arrive is staunch sister Maeve (characterized by Brenda Meaney, capturing the honest and forthright Irish woman with precision). Appearing fashionably late, clad in trendy designer duds, is the supercilious neighbor Chloe, (an exasperating characterization, spewing potent pretention by Allison Jean White). The absurd gathering could not be complete without the appearance of OCD psychiatric ward roommate Bernie, who is eclectically clad, complete with survival fanny pack concealing her roll of protective plastic wrap (and carefully constructed with realistic and honest integrity by Klea Blackhurst).

Unfortunately this party is too predictable and plays more like a simple sitcom sans substance or stability. Basically everything goes wrong. The script undermines the important relevant core issue of survival and diminishes significant topics such as infidelity, abuse, alcoholism and mental illness with contrived absurd humor. Director Amanda Bearse moves the action along at a steady clip but can do little to overcome the pedestrian script which deteriorates quickly. The cast tries incessantly to wear their best party face but nothing can mask the lackluster and uninspired festivities. What should have been a play that embraced the power and courage of women dwindles to a light fluffy comedy of no consequence.

PARTY FACE

The cast of “Party Face” features Klea Blackhurst, Gina Costigan, Brenda Meaney, Hayley Mills, and Allison Jean White.

The creative team for “Party Face” includes Jeff Ridenour (scenic design), Lara De Bruijn (costume design), Joyce Liao (lighting design), and Damien Figueras (sound design). Melanie T. Morgan serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

“Party Face” runs at New York City Center Stage II (131 West 55th Street) through Sunday April 8, 2018. For the schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.partyfaceplay.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Photo: Hayley Mills and Gina Costigan in “Party Face.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, February 17, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Until the Flood” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday February 18, 2018

Photo: Dael Orlandersmith in “Until the Flood” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Credit: Robert Altman.
Off-Broadway Review: “Until the Flood” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday February 18, 2018)
Written and Performed by Dael Orlandersmith
Directed by Neel Keller
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” – Matthew 34:28-29

“Soon and very soon,/We are going to see the King. No more crying there,/We are going to see the King. No more dying there,/We are going to see the King.” - Andrae' Crouch

Humankind’s pan-cultural flood (or deluge) myth motifs – including the Genesis flood narrative (Noah), the Mesopotamian flood stories (Gilgamesh), and the Sumerian flood myth – all reinforce humanity’s penchant for hubris and willingness to continue to “miss the mark.”

Evidence of the results of the correlative “Fall” myth motif is the contemporary chorus of continued denials of systemic racism in America – and indeed amidst the resurgence of white separatist ideologies. In “After the Flood,” currently running at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Dale Orlandersmith allows the events of Ferguson specifically to speak for themselves through the eyes of nine fictional characters she created from her interviews with residents if St. Louis in 2015.

These believable and authentic characters – five white and four black – all portrayed by Ms. Orlandersmith in powerful performances, share their “spin” on the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. In the poet/playwright’s narratives, she succeeds in presenting a deep and rich exploration of the vicissitudes of racism: this exploration uncovers an underbelly of “conventional” racist views in addition to a complex matrix of conflicting and “unconventional” aspects of racism. The strength of the piece lies in this honesty and authenticity. Just when an audience member thinks she or he has identified what racism is, Ms. Orlandersmith presents another side – sometimes an unexpected one – of the insidious scourge.

Seventy-year-old black retired teacher Louisa Hemphill, through the lens of Ferguson and her own family experience – has confronted racism from without and from within her own family. After attending City College and becoming involved in student protest movements, Louisa returns home to a surprising encounter with her parents. Seventy-five-year-old white retired police officer Rusty White makes it clear in a none too subtle racist rant that sometimes cops need to use their guns, “goin’ with the tide, goin’ with the flow.” Two young black high school students – Hassan a seventeen-year-old “street kid” and Paul a seventeen-year-old high school student – share their fear and mistrust of the police. Hassan longs for a safe place to live and Paul, when he passes the shrine dedicated to Michael Brown, thinks “it could be me.” Both boys are trapped in a matrix of fear, defeat, and mistrust.

The narratives need to be seen and heard – to reveal the remaining stories would detract from their persuasive rhetoric. Ms. Olandersmith employs riveting rhetorical devices to bring her characters to life and share their cathartic confessions.

With the addition of a scarf or a sweatshirt, Ms. Orlandersmith creates nine distinctive characters with subtle vocal inflections and brilliantly crafted expressions and body movements. The changes occur as the actor moves deliberately from one part of the stage to another, perhaps taking the chair with her or remaining in the same stage location. Scenic designer Takeshi Kata, costume designer Kaye Voyce, and lighting designer Mary Louise Geiger create a space and time and mood that counterpoints precisely the content of each narrative. Neel Keller’s direction is unobtrusive and gently allows the poet to work her magic.

Like the words of most (if not all) traditional and contemporary “spiritual” hymns, phrases like “Soon and very soon,/We are going to see the King” are not references to some heavenly rest; rather they continue to be clarion calls for justice and powerful strains of resistance. Ms. Orlandersmith’s enduring question remains: has America heard the wakeup call – or has it been answered and deleted.

UNTIL THE FLOOD

“Until the Flood” features set design by Takeshi Kata, costume design by Kaye Voyce, lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger, sound design by Justin Ellington, and projection design by Nick Hussong. Production photos by Robert Altman.

“Until the Flood” runs at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place) through Sunday February 18, 2018 in repertory with “Draw the Circle” written and performed by Mashuq Mushtaq. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.rattlestick.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Dael Orlandersmith in “Until the Flood” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Credit: Robert Altman.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 15, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” at SoHo Playhouse (Extended through Sunday February 25, 2018)

Photo: Drew Droege in “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns.” Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” at SoHo Playhouse (Extended through Sunday February 25, 2018)
Written by Drew Droege
Directed by Michael Urie
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The production currently playing at SoHo Playhouse entitled “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” is a self-absorbed, ostentatious, and highly opinionated rant penned by Drew Droege who also holds court on stage for the eighty-minute overwrought outburst. The premise for the tirade is receiving an invitation to his friend’s gay wedding that states guests should eschew from wearing bright colors or bold patterns to the affair. This begins the tantrum that suggests the reason for this distinction is to challenge gay choices and lifestyles and sway the gay community to blend into mainstream society and emulate a heteronormative culture. Could it possibly be that the couple wanted a certain “look,” similar to the era of gay “white” or “black” parties, among other specific requirements for certain events? This escalates to the issue of gay marriage and the reasons why the solo character Gerry (played with pretentious gay demeanor by Mr. Droege) believes it is not necessary, even after the long brutal fight to legalize to protect the rights of members of the Gay community. The script delivers a one-sided point of view eschewing all the paramount issues that made this civil rights issue necessary including discrimination, taxes, health insurance and hospital visiting rights.

The action starts as Gerry arrives at a Palm Beach house the day before the wedding and joins other guests who have already arrived (and are invisible to the audience) sitting around the pool. They include Gerry’s ex and his new boyfriend. What moves the plot forward is the consumption of plenty of alcohol which then accelerates to drugs enabling the rambling fiasco to thrive. The dialogue of quick witted repartee, consists of insults, abusive humor and innuendos that are dated and trivial adding nothing to the dimension of the character or movement of the plot. It almost seems as though it may be a stand- up comedy routine with humor that escapes you even before you stop laughing. The main character seems alone (and lonely), angry and somewhat depressed, using his vitriolic humor to mask his feelings. It is a sad portrayal and a poor representation of gay men in contemporary American society.

Set design by Dara Wishingrad is very colorful, crowded and adds to the timber of the production. Director Michael Urie keeps the evening moving at a rapid pace which helps hide the scripts imperfections. The attempt of a dramatic, meaningful ending is too little, too late and seems incongruous to the previous body of the work. If you (gay or straight) enjoy sarcastic, bitchy gay humor with absolutely no substance this might be a great way to spend the evening.

BRIGHT COLORS AND BOLD PATTERNS

“Bright Colors And Bold Patterns” continues its Off Broadway at SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam Street, between 6th Avenue and Varick Street in Manhattan), with the new star Jeff Hiller assuming the role of Gerry.

Tickets start at $59.00. The performance schedule and further information are available at www.BrightColorsandBoldPatterns.com. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Drew Droege in “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns.” Credit: Russ Rowland.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 8, 2018

Broadway Review: “The Children” at Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

Photo: Deborah Findlay and Ron Cook. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “The Children” at Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
(Through Sunday February 4, 2018)
By Lucy Kirkwood
Directed by James Macdonald
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Yes exactly. I would’ve felt like a traitor. Besides, retired people are like nuclear power stations. We like to live by the sea.” – Hazel to Rose

The success of “The Children,” currently playing at Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is primarily the result of playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s effective and judicious use of tropes, particularly the extended metaphor of the nuclear “disaster” that has displaced Hazel (played with an unresolved anger tempered with pragmatism by Deborah Findlay) and her husband Robin (played with an openness that conceals deep secrets by Ron Cook) from their dairy farm (too close to the power plant for comfort). Although the farm was outside the “exclusion zone,” the couple felt more secure living further away in a smaller home plagued with touchy plumbing and limited
lighting. Hazel manages the house while Robin makes the daily trek back to the farm to “care for” the cows.

Into this domestic tranquility comes Rose (played with a powerful purposeful energy by Francesca Annis) who, with Hazel and Robin, were largely responsible for building the nuclear power plant that has poisoned the land, sea, and air. Playwright Lucy Kirkwood carefully discloses the purpose for Rose’s surprise visit, initially suggesting she might be interested in continuing an extended affair with Robin. Although Ms. Kirkwood proffers many foreshadowing events – including Hazel accidentally giving Rose a bloody nose and Rose questioning Hazel about “the children” – it is not until later in the play the audience discovers the real reason for Rose’s intrusion into Hazel’s and Robin’s lives.

In a mind-wrenching climax, Rose connects her concern for Hazel’s children with the young team cleaning up the nuclear meltdown: “These . . . young people these children, basically, actually with their whole lives ahead and it’s not fair it’s not right it seems wrong. Doesn’t it? Because we built it, didn’t we? Or helped to, we’re responsible, so I do, I feel the need to, to clear it up.” As the action of the play quickly resolves, Hazel, Robin, and Rose wrestle with the things that have bound them together and the things that have torn them apart and transcend both to create a new future for “the children.”

Under James Macdonald’s purposive and gentle direction, “The Children” raises significant enduring questions left for the audience to grapple with. To whom are we responsible and why does that responsibility exist? Is it possible we are only responsible to and for ourselves? Is the life of a young person more valuable than the life of an older person? What determines the value of any given life? Does what a person has done during his or her life affect that person’s “value score?” Is vicarious punishment operative in the decisions made by Rose, Robin, and Hazel?

Who are our children and how are we caring for them and their future?

THE CHILDREN

The cast of “The Children” features Francesca Annis, Ron Cook, and Deborah Findlay.

The creative team for The Children features Miriam Buether (scenic and costume design), Peter Mumford (lighting design), and Max Pappenheim (sound design). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets are available at Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. Ticket prices are $60-$140. Performance schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m., Thursday at 8:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For more information, including the holiday performance schedule, visit http://thechildrenbroadway.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Deborah Findlay and Ron Cook. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, January 28, 2018

Broadway Review: “Meteor Shower” at the Booth Theatre (Open Run)

Photo: Keegan-Michael Key, Jeremy Shamos, Amy Schumer, and Laura Benanti in “Meteor Shower.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: “Meteor Shower” at the Booth Theatre (Open Run)
By Steve Martin
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Steve Martin has titled his new play “Meteor Shower.” Currently running at the Belasco Theatre, the comedy is as broad as the night sky above and filled with just as many stars and enlists the audience members to listen to and watch the actors on stage as they await occasional bursts of comedy that handily counterpoint the intermittent falling stars that stream across the panorama. The eighty-minute intermission-less comedy is filled with sporadic one-liners and some scenes that rely on farcical physical comedy delivered by the cast with acute timing and instinctive agility. Just when the plot starts to serve the characters with a faint inkling of depth, it falters, only to repeat the scene from a different perspective, not moving forward but providing an outlet for more sitcom one-liners. Director Jerry Zaks moves the piece along at a quick pace and certainly provides a sleek production that is pleasant enough to watch and seems to be over before it even begins. The production contains bouts of absurdity which struggle and conflict with the more straight forward comedic approach and nonlinear structure.

The plot finds Corky (Amy Schumer) and Gerald (Keegan-Michael Key) getting ready for invited guests Norm (Jeremy Shamos) and Laura (Laura Benanti) to arrive at their Ojai, California home to view the highly anticipated meteor shower. The foreshadowing in this first scene occurs during the discussion of the subconscious and the need to allow it to surface and deal with it; otherwise, it will take control. After some absurd, rather ridiculous occurrences, all providing plenty of laughter, begin to start repeating themselves to incur more laughter and a different point of view, the plot wears thin and the characters fall flat, one dimensional and portals for more one-liners. By the end of the play, it is certain that the couple visiting is their alter ego giving the audience a glimpse into the characters’ inner selves. Too little too late and who cares? It is much better to just enjoy the fun and ignore the pseudo substance.

The stellar cast is fine and probably makes the evening palpable by adhering to the slick direction of Mr. Zaks who obviously decided to surrender to lighthearted entertainment taking advantage of the actors’ irreproachable talents. Ms. Schumer is at her best when displaying her broad facial reactions and impeccable timing. Mr. Shamos relies on his adroit physical humor and coy delivery. Mr. Key gives a substantially subtle performance with absolute deadpan delivery and reaction. Ms. Benanti exudes sexuality in a shiny slip dress and easily seduces her counterparts with calm assurance. They are able to overcome the erratic and implausible script by Mr. Martin. It is merely an evening of amusement where the jokes are forgotten as fast as they are delivered, sort of like the meteors streaming across the dark sky during this lackluster theatrical shower.

METEOR SHOWER

The cast of “Meteor Shower” features Laura Benanti, Keegan-Michael Key, Amy Schumer, and Jeremy Shamos.

The creative team includes Beowulf Boritt (Scenic Design), Ann Roth (Costume Design), Natasha Katz (Lighting Design), and Fitz Patton (Sound Design). Casting is by Caparelliotis Casting. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.MeteorOnBroadway.com, via Telecharge.com or by phone at 212-239-6200, or by visiting the Booth Theatre box office (222 West 45th Street). For the performance schedule and for further information about “Meteor Shower,” www.MeteorOnBroadway.com. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Keegan-Michael Key, Jeremy Shamos, Amy Schumer, and Laura Benanti in “Meteor Shower.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, January 6, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Downtown Race Riot” at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Saturday December 23, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “Downtown Race Riot” at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Saturday December 23, 2017)
By Seth Zvi Rosenfeld
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The 1970s was a decade of unrest across the United States. Racial divides were exacerbated by socio-economic disparities and rising tensions between members of minority communities and the systemic racism inherent in the majority white population. This unrest was particularly evident in urban areas like New York City and, more specifically, in the West Village of Manhattan. One such riot erupted in Washington Square Park in 1976 which resulted in several young men being charged with taking part in a rampage that left one man dead and thirteen persons injured. Eerily reminiscent of that riot is Seth Zvi Rosenfeld’s “Downtown Race Riot” currently running at The New Group’s performance space at The Pershing Square Signature Center.

The overwrought and overlong drama focuses on a group of friends who gather at Jimmy Shannon’s (David Levi) Section Eight railroad apartment where he lives with his drug addicted mother Mary (Chloe Sevigny) and his sister Joyce (Sadie Scott), the feisty lesbian who is not averse to seducing his friend Marcel “Massive” Baptiste (Moise Morancy) while Tommy-Sick (Cristian Demeo) and Jay 114 (Daniel Sovich) rehearse the hit placed on Marcel by the cuckolded Baldo. This pair of losers (think the most stereotypical characters from “Saturday Night Fever” and any iteration of “The Godfather”) expect Jimmy (AKA “Pnut”) to deliver Marcel into Baldo’s hands in the Park amidst the most recent riot.

The real riot here, however, is the hot mess of misfits that gather as an embattled brood under the protective wings of mother Mary the opioid queen. Although one immediately understands the connection between the riot without and the riot within, Mr. Rosenfeld’s script is not strong enough to support that rhetorical argument. The play lacks logos, pathos, and ethos and is completely devoid of catharsis. It is difficult to care about any of the characters or their hackneyed conflicts that drive drab, uninteresting plot lines.

The play is replete with bizarre vein-tapping, love circles, and the anecdote about “a white man and an Indian” Mary shares with Jimmy’s friend Marcel between intravenous injections of heroine. There is an excessive amount of shouting, furniture throwing and kicking, exploding blood capsules and the completely extraneous appearance of Mary’s “attorney” Bob Gilman (Josh Pais) whom she met at Olive Garden. The “make-out” session between Mary and Bob while Marcel’s life hangs in the balance must be among the most embarrassing in Off-Broadway history.

Under Scott Elliott’s direction, the talented cast struggles to make sense of Mr. Rosenfeld’s script. Derek McLane’s expansive set sprawls across the entire length of the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre leaving patrons who are not sitting dead-center craning their necks to see the action in one or both bedrooms. Clint Ramos’s costumes and Yael Lubetzky’s lighting – as adequate as they are – fail to raise the level of the production beyond the mediocre.

Failing to address any meaningful discussion about systemic racism or any significant conversation about the 1970s race riots, “Downtown Race Riot” remains a puzzling foray into the realm of the absurd.

DOWNTOWN RACE RIOT

The cast of “Downtown Race Riot” features Cristian DeMeo, David Levi, Moise Morancy, Josh Pais, Sadie Scott, Chloë Sevigny and Daniel Sovich.

The creative team includes scenic design by Derek McLane, costume design by Clint Ramos, lighting design by Yael Lubetzky, sound design by M.L. Dogg, and fight direction by UnkleDave's Fight-House Production. Valerie A. Peterson serves as production stage manager. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA and Public Relations by Bridget Klapinski. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

“Downtown Race Riot” runs at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street) through Saturday December 23 on the following 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. To purchase tickets and to review exceptions to the performance schedule, please visit https://www.thenewgroup.org/. Running time is 100 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Moise Morancy and Sadie Scott in Seth Zvi Rosenfeld’s “Downtown Race Riot.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, December 16, 2017

Broadway Review: “M. Butterfly” at the Cort Theatre (Through Sunday December 17, 2017

Photo: Clive Owen and Jin Ha in “M. Butterfly.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: “M. Butterfly” at the Cort Theatre (Through Sunday December 17, 2017)
By David Henry Hwang
Directed by Julie Taymor
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“M. Butterfly,” the stunning albeit straightforward play about fantasy, deception, espionage, and betrayal seems to have lost its way at the Cort Theatre. Whether this results from David Henry Hwang’s revisions and updates or from something inherent in the production itself is uncertain. This latest iteration focuses on Song Liling’s (Jin Ha) sexual status rather than on French diplomat Rene Galimand’s (Clive Owen) obsessive fantasy driven by his insatiable xenophobia. Notice was given this week that the play would close prematurely on December 17, 2017. What happened to Julie Taymor’s staging of the endearing drama?

First, what did work for this production is the casting of Jin Ha as Song Liling and Clive Owen as Rene Gallimand. Both actors explored the many levels of their complex characters which resulted in powerful, endearing, authentic, and believable performances. Mr. Owen portrays the obsessive Rene with panache and precision and manages to counterpoint the character’s naivete with a passionate need to be in control. Seemingly unaware of Song Liling’s sexual status and political connections, Rene still believes he is secure in his employment and able to dismiss his commitment to his wife.

Jin Ha portrays the elusive Chinese opera star Song Liling with a compelling gravitas that transcends all conversations about the conventions of human sexuality. Mr. Ha’s character is firmly entrenched in the realm of fantasy and the actor skillfully and subtly entraps Rene into that fantasy – so pervasively that Rene cannot follow through on his demands for Song Liling to undress to confirm his growing suspicions about her true status. Rene’s delusion obfuscates rather than clarifies his understanding of the precarious position he is in politically and professionally.

“M. Butterfly” is a fantasia that rattles the gates of reality and questions all preconceived ideas about fidelity, fealty, and the fragility of the human psyche. Questioned also is the understanding of human sexuality. The critical questions about, for example, whether Jin Ha successfully plays a woman belies an underbelly of stereotypes and assumptions that raises rich and enduring questions. What does a man look like? What does a woman look like? What does it mean to even raise these questions? What defines ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine?’ What does it mean to dress like a man or to dress like a woman?

Jin Ha’s performance is not only compelling, as noted earlier, it is also profoundly convincing. Mr. Ha manages to blur the boundaries between what is perceived to be real and what is perceived to be fiction. His portrayal of the complex opera star is the hallucination Rene needs to survive in a world too encumbered by reality. Together with Mr. Owen, the actors elucidate the Yin and the Yang of universal truths.

Working against the performances, unfortunately, is Paul Steinberg’s cumbersome and oddly unimaginative set. The constant movement of stage hands (and actors) pushing, pulling, and spinning panels around the stage distracts from the needed grounding of the plots and subplots driven by the conflicts of the characters so clearly defined by playwright David Henry Hwang. It is lamentable that “M. Butterfly” is closing early; however, choices made by the creative team are crucial to the success of any production. Some choices in this instance were less than commendable.

M. BUTTERFLY

The cast of “M. Butterfly” includes Clea Alsip, Murray Bartlett, Michael Countryman, Celeste Den, Jess Fry, Enid Graham, Jin Ha, Thomas Michael Hammond, Cole Horibe, Jason Ignacio, Kristen Faith Oei, Clive Owen, Erica Sweany, John Leonard Thompson, and Erica Wong.

The creative team for “M. Butterfly” includes Original Music by Winner Elliot Goldenthal, Choreography by Ma Cong, Scenic Design by Paul Steinberg, Costume Design by Constance Hoffman, Lighting Design by Donald Holder, Sound Design by Will Pickens. Wig and Hair Design by Dave Bova, and Makeup Design by Judy Chin. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

Tickets are available at www.MButterflyBroadway.com or www.Telecharge.com (212.239.6200).
Tickets for “M. Butterfly” range from $39.00 - $149.00. Premium tickets range from $199.00 - $227.00. For group tickets and more information, including performance schedule, please visit www.MButterflyBroadway.com. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Photo: Clive Owen and Jin Ha in “M. Butterfly.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 15, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Twelfth Night, Or What You Will” as Classic Stage Company (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)

Photo: David Samuel and Paco Tolson. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Twelfth Night, Or What You Will” as Classic Stage Company (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

A visit to Classic Stage Company for the current production of “Twelfth Night” is almost like a case of Déjà vu: one could be watching the Company’s previous production of “As You Like it” which closed on October 22nd. The formula for both new productions of the Shakespeare classics involve adding music and singing, the same configuration of the theater and basically the same somewhat barren set. The two mistaken-identity, gender bending, all ends well romantic antic farces are too alike to run consecutively as CSC’s 50th season openers, unless they are performed in repertory with primarily the same actors. Even then, some sort of different sets and staging would be essential. It is mentioned in the program by Artistic Director John Doyle that this was done purposefully since it would be interesting to see the companion pieces, written within a short time span, alongside each other. This endeavor only managed to sabotage this current production by Fiasco Theater, not by any fault of their own.

The plot, which is too intricate to explain, deals with shipwrecked fraternal twins, Olivia and Sabastian, who each think the other has perished in the disaster. Viola (the convincing Emily Young) dresses as a man Cesario, to become servant to Orsino (an aristocratic and benevolent Noah Brady) who is in love with Olivia (a fraught and decisive Jessie Austrian). When Orsino sends Cesario with a missive to Olivia stating his affection for her, she falls in love with young Cesario who is really Viola. Sebastian (a demure and virtuous Javier Ignacio) shows up on the scene, who Olivia thinks is Cesario, and quickly marries him as to avoid the grips of Orsino. All is revealed in the end and Orsino marries Viola, along with Olivia’s drunken cousin Sir Toby Belch (an amiable Andy Grotelueschen) marrying her waiting gentle woman, Maria (played with wonderful energetic, devilish charm by Tina Chilip). Rounding out the competent cast are Paul L. Coffey as Malvolio, Daniel Samuel as Antonio and Paco Tolson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. It is filled with mishaps, subplots, twists and turns as the farcical scenario unfolds.

Co-directed Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, the action moves at a quick pace but is at times burdened by the musical interludes which breaks the pace of the farce. If you have not seen the previous production by the Classic Stage Company, indeed include this incarnation of “Twelfth Night” in your theater schedule. But if you have, there is no need to venture out for the 2-hour and 45-minute rather lackluster production.

TWELFTH NIGHT, OR WHAT YOU WILL

The cast of “Twelfth Night” features Jessie Austrian, Noah Brody, Tina Chilip, Paul L. Coffey, Andy Grotelueschen, Javier Ignacio, David Samuel, Ben Strinfeld, Paco Tolson, and Emily Young.

The creative team includes John Doyle (scenic design), Emily Rebholz (costume design), Ben Stanton (lighting design), Andrew Wade (voice consultant), And Noah Brody (fight choreography). Casting is by Stewart/Whitley. Kristin M. Herrick serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Twelfth Night” runs at Classic Stage Company (136 East 13th Street) through Saturday January 6, 2018. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://classicstage.org/. Run time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission.

Photo: David Samuel and Paco Tolson. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, December 14, 2017

Broadway Review: “SpongeBob SquarePants” at the Palace Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 2, 2018)

Photo: Ethan Slater and the Cast of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “SpongeBob SquarePants” at the Palace Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 2, 2018)
Book by Kyle Jarrow
Music Supervision, Orchestrations and Arrangements by Tom Kitt
Conceived and Directed by Tina Landau
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Walking into the Palace Theater to view the new musical extravaganza “SpongeBob SquarePants,” your senses are attacked by a barrage of Crayola colors, shimmering tinsel, happy music and an array of ornamental objects that appear as though Pee Wee Herman went overboard at Party City, shopping for a big beach bash. As you scrutinize the multifarious audience, there is a continuous inspection or marveling at the décor, the obligatory taking of selfies and the murmur of anticipation of what awaits when the performance begins. This group of theatergoers seem to be in familiar territory and has expectations that in part have already been satisfied. The show begins and as the lead character (a limber and enthusiastic Ethan Slater) appears crossing the stage with a sprightly, fluid strut, in a yellow shirt, checkered pants, suspenders and a red tie, a tiny voice from the child behind me exclaims, “that’s not SpongeBob.” Now what?

Not to worry since there are enough neon colors, abstract shapes, flamboyant costumes and elaborate sets by David Zinn, with frantic movements and pedestrian choreography by Christopher Gattelli, to induce a distraction, so elements of plot and depth of characters become paltry. The collection of songwriters assembled, not limited to but including such names as John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles and Lady Antebellum assures a diverse conglomeration of styles from rap to gospel to pop to Broadway. The “save the world” plot that is chock full of morals and optimism is simple and easy to follow, with musical numbers that attempt to move the action forward with little success, but provide actors the opportunity to showcase their vocal ability in big Broadway belt style. Venturing away from the typical Broadway musical formula (sans love interest) it is difficult to describe what this production is trying to accomplish, (albeit entertaining), besides selling an enormous amount of marketing merchandise at the large concession area in the lobby.

The cast is fully competent in execution and seems to be enjoying themselves without being bogged down with character development, or a complicated book accredited to Kyle Jarrow. It is light and fluffy entertainment seen through a psychedelic kaleidoscope of ever-changing shapes and colors that may visually satisfy but lacks that mystical, magical artistic aura that suspends you in disbelief. Ethan Slater produces a limber, buoyant, animated, sanguine SpongeBob, with a fine voice (sometimes in cartoon character) to compliment his character. Gavin Lee is delicious and delirious as Squidward Q. Tentacles, complete with four legs and a lavish, show stopping tap number in the second act. Danny Skinner is admirable as BFF, Patrick Star (a wannabe STARfish). The squirrel Sandy Cheeks is inhabited by the delightful Lilli Cooper with a sense of intelligence. Wesley Taylor portrays a villainous Sheldon Plankton with a slimy complexion. Eugene Krabs is depicted with sharp wit and harmless authority (complete with big red boxing gloves) by Brian Ray Norris.

Tina Landau has created an inventive production that provides enough amusement and razzle dazzle to satisfy audiences that are familiar with this famed Nickelodeon character and his cohorts but will not in any fashion keep the interest of serious theatergoers. It is a vibrant spectacle that sparkles but does not shine.

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS

The “SpongeBob SquarePants” cast includes Ethan Slater as SpongeBob SquarePants, Gavin Lee as Squidward Q. Tentacles, Lilli Cooper as Sandy Cheeks, Brian Ray Norris as Eugene Krabs, Danny Skinner as Patrick Star and Wesley Taylor as Sheldon Plankton. The ensemble includes Alex Gibson, Gaelen Gilliland, Juliane Godfrey, Kyle Matthew Hamilton, Curtis Holbrook, Stephanie Hsu, Jesse JP Johnson, L’ogan J’ones, Jai’len Christine Li Josey, Kelvin Moon Loh, Lauralyn McClelland, Vasthy Mompoint, Oneika Phillips, Jon Rua, JC Schuster, Abby C. Smith, Robert Taylor Jr., Allan Washington, Brynn Williams, Matt Wood and Tom Kenny as the French Narrator.

The design team includes scenic and costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Kevin Adams, projection design by Peter Nigrini, sound design by Walter Trarbach, hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe and casting by Telsey + Company/Patrick Goodwin, CSA. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For more information on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” visit www.SpongeBobBroadway.com. Tickets are available online via Ticketmaster.com, by calling 877-250-2929 or at The Palace Theatre box office (1564 Broadway - Broadway at 47th Street). Ticket prices range from $49.00 to $159.00. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes

Photo: Ethan Slater and the Cast of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, December 9, 2017

Broadway Review: “The Parisian Woman” at the Hudson Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Saturday March 11, 2018)

Photo (L-R): Uma Thurman as “Chloe,” Josh Lucas as “Tom,” and Marton Csokas as “Peter.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: “The Parisian Woman” at the Hudson Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Saturday March 11, 2018)
By Beau Willimon
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Beau Willimon is perhaps best known for creating the successful Netflix original series “House of Cards” which is completing its final season. Much of what made the series so savvy was the way the writers exposed the chicanery and dishonesty of politics without “naming names.” The episodes wisely left making connections to current events to the viewers. Inspired by Henry François Becque’s 1885 play “La Parisienne,” Mr. Willimon’s “The Parisian Woman,” currently running at the Hudson Theatre, overshadows its important themes of love, trust, and the dynamics of relationships with clichés about Number 45 and the shenanigans in the current West Wing.

Successful tax attorney Tom (Josh Lucas), wanting “to make a difference,” is in the running for nomination to a Federal judgeship and his wife Chloe (Uma Thurman) wants to help him get the job despite her affairs with the uber-jealous Peter (Marton Csokas) and a recent female graduate of Harvard Law (the play’s only “surprise”). Chloe’s future with Tom is uncertain. He knows of Chloe’s flirtations and accepts them as part of their “agreement.” But his wife’s penchant for other lovers has grown tiresome and has affected their marriage. After all, Chloe affirms, “You can pretend to love anything for fifteen minutes.” This is a reference to Tom pretending to like port at Jeanette’s (Blair Brown) bash, but proves to be a foreshadowing of things to come. As is Chloe’s interest in Jeanette’s daughter Rebecca (Phillipa Soo) who also attends the party. This is the flimsy plot driven by uninteresting characters with mostly mundane conflicts.

It seems no one knows what do with Beau Willimon’s script: Pam MacKinnon directs it like a daytime television drama and the actors decide to follow her lead and deliver stilted performances that rarely rise above the mediocre. Only Josh Lucas and Blair Brown seem to want to explore the deeper levels of their characters Tom and Jeanette respectively, but Ms. MacKinnon’s lugubrious pacing often gets in the way of the farcical tone that is at the heart of the script. What ought to be light and terribly funny becomes ponderous and overwrought leaving all attempts at exploring the comedy beneath the high drama falling flat.

Derek McLane’s set is exquisite with stunning detail. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting is delicate and appropriate. Jane Greenwood’s costumes are serviceable but too often oddly ill-fitting which is quite unusual for the iconic designer. The massive drop-down “screen” with Darrel Maloney’s projections seems out of place and simply provides a needless opportunity for the set changes. Actors appearing in “doorways” glancing at one another and the audience then strutting off is odd indeed.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Willimon’s important rich and enduring questions get lost in his muddled script. What is truth? Is truth important? Is telling the truth important? Is there a difference between truth and reality? What is that difference? Grappling with questions like these can be redemptive, especially at times when multiple distractions attempt to cloud verity and validity. “The Parisian” Woman” avoids addressing the questions it raises instead opting for rehashing the political news of the day with disappointing results.

THE PARISIAN WOMAN

“The Parisian Woman” stars Josh Lucas, Blair Brown, Marton Csokas, Phillipa Soo, and Uma Thurman.

The creative team for “The Parisian Woman” Derek McLane (scenic design), Jane Greenwood (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Darrel Maloney (projections), and Broken Chord (sound design and original composition). Hair Design is by Tom Watson and Make-up Design is by Tommy Kurzman. Casting is by Telsey + Company, Will Cantler CSA. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

“The Parisian Woman” runs for a limited engagement at the Hudson Theatre (141 West 44th Street). Tickets are now available through www.thehudsonbroadway.com or (855) 801-5876. For further information, including the performance schedule, visit http://parisianwomanbroadway.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo (L-R): Uma Thurman as “Chloe,” Josh Lucas as “Tom,” and Marton Csokas as “Peter.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, December 7, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Pride and Prejudice” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)

Photo: The Cast of “Pride and Prejudice.” Credit: James Leynse.
Off-Broadway Review: “Pride and Prejudice” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)
By Kate Hamill (Based on the Novel by Jane Austen)
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Kate Hamill has done it again. The ‘it’ in question, is her remarkable ability to adapt Jane Austen’s iconic novels for the stage. Her adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” had a successful Off-Broadway run of over two-hundred and sixty-five performances. Her current adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” which is playing at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre should enjoy the same acclimation and longevity. “Pride and Prejudice,” like “Sense and Sensibility,” is more than a mere adaptation: Ms. Hamill’s iteration of the timeless classic is more a retelling of Austen’s story of “how you know when you’ve met the right person.”

Kate Hamill’s retelling also explores the seriousness with which people treat love – romantic and otherwise. Hence, this “Pride and Prejudice” is, in Hamill’s words, “a screwball comedy.” Staged as a delightfully comedic farce, this adaptation rehearses all the novel’s important characters, conflicts, and plots with both a sense of the zany and an awareness of the rich and enduring questions raised by Austen. Director Amanda Dehnert keeps this delightful play moving with a beyond-brisk pace that manages to clearly delineate the novel’s action from beginning to end. If, perchance, an audience member had never read nor heard of “Pride and Prejudice, she or he would easily understand the story and identify every character without confusion or difficulty.

Except for Kate Hamill (Lizzy), Jason O’Connell (Mr. Darcy), and Nance Williamson (Mrs. Bennet), the actors play multiple roles. John Tufts, for example, plays both Bingley (with syrupy bravado) and Mary (with dispassionate jealousy): Mr. Tufts dons a dress and rearranges his hair for Mary. The dress comes off and he rearranges his hair again for Bingley. There are times when Mary becomes Bingley with just the hair adjustment. This might happen because of the rapid costume changes or, perhaps, betimes there is a bit of Bingley in Mary and bit of Mary in Bingley. Anything is possible in this refreshing and engaging retelling.

Mayhem abounds on the Cherry Lane stage as Primary Stages’ “Pride and Prejudice” unfolds its treasure trove of gender-bending antics, near impossible situations, buffoonery, and raucous horseplay. The assumed seriousness of the novel is replaced with the unexpected playfulness of Ms. Hamill’s script, the precision of Ms. Dehnert’s direction, and the brilliant cast assembled for this production. Kate Hamill’s Lizzie bristles with defiance and vulnerability. Jason O’Connell’s Darcy collapses under the weight of reality to understand the importance of true love. Mark Bedard’s Mr. Collins brings comedy to the concept of pedantic.

Chris Thorn’s Mr. Bennet crinkles with austerity and disdain for all things not him and counterpoints Nance Williamson’s Mrs. Bennett’s disdain for Mr. Bennett and all things not her. Rounding out the cast are Kimberly Chatterjee (Lydia and Lady Catherine) and Amelia Pedlow (Jane, Miss DeBourgh) both delivering convincing performances in their multiple roles.

John McDermott’s efficient set design, Tracy Christensen’s durable and character-specific costumes, and Eric Southern’s lighting provide the perfect “space” for Ms. Hamill’s insightful and innovative adaptation. This is a “Pride and Prejudice” for this time and every time and, in its forward-looking approach, invites at least one visit before its proposed closing on Epiphany 2018.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

“Pride and Prejudice” is presented by Primary Stages in association with Jamie deRoy in a co-production with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

The cast of “Pride and Prejudice” includes Mark Bedard, Kimberly Chatterjee, Kate Hamill, Jason O'Connell, Amelia Pedlow, Chris Thorn, John Tufts, and Nance Williamson.

The creative team for “Pride and Prejudice” includes John McDermott (scenic design), Tracy Christensen (costume design), Eric Southern (lighting design), Palmer Hefferan (sound design), and Ellenore Scott (choreography). Roxana Khan serves as production stage manager. Production photos by James Leynse.

“Pride and Prejudice” runs at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Saturday January 6, 2018. For the schedule of performances, please visit www.PrimaryStages.org.

Single tickets for “Pride and Prejudice “are priced starting at $80.00 with additional premium seating options offered. All tickets are available at www.PrimaryStages.org or by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101. Running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes with an intermission.

Photo: The Cast of “Pride and Prejudice.” Credit: James Leynse.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, December 7, 2017

Broadway Review: “Once On this Island” at Circle in the Square Theatre (Open Run)

Photo: (L – R): Mia Mei Williamson, Alex Newell, Hailey Kilgore, and the cast of “Once On This Island.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Once On this Island” at Circle in the Square Theatre (Open Run)
Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Michael Arden
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Once On this Island” was certainly an enchanting and memorable visit twenty-seven years ago and that may in fact cloud the opinions expressed when recently returning to this island and commenting on what had changed. Some audience members may have experienced finding an unknown out of the way place that had a simple and charming ambience, with friendly locals that quickly felt like family, as they shared their history and stories. Then you return to that place many years later finding glitzy hotels, hundreds of tourists, silly souvenir shops and inhabitants that spout the history and stories but never really lived them. That is what came to mind while viewing the current incarnation of this wonderful musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The captivating aura that cast a magical spell fueling the imagination of a little girl as she listens to the folklore of the island is replaced by a big Broadway spectacle that is plagued with excess and self-indulgence.

The play opens with the inhabitants of the island cleaning up after a major storm has devastated the area. Then the folkloric story begins to be told to a little girl (the natural and innocent Emerson Davis). A very long time ago a catastrophic storm destroyed the island and in the aftermath, as two older islanders, (portrayed by the remarkable Phillip Boykin and Kenita R. Miller), were wandering through the debris, they discovered a little girl, Ti Moune, sitting high up in a tree. They became her adoptive parents. As Ti Moune grows, (an enthusiastic Hailey Kilgore) she falls in love with the boy Daniel (infused with energy by Isaac Powell) from a wealthy family on the French side of the island after she sees his car crash. She heals him after making a deal with Papa Ge, the god of death (a menacing and sultry Merle Dandrige) to spare him in exchange for her life. After a short time together, she is rejected by the wealthy family as Daniel has an arranged marriage. She cannot live without her love and Death takes her as she walks into the sea.

It is a beautiful story of young love that is laced with all the right elements for teaching, touching on topics of social rejection, racism, caste, ethics, survival and rebirth. One drawback of this production is that at times the story is lost. Obscured by overwrought staging and a superfluous set that includes a sand filled playing area, the sea (yes, water that extends offstage), the back half of a semi-truck, colorful laundry hanging everywhere, a live goat (complete with diaper) and chickens. The tree that flourishes in the final scene representing a rebirth, the inner beauty of Ti Moune and the resounding spirit of the island is a telephone pole that is raised up, I imagine representing restored power.

Vocally the cast is a powerhouse but over amplified and at times disconnected. A highlight of the evening is the song “Ti Moune” delivered with sensitivity and tenderness by Mr. Boykin and Ms. Miller who provide stable characters, honestly connected throughout the story. It is worth the wait to hear Mr. Powell sensitively sing “Some Girls” with a pure tonal quality expressing a sensible vulnerability. It would be remiss not to mention the crowd pleasers, Hailey Kilgore’s “Waiting for Life” and Alex Newell’s big belt “Mama Will Provide.”

Even with all its distraction and pitfalls, for those who have never visited this island before, it will be a marvelous vacation. There would be no reason to revive a musical unless it is seen in a different perspective with new and inventive ideas and visions. This current production under the direction of Michael Arden delivers a big, lavish Broadway musical with show stopping numbers, which are sure to please the current stream of theatergoers.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

“Once On This Island” features Lea Salonga, Alex Newell, Merle Dandridge, Quentin Earl Darrington, and Hailey Kilgore. The cast also includes Phillip Boykin, Darlesia Cearcy, Rodrick Covington, Emerson Davis, Alysha Deslorieux, Tyler Hardwick, Cassondra James, David Jennings, Grasan Kingsberry, Loren Lott, Kenita R. Miller, Isaac Powell, T. Oliver Reid, Aurelia Williams, and.

The creative team for “Once On This Island” includes director Michel Arden, Lynn Ahrens (bookwriter and lyricist), Stephen Flaherty (music), Camille A. Brown (choreographer), Michael Starobin and AnnMarie Milazzo (orchestrators), Dane Laffrey (Scenic Design), Clint Ramos (Costume Design), Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Lighting Designers), Peter Hylenski (Sound Designer), John Bertles/Bash The Trash (Unusual Instruments), Cookie Jordan (Hair/Wig & Makeup Designer), Chris Fenwick (Music Supervisor), and Telsey + Co / Craig Burns, CSA (Casting). Alvin Hough, Jr. is the music director. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For tickets for “Once On This Island” at The Circle in the Square Theatre (235 West 50th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue) and the performance schedule, visit http://www.onceonthisisland.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: (L – R): Mia Mei Williamson, Alex Newell, Hailey Kilgore, and the cast of “Once On This Island.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Broadway Review: “JUNK” at the Vivian Beaumont in Lincoln Center Theater (Through Sunday January 7, 2018)

Photo: Steven Pasquale as Robert Merkin in “JUNK.” Credit: T. Charles Erikson.
Broadway Review: “JUNK” at the Vivian Beaumont in Lincoln Center Theater (Through Sunday January 7, 2018)
By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Doug Hughes
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The highly anticipated new play by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Ayad Akhtar entitled “JUNK” – referring to the bonds sold in the 1980s by Machiavellian inside traders – does tend to sacrifice intrigue for the sake of entertainment. The plot centers around the fictional junk bond king Robert Merkin (played with unscrupulous charisma by Steven Pasquale), as he manipulates his followers, in the same vein as a religious cult leader, to invest in companies prior to a radical takeover, resulting in high profits from insider trading. The script offers no new insight into a subject matter that has already been played out in books, movies and on major broadcast news. The driving action focuses on the capture of the big whale, Moby Dick (Mr. Merkin’s code name), but this device has been around since the game of Chess, manipulating a pawn to get to the king. This is where the predictability diminishes the suspense. Many of the subplots that adorn the central theme seem more acute, offering inquisitive characters and igniting sparks of sexism, racism, and bigotry in a rather lackluster storyline.

With a cast numbering twenty-three it is problematic that there is not one persona that the audience can love or for that matter abhor, which hints at the lack of depth afforded the characters by Mr. Akhtar. Teresa Avia Lim is a breath of fresh air as the reporter Judy Chen (driven with ambition and confidence) who has a sexual tryst with Leo Tresler (infused with crusty bravura of a good old boy by Michael Siberry). Rick Holmes gives an adequate portrayal of Thomas Everson, Jr. but lacks a sincere emotional investment needed to produce an ounce of empathy from the audience. The remaining cast are all competent and do their best to transcend the material.

Director Doug Hughes moves the action along at rapid pace to match the nature of the activities of radical takeovers, inside trading and federal investigation. The sleek abstract two-story set by John Lee Beatty, complimented by the precise and severe corporate lighting of Ben Stanton, outshines the product as it morphs from scene to scene to frame the players and create an underlying atmosphere to compliment the activity at hand. Although the themes of greed, power, deception, and chicanery are relevant to the present socio-economic and political landscape the content seems safe and tame compared to a nightly news broadcast. To those who lived through the financial debacle of the eighties the production may seem somewhat nostalgic. To others it will translate as an interesting and fast paced chronicle that is presented in a very impressive package.

JUNK

The cast of “JUNK” features Ito Aghayere, Phillip James Brannon, Tony Carlin, Demosthenes Chrysan, Jenelle Chu, Caroline Hewitt, Rick Holmes, Ted Koch, Ian Lassiter, Teresa Avia Lim, Adam Ludwig, Sean McIntyre, Nate Miller, Steven Pasquale, Ethan Phillips, Matthew Rauch, Matthew Saldivar, Charlie Semine, Michael Siberry, Miriam Silverman, Joey Slotnick, Henry Stram, and Stephanie Umoh.

“JUNK” has sets by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Catherine Zuber, lighting by Ben Stanton, original music and sound by Mark Bennett, and projections by 59 Productions. Production photos by T. Charles Erikson.

“JUNK” runs at the Vivian Beaumont in Lincoln Center Theater (150 West 65th Street) through Sunday January 17, 2018 on the following schedule: Tuesday (7:00 p.m.), Wednesday (2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.), Thursday (7:00 p.m.), Friday (8:00 p.m.), Saturday (2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.,), and Sunday (3:00 p.m.). For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.lct.org/shows/junk/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.

Photo: Steven Pasquale as Robert Merkin in “JUNK.” Credit: T. Charles Erikson.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Hundred Days” Transforms Love’s Limits at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday December 31, 2017)

Photo: The cast of “Hundred Days” at New York Theatre Workshop. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Hundred Days” Transforms Love’s Limits at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday December 31, 2017)
Music and Lyrics by Abigail and Shaun Bengson
Book by Sarah Gancher
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Movement Direction by Sonya Tayeh
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

With their recent collaboration with Sarah Gancher and Anne Kauffman, Abigail and Shaun Bengson (“The Bengsons”) have redefined the meaning of the theatrical convention of the musical. Without elaborate sets, costumes, large ensembles of singers and dancers, and multi-million-dollar budgets, The Bengsons have successfully mounted a stunning musical with a believable story and a brilliantly executed score. “Hundred Days,” currently running at New York Theatre Workshop, is a musical with heart, hope, and a hundred days of pure love that often brings the audience to a shattering stillness.

After a traumatic event in Abigail’s life when she was fifteen, she finds it hard to trust in the future or to trust in the longevity of significant relationships. This “character trait” is affirmed in recurring dreams about the premature death of a loved one that interferes with Abigail’s full commitment to Shaun. How their relationship develops over the contracted period of a hundred days, and how they managed to stay together for ten years is the compelling story behind “Hundred Days.” By making the decision to develop the “theatrical imagining” about a fictional couple (Will and Sarah) by placing their own love story at the piece’s core, Abigail and Shaun have created a compelling musical treatise about the power of love.

The musical begins with the affirmation of The Bengsons’s status as a married couple (not brother and sister) with the song “Vows” – their wedding vows: “All my life I’ve been looking for you Been looking for you/Take my pride and lay it at your feet/A woven mat to keep you.” The balance of the musical is retrospective of their relationship from their first meeting “at the first rehearsal of a massive anti-folk folk-punk old-timey neo soul band” the year after Shaun moved to New York City to their marriage. Each song in that “history” is the perfect balance of pathos, ethos, and logos easily persuading the listener of the depth of the authenticity of their unconditional and non-judgmental love.

After finding Abigail, Shaun follows her suggestion – “Let’s eat” – and they end up in a diner where Shaun “suddenly feels like he knows her. Like time is bending back on itself” and where Abigail recalls, “It was like every door of my body opened and he just wandered in.” Abigail breaks up with her boyfriend and Shaun “breaks up” with his friend Max (“God Can Be a City Boy”) and their journey begins. The Bengsons’s music is eclectic, unique in tone and its rich thematic synchronicity pervades every song and every space between the songs – songs that celebrate sadness, joy, separation, reconciliation, and redemption with a deep and rich spirituality. “Hundred Days” transcends musical theatre where actors play instruments on stage. “Hundred Days” is a musical featuring a band on stage with its members performing a fully developed musical with a beginning, middle, and end.

The show’s songs continue to explore the growth of the relationship between Abigail and Shaun with a mix of rock, blues, and jazz. Sometimes Abigail and Shaun sing solos, sometimes duets, sometimes with the other performers. And sometimes Jo and Reggie sing solos that provide exposition. The styling and staging here are unique and deeply persuasive.

It is difficult to categorize Abigail’s performance of the standout number “Three Legged Dog” except to affirm that Janis Joplin was “somewhere in the house.” Abigail rehearses the haunting possibility of losing Shaun and how she will “survive” his loss: “When you go my shards will scatter/Half of me is dying too.” In what might be the climax of the musical, she decides to leave. Shaun immediately begins to search for her, singing: “I thought god was a friend/Who would help make things easier/I thought time was/On my side/I thought love was supposed/To make things easier/Now love is/A long goodbye.”

The conversation (“Transcription”) that follows is a prolonged dialogue between Alison and Shaun during which they share their fears and hopes about aging and the vicissitudes of life and look forward to becoming “other stuff together” and overcome Abigail’s concern “That everyone [she loves] gets sick or dies or goes mad” by embracing the inevitability of aging and death. After the sharing, they decide to get married “in real life.”

The show’s final number “Bells” is the first song Abigail and Shaun wrote together: it was written for Abigail to sing after Shaun “is gone.” The lyrics and music are both haunting and life-affirming: “I can sing Gloria/the lights over Astoria/I know you are alone/I know you can’t come home. The musical ends with the couple affirming to “say yes to sickness; to say yes to health; to say yes to riches and to brokenness.” They say yes to the future, to futility, to trying, and yes to death doing us part” affirming “What else can we do?”

The “Family Band” is without comparison: the members not only excel in performance on keyboard, guitar, drums and percussion, cello, and accordion; they also act, sing, and move with “triple threat” persuasiveness. Colette Alexander, Jo Lampert, Dani Markham, and Reggie D. White join Abigail and Shaun in this marathon of a new musical. The creative team of Kris Stone, Sydney Gallas, Andrew Hungerford, Nicholas Pope, and Lindsey Turteltaub create a space where The Bengsons create magic and transcend all expectations set by traditional musical theatre. Sonya Tayeh’s movement direction creates exquisite images throughout the performance.

“Hundred Days” celebrates Saying ‘yes’ to life and all its uncertainties: celebrates facing the fear of loneliness, rejection, and being able to take each other’s troubles “into” each other. It is an event not to be missed and will certainly have a life beyond this iteration at the iconic New York Theatre Workshop.

HUNDRED DAYS

For more information about “Hundred Days” visit https://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: The cast of “Hundred Days” at New York Theatre Workshop. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Torch Song” Wobbles at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Extended through Saturday December 9, 2017)

Photo: Michael Rosen and Michael Urie star in the revival of Harvey Fierstein's “Torch Song,” directed by Moisés Kaufman, at Second Stage Theatre. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Torch Song” Wobbles at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Extended through Saturday December 9, 2017)
By Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Moisés Kaufman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

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

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

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

Act III, Widows and Children First is the least satisfying. Ms. Ruehl delivers a robust Ma; unfortunately, Ma is a despicable and selfish character that Arnold should not need to include in his new understanding of elective family. The ending of the play provides less than a satisfying catharsis.

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

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

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

TORCH SONG

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

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

“Torch Song” plays through Saturday December 9, 2017 at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (305 West 43rd Street New York, NY 10036) on the following schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. For further information and to purchase tickets, please visit https://2st.com/ or call 212-239-6200. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Michael Rosen and Michael Urie star in the revival of Harvey Fierstein's “Torch Song,” directed by Moisés Kaufman, at Second Stage Theatre. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Mad Ones” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday December 17, 2017)

Photo: Jay Armstrong Johnson (as Adam) and Krystina Alabado (as Samantha Brown) in Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk’s “The Mad Ones” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Richard Termine.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Mad Ones” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday December 17, 2017)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The New York premiere of the not-so-new musical “The Mad Ones” is making its New York premiere and being presented by Prospect Theater Company at 59E59 theaters. It is a coming of age story that is propelled by the Jack Kerouac’s iconic 1957 novel “On the Road” but laden with clichés, superfluous situations and a skimpy script that tries to invent reasons to perform fourteen musical numbers. The title is taken from a line in the novel “The only people for me are the Mad Ones”. It is hard to determine exactly what creators Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk are attempting to convey when the issues of grief, angst, separation, identity and expectation are merely skirted with no effort to produce a dramatic arc or for that matter any reason to continue to the next scene.

The entire show consists of a series of flashbacks, except for the first and last scenes, where valedictorian Samantha Brown sits in a car deciding on her future. What goes through her mind as she contemplates going to an Ivy League college, staying with her boyfriend or hitting the open road for freedom and adventure, is conveyed by several vignettes, with each containing a song. Any dialogue within or connecting these scenes seems redundant since many of the lyrics usually provide the necessary information and conflicts needed to move the action forward. The musical numbers are written in the Broadway belt fashion and after a while acquire a sameness that diminishes the crisis or turmoil at hand.

The cast is nothing less than remarkable. Krystina Alabado creates an intelligent yet vulnerable Sam with all the angst of a teenager trying to make sense of the world while stepping over the threshold into adulthood. Her vocal stamina is amazing, always delivered with a pure tonal quality. The free-spirited Kelly is infused with undeniable energy by Emma Hunton. Her presence electrifies the stage as she is fierce but fragile, loud but lonely, frivolous but wise with a vocal that erupts to shake the rafters. Leah Hocking brings her endless experience to bring depth and honesty to Beverly, as a single mother and over achiever with a solid vocal that matches her stable character. Jay Armstrong Johnson portrays Adam as oddly simple, content with himself and infused with sensitivity. This a perfectly cast show that manages to overcome the shortcomings of the material.

Direction by Stephen Brackett is conventional and pedestrian which does not match or compliment the complexity of the script’s convention and structure. Orchestrations by Mr. Lowdermilk are heavy on the strings but serve the dramatic content well. Since the project has been around for several years and this is the latest incarnation it should not bow to the problems that still exist. It is not an unpleasant experience but nothing exceptional or groundbreaking.

THE MAD ONES

Produced by Prospect Theater Company, “The Mad Ones” runs through Sunday December 17, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues).

The cast of “The Mad Ones” features Krystina Alabado as Samantha Brown; Emma Hunton as her best friend Kelly; and Ben Fankhauser as Adam, her boyfriend. Leah Hocking rounds out the cast as Beverly Brown (Samantha’s mom).

“The Mad Ones” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, December 17. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Single tickets are $25 - $70 ($25 - $49 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jay Armstrong Johnson (as Adam) and Krystina Alabado (as Samantha Brown) in Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk’s “The Mad Ones” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Richard Termine.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, November 30, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Harry Clarke” Wrangles with Reality at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday December 3, 2017)

Photo: Billy Crudup in “Harry Clarke.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Harry Clarke” Wrangles with Reality at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday December 3, 2017)
By David Cale
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Harry Clarke (the persona and the person) was born out of the dysfunctional matrix of paternal abuse and maternal collusion that plagued Philip Brugglestein from his childhood through his adulthood. David Cale’s play “Harry Clarke,” currently playing at the Vineyard Theatre, is a complex and engaging psychological study of dissociative identity disorder (DID) and explores the provenance of that condition from the point of view of a man (Billy Crudup) who fled one identity and was pursued by a second that alternately brought him both pleasure and pain.

Mr. Cale’s script is carefully developed: it has a well-defined dramatic arc and it features interesting and well-developed characters with engaging and believable conflicts that drive a plot rich in twists and turns that holds the audience’s interest for the entire eighty minutes when performed. Under Leigh Silverman’s astute and unobtrusive direction, Billy Crudup engages in a dramatic battle with the script and comes up the clear victor, unearthing Mr. Cale’s treasures and bringing Harry Clarke to life with inexorable energy and irrepressible wit. Alexander Dodge’s sparse set and Alan C. Edwards’s judicious lighting contribute to the success of the performance.

Billy Crudup plays twelve characters (or more) in addition to Philip Brugglestein and his cockney Doppelganger Harry Clarke, including his abusive parents and the police officer who awakened Philip to tell him of his father’s death. After Philip’s father’s death, he moves to New York City where he and Harry impose themselves upon Mark Schmidt. Mr. Crudup portrays – rather creates – Mark, Mark’s father and his Mother Ruth, Mark’s sister Stephanie, Luke (whom he meets in a bar) from Camden, and attorneys Brad Gould and Ryan.

Mr. Crudup gives each of these dynamic characters unique personalities, facial gestures, and body movements. He accomplishes this remarkable, near impossible, task with the ease of turning a page in a script and the skill of one of the stage’s most accomplished actors. One can see Crudup’s characters not only in the traditional ways outlined earlier; one can also see the actor imagining these characters “in his head.” He even sings Stephanie’s song “Wide Back Boy” with seductive charm.

Philip and Harry (one needs to mention both personas) make it to England. How and why are the resolution of the play and it would require a spoiler’s alert to provide more details. The journey from Indiana to England provides ample opportunity for Harry to regain control over Philip and place him in challenging – albeit fascinating – situations. Each requires Philip to grapple with his personality, his superego, and his tolerance of taking risks that might result in Philip losing complete control to Harry.

David Cale’s expansive character study of the young Philip Brugglestein from South Bend, Indiana and his “alter ego” Harry Clarke raises the rich and enduring question, “Are there limits to what one does to escape verbal, psychological, and – perhaps – sexual abuse to preserve one’s life?” Additionally, is one always in control of the circumstances surrounding the techniques of survival? Finally, “Harry Clarke” successfully questions all assumptions about individual identity, ego strength, and personality that leave the audience members wondering just how much they know about themselves and their choices.

HARRY CLARKE

“Harry Clark” starring Billy Crudup runs at the Vineyard Theatre through Sunday December 3, 2017.

The design team includes scenic design by Alexander Dodge, costume design by Kaye Voyce, lighting design by Alan Edwards, and sound design by Bart Fasbender. Original songs by David Cale. Casting by Henry Russell Bergstein, CSA. Shelly Miles serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Tickets to “Harry Clarke” can be purchased online at www.vineyardtheatre.org or by calling the box office at 212-353-0303. The Vineyard Theatre link also includes performance dates and times and further information on the production. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Billy Crudup in “Harry Clarke.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, November 27, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Stuffed” at the Westside Theatre Downstairs (Through Sunday February 18, 2018

Photo: Marsha Stephanie Blake and Lisa Lampanelli. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Off-Broadway Review: “Stuffed” at the Westside Theatre Downstairs (Through Sunday February 18, 2018)
By Lisa Lampanelli
Directed by Jackson Gay
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

If you are in the mood for insult comedy that claims to take the important topic of women and weight seriously – but does not – then Lisa Lampanelli’s “Stuffed,” currently enjoying a revival at the Westside Theatre Downstairs, might be a show to put on your “must-see” list. However, if you think making jokes about the color of Michael Jackson’s skin and other ethnic humor is distasteful (which this critic believes it is), then you would be better off staying home and having a piece of cake and not worrying about your weight. True, Ms. Lampanelli’s trademark ethnic humor is downplayed here; however, when it does take center stage it comes across as completely inappropriate and fails to make any connection to any valuable rhetorical argument about food and its discontents.

“Stuffed” addresses the gamut of issues surrounding weight and its gain or loss (intentional or otherwise), including: body-image; clothing; shaming; anorexia-bulimia; dieting; therapy; favorite foods; binging; purging; peer support; and protein shakes. The playwright alternates between her own style of stand-up comedy with a variety of sketches about the weight issues. She then stuffs the script with monologues from each of the fictional characters meant apparently to seduce the audience into caring and possibly experiencing a needed catharsis.

Lisa Lampanelli plays herself here and, in her stand-up routines, delivers some funny material – mostly when it is self-deprecating or political. Her bit stalking her opponent in a debate on who wins, skinny or fat people, Lampanelli successfully riffs the Trump-Clinton Presidential debate. Joining her are Marsha Stephanie Blake who plays Katey the “skinny” African-American woman who cannot gain weight; Lauren Ann Brickman who plays Marty the “size 18-or-over woman with true inner confidence;” and Eden Malyn who plays Britney the recovering bulimic/anorexic. Ms. Blake fares best here and brings to the lackluster script a sense of authenticity and pathos in her monologue about her mother taking her to buy her first bra.

In one of her monologues, Ms. Lampanelli shares a part of the session she had with her “shrink” after the death of her friend Frank. When the therapist innocently asks how Big Frank died, Lampanelli goes into a comedic rant about Frank’s weight and his diabetes and how her “half-a-clam of a shrink hits her with, you don’t have to be funny.” Her therapist’s suggestion was appropriate, and that diagnosis applies to “Stuffed” as a whole: the playwright tries too hard to be funny about a subject that ultimately is not funny, and which has been covered by comedians for decades. Had the playwright written the story of Big Frank with more sensitivity it could have been persuasive, empowering, and cathartic. Jackson Gay’s direction is tangential at best and might have contributed to some of the questionable choices made in the staging.

Perhaps Lisa Lampanelli might consider performing a shorter stand-up routine and play all the characters in “Stuffed.” If the play remains in its present format, the three characters need to be re-written with clearer and unique conflicts and developed with the depth that would endear the audience to them, caring about them and their significant struggles. “Stuffed” provides some laughs but too often at the expense of the characters it wishes to lift up and champion. In short, “Stuffed” is pleasant stand-up comedy; however, it is not theatre.

STUFFED

The cast of “Stuffed” features Marsha Stephanie Blake, Nikki Blonsky, Lisa Lampanelli, and Eden Malyn.

The creative team for “Stuffed” includes set design by Antje Ellerman, costume design by Jessica Ford, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by Elisheba Ittoop, and casting by Stewart/Whitley. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

“Stuffed” performs at the Westside Theatre (Downstairs, 407 West 43rd Street) on the following schedule: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available by visiting http://stuffedplay.com/. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Marsha Stephanie Blake and Lisa Lampanelli. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
3 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through Sunday November 26, 2017)

Photo: Edi Gathegi and Ricardo Chavira. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through Sunday November 26, 2017)
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The value of enduring questions is that they are not specific to a time or place or event. Theatre should be raising enduring questions and conflicts that playwrights (and their cultures) grappled with hundreds of years ago and remain relevant today? Stephen Adly Guirgis raises several such questions in the revival of his play “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train,” currently running at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage. The conflicts occur between: prisoners Lucius Jenkins (Edi Gathegi) and Angel Cruz (played with a passivity that masquerades a deep-seated wrath by Sean Carvajal); the prisoners and their guards Valdez (Ricardo Chavira) and Charlie D’Amico (played with a compassion that does not match his environment by Erick Betancourt; and Angel and his public defender Mary Jane Hanrahan (played with a steely determinism by Stephanie DiMaggio).

Both Lucius and Angel are imprisoned on Rikers Island and – for reasons of their safety – are housed in a special 23-hour lock-down wing. Lucius spends as much time in the wing’s yard where he enjoys the warmth of the sun: Angel spends the same amount of time with no apparent reward except his gradual exposure to Lucius’s peculiar Weltanschauung and dogged proselytization. Lucius in “inside” for murdering eight people. Angel is incarcerated for shooting the Rev. Kim “in the rear” at the pastor’s church from which he hoped to “kidnap” his friend Joey. Joey has been “brainwashed” by Kim’s cult-like congregation. Playwright Guirgis once attempted a similar rescue of a friend from the Unification Church.

Charlie, Lucius’s “benevolent” guard is replaced by Valdez after the “system” discovers Charlie shares too many cigarettes and home-made cookies with Lucius. Charlie knows Lucius will be extradited to Florida where he will be executed by lethal injection and treats Lucius with respect and an unexpected humanity. Valdez – the only character with one name – replaces cigarettes and cookies with body slams, threats, and racist invectives. He is pure evil and is cruelty incarnate, and Mr. Chavira successfully brings to his character the epitome of despicable behavior. “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” carefully strips away the façade of “right and wrong,” “innocence and guilt,” and “good and bad” to expose the horror of “discarding” human being – a discarding that is “irreparable” and will “last forever.” The play also resounds with the horrific wonder of the cycle of redemption.

Lucius is successful at “doing theology,” developing a complex and workable theology that allows him to understand his own situation and share his faith with Angel. This is a remarkable survival technique that theologians have for years attempted to teach “the faithful.” Lucius processes his situation from the POV of the New Testament, specifically the crucifixion of Jesus. He also echoes John’s warning to the Church in Laodicea not to be “lukewarm, neither hot nor cold.” Lucius urges Angel to “speak out” and admit to his wrongdoing, to be either “freezing or blazing” but “never cool.”

Angel, unlike Lucius, fails to “do theology.” He reflects on being “saved” by Jesus who hopped the ‘A’ train to allow him and his friend Joey to release their grip on one another and get off the subways tracks before the arrival of the train. He understands “salvation” in the subway tunnel but not in the special 23-hour lock-down wing of protective custody on Rikers Island where Lucius models salvation in every breath he takes, in every word he speaks. However, just moments before Lucius is extradited to Florida, he “gets through” to Angel and, on the stand, Angel refuses Mary Jane’s stern warnings and admits to shooting and attempting to kill the Rev. Kim.

The play raises rich and enduring questions regarding justice and morality; moral ambiguity; and guilt and innocence. When is it all right to lie to save one’s life? How does systemic racism affect prison populations? Is the justice system just? The playwright uses a variety of rhetorical strategies to address these questions including parallel structures, comparison and contrast, and cause and effect. Other carefully developed tropes used are rich imagery and figurative language.

Contrast the moral integrity of the man who killed 8 people with the man who, with his attorney, tried to get cleared of charges for intending to kill a religious leader (Unification Church Kim) and shot him in the rear. Mary Jane needs a victory and is convinced Angel will be acquitted if only he lies on the stand – to avoid being accused of suborning her client. She “finds honor” in Angel’s attempts to bring his friend Joey back from Rev. Kim’s cult.

Lucius is correct. Those in systems do far worse than he has done with no remorse. Lucius was molested, raped, victimized, and abused as a child. The system never intervened, never attempted to save him. In his final act of defiance and empowerment, Lucius is executed by the same system that failed to protect him – “high as a kite.” Edi Gathegi’s performance is haunting and exhilarating and he portrays Lucius with a depth of authenticity that scatters chards of catharsis across the stage and throughout the theatre.

JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN

The cast of “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” includes Erick Betancourt, Sean Carvajal, Ricardo Chavira, Stephanie DiMaggio, and Edi Gathegi.

The creative team includes Riccardo Hernandez (Scenic Design), Dede M. Ayite (Costume Design), Scott Zielinski (Lighting Design), M.L. Dogg (Sound Design), Deborah Hecht (Dialect Coach), Cookie Jordan (Wig and Makeup Design). Linda Marvel is the Production Stage Manager. Casting by Caparelliotis Casting. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

To purchase tickets for all Signature productions, call Ticket Services at 212-244-7529 (Tuesday – Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.) or visit www.SignatureTheatre.org. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Edi Gathegi and Ricardo Chavira. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, October 29, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Occupied Territories” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday November 5, 2017)

Photo: Donte Bonner and Scott Thomas. Credit: Colin Hovde.
Off-Broadway Review: “Occupied Territories” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday November 5, 2017)
Written by Nancy Bannon and Mollye Maxner
Directed by Mollye Maxner
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

One of the territories occupied in Nancy Bannon and Mollye Maxner’s “Occupied Territories,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, is the Jungle of Vietnam in 1967 during what seemed at the time to be an interminable and unpopular war. In the revival of the Theater Alliance’s 2015 play, that war appears as a haunting memory for Jude (Nancy Bannon) and her sister Helena (Kelley Rae O’Donnell) as, forty-five years later, they begin to sort out the contents of the family home basement following the funeral of their father Collins (Cody Robinson) and begin to grapple – in profoundly different ways – with the beginnings of the stages of grief.

Jude is “on leave” from rehab to attend her father’s funeral and recalls her father as a distant and abusive man who once looked her in the eye at the dinner table when she was nine years old and told her, “Jude, this family stuff is not real love. Real love is between soldiers fighting for each other’s lives. That’s love. Not this.” Jude’s memories of her father include screaming at his wife and family “for hours over nothing” and “duct taping mom’s mouth and hands.” Her father was in Vietnam for eleven months; however, he never shared much about his experiences there with his family.

Helena is more forgiving, relegating her father’s shortcomings to PTSD and “doing the best he could.” She is not as forgiving of Jude and her inability to break the cycle of addiction to drugs and care for her daughter Alex (Ciela Elliott) – despite Jude’s addiction perhaps related to her father’s dependence on prescription pain medication including Oxycontin, Valium, and Percoset which Helena claims Jude “loves.” “Occupied Territories” explores the intricies of Jude’s memory: those times when her memories of her father are reliable and the other times when the crevices of her sometimes-fallible memories need to be caressed with facts. As Jude reads journals and views slides, her “restored” memory is played out in a series of flashbacks.

Under Mollye Maxner’s thoughtful direction, the flashback scenes generated by memory and the basement’s detritus are both realistic and chilling. Spread beyond Andrew R. Cohen’s well-crafted basement set is the expansive Vietnam Jungle where the action of the war is played out just inches from the audience. The flashbacks include an electrifying dance sequence choreographed by Kelly Maxner that serves as an extended metaphor for Collins’s (and others’) experiences in the Vietnam Jungle and in war in general. The powerful pas de duex includes Hawk (Nile Harris) and Hardcore (Nate Yaffe) and covers the entire set with leaps and tosses that seem to defy possibility.

The remaining cast of soldiers are archetypes of what war demands of its participants and the actors portray their characters with a depth of sensitivity and metacognition: Diego Aguirre (Lucky); Donte Bonner (Ace); Thony Mena (Alvarez); and Scott Thomas (Ski) join Mr. Robinson, Mr. Harris, and Mr. Yaffe in rehearsing the intimacy of those who fight in wars together along with their fears, their dreams, and their deep sense of remorse.

One might wish the two worlds of basement and jungle – separated by time and space – were more directly connected; however, these at best are parallel worlds or worlds occupying different dimensions. Realism counterpoints fantasy and memory in “Occupied Territories” in sometimes complex and, perhaps, confusing ways. The overall effect, though challenging, is satisfactory and addresses more than Jude’s “reconciliation” with her father’s life in Vietnam. In addition to the Vietnam Jungle, the play addresses the occupied territories of the childhood home and its basement full of memories; of time and space; between characters; between characters and significant life events; and of addiction and collusion. These are territories not only worthy of exploration but territories necessary for survival, and healing, and redefining the meaning of love.

OCCUPIED TERRITORIES

The cast features Diego Aguirre, Nancy Bannon, Donte Bonner, Ciela Elliott, Nile Harris, Thony Mena, Kelley Rae O'Donnell, Cody Robinson, Scott Thomas, and Nathan Jan Yaffe.

The design team includes Brian MacDevitt (production design); Andrew R. Cohen (set design); Rob Siler (lighting design); Mathew M. Nielsen (sound design and original music); and Kelsey Hunt (costume design). “Occupied Territories” is choreographed by Kelly Maxner. The Production Stage Manager is Kaelyn Kreicbergs. Production photos by Colin Hovde.

“Occupied Territories” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, November 5. The performance schedule is Wednesday - Thursday at 7:15 PM, Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM and 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). $20 discounted tickets are available to Veterans, Retired, and Active Military. To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Donte Bonner and Scott Thomas. Credit: Colin Hovde.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 26, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Oedipus El Rey” Creates Mythos at The Public’s Shiva Theater (Through Sunday December 3, 2017)

Photo: Joel Perez, Juan Castano, Brian Quijada, and Reza Salazar. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Oedipus El Rey” Creates Mythos at The Public’s Shiva Theater (Through Sunday December 3, 2017)
By Luis Alfaro
Directed by Chay Yew
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“No one should be considered fortunate until dead.” – Greek Maxim

The fifth century B.C.E. is not the present-day Los Angeles borderlands: although the bones of Sophocles’ tragedy “Oedipus Rex” engaged the citizenry of Athens, urban America needs a Phoenix-like rebirth and retelling of the ancient tale to affect an authentic catharsis. Luis Alfaro’s “Oedipus El Rey,” currently running at The Public’s Shiva Theater, deconstructs the classic distilling it to its essence and reconstructs the tragedy with a painful and sometimes disquieting relevance to metamodernism.

Oedipus (Juan Castano) is serving time in a California State Prison and is about to be released. His father Tiresias (Julio Monge) remains in prison but has prepared his son for this new phase in his life. Oedipus wants to “be something more,” “a man of principle,” “a man with a plan,” “a man with no limits.” He is the playwright’s Everyman who seeks to break free of all systems that oppress, and discriminate, and incarcerate. The Coro (Chorus) provides much of the exposition needed to ready the audience for Oedipus’s journeys to Highway 99, Calle Broadway in Los Angeles, and ultimately to La Casa at 1324 Toberman Street in Pico-Union, Los Angeles, the barrio where, after inadvertently killing his real father Laius (Juan Francisco Villa), and battling his jealous uncle Creon (Joel Perez), he tragically weds his birth mother Jocasta (Sandra Delgado).

Although “Oedipus El Rey” contains scenes highly reminiscent of “Oedipus Rex,” it is important to remember that Mr. Alfaro’s play is something new and transcendent. His Oedipus struggles with Fate and the Parliament of Owls, challenges the Tribunal of Los Healers, and confounds the Sphinx. The focus on the love between Oedipus and Jocasta (before he knows she is his birth mother) is refreshing and transformative. Oedipus challenges her to expose her loneliness and her need for “protection” and “love.” Under Chay Yew’s sensitive direction, Mr. Castano and Ms. Delgado bring the depth of ethos and pathos to their “falling in love” scene between Oedipus and Jocasta (intimacy direction by UnkleDave’s Fight House).

In his initial conversations with Jocasta, it is touching to hear Oedipus rehearse all that he learned while in prison: he completed his G. E. D. “I didn’t cheat. It took me a while, but I got through it. I also got some training in things,” he tells Jocasta. “Serving food. Fixing cars. Cooking. Cleaning.” This is an Oedipus, brilliantly and beautifully portrayed by Juan Castano, who does not want to be defined by his past and who refuses to be controlled by deities or fates. Jocasta, portrayed with a hopefulness rooted in tradition, warns Oedipus, “You might think you have the power to make the world you want to make, but there’s someone upstairs pulling your strings. You think you got here on your own? We all got destiny. We all got a story that was written for us a long time ago. We’re just characters in a book. We’re already history and we just started living. Our story has already been told. Were fated.”

Riccardo Hernandez’s sliding prison doors set counterpoints the themes of imprisonment to institutions and ideas and Lap Chi Chu’s lighting splashes the stage with pools of sensuality, reconciliation, redemption, and release. Director Chay Yew’s exhilarating staging is supported by Fabian Obispo’s haunting original music and sound design.

Luis Alfaro’s “Oedipus El Rey” raises rich and enduring questions, some timeless, some relevant to the current socio-economic environment. Do all choices involve consequences? Is it possible to choose to do something without experiencing consequences? Is there a difference between ‘destiny’ and ‘fate?” What is that difference? Has our story, as Jocasta believes, been already told or can we, as Oedipus hoped, begin a new story? Or the even richer question raised by the Chorus (Reza Salazar, Brian Quijada, and Joel Perez), “Can we live the story not yet told, and the possibility not yet imagined? Or are we fated?” And, for all of these questions, do the “answers” necessitate “either-or” responses?

Also compelling is one of Oedipus’s final questions, “Do we have to believe everything they tell us?” Equally compelling is the question of the Coro, “Do we lay down and take what the world has given us? Or do we break down the cycle, the system, and tell new stories?” The answers to those questions filter out of the theatre with the audience as members grapple with this new and transformative myth that invites new stories brimming with resistance.

OEDIPUS EL REY

The cast of “Oedipus El Rey” features Juan Castano (Oedipus, Coro); Sandra Delgado (Jocasta); Julio Monge (Tiresias, Coro); Joel Perez (Creon, Coro); Brian Quijada (Coro); Reza Salazar (Coro); and Juan Francisco Villa (Laius, Coro).

“Oedipus El Rey” features scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez, costume design by Anita Yavich, lighting design by Lap Chi Chu, original music and sound design by Fabian Obispo, and fight and intimacy direction by UnkleDave’s Fight House. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Oedipus El Rey” plays at The Public’s Shiva Theater on the following schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. There is an added 2:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, November 22. There is no performance on Thursday, November 23 at 8:00 p.m. Public Theater Partner and Member tickets, as well as single tickets starting at $60, can be accessed now by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Running time is 100 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Joel Perez, Juan Castano, Brian Quijada, and Reza Salazar. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Desperate Measures” at the York Theatre Company (Through Sunday October 29, 2017)

Pictured (left to right): Peter Saide, Emma Degerstedt, and Conor Ryan. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Desperate Measures” at the York Theatre Company (Through Sunday October 29, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Peter Kellogg
Music by David Friedman
Directed and Choreographed by Bill Castellino
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Although billed as being “loosely based” on the classic Shakespearian comedy, “Desperate Measures,” currently playing at the York Theatre Company, has the “guts” of “Measure for Measure” with the charm and appeal of a traditional Broadway musical. Peter Kellogg and David Friedman are to be commended for achieving this feat and bringing this clever retelling to the stage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

DESPERATE MEASURES

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

The creative team includes James Morgan (set), Nicole Wee (costumes), Paul Miller (lights), Julian Evans (sound), Deb Gaouette (props), Carol Hanzel (casting), Joseph Hayward (associate director), and Kevin Maloof (production manager). The Production Stage Manager is Christine Lemme with Assistant Stage Manager Laura C. Nelson. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Desperate Measures” plays the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays at 2:30 p.m.*, Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m.* and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. (*Audience discussion follows the matinee performance.) Tickets for “Desperate Measures” are priced at $67.50 - $72.50 and may be purchased by calling (212) 935-5820, online at http://www.yorktheatre.org/, or in person at the box office at the York Theatre at Saint Peter's (Citicorp Building, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue), Monday through Friday (12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.). Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Pictured (left to right): Peter Saide, Emma Degerstedt, and Conor Ryan. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, October 23, 2017



Photo: Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Lonely Planet” at the Keen Company at the Clurman at Theatre Row (Through Saturday November 18, 2017)
By Steven Dietz
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And this is the thing: they will train you, they will teach you to hit, they will teach you to move - but they never tell you about the fear. Nothing the people in your Corner can tell you will prepare you for the fear.” – Jody to Carl

Despite the outstanding performances of Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath, the revival of Steven Dietz’s “Lonely Planet,” currently running at the Keen Company at the Clurman at Theatre Row, fails to deliver on the promise inherent in its title to address the overwhelmingly important issue of loneliness and the devastation it leaves in its wake. That failure appears to be in the script itself and in choices made by the director Jonathan Silverstein.

“Lonely Planet” takes place in the 1990s in “a small map store on the oldest street in an American city.” Jody (played with the inextinguishable angst of an entire generation by Arnie Burton) owns the shop and, because of his fear of testing HIV-positive, has remained holed up in his shop for weeks – or perhaps longer visited only by his friend Carl (played with a quirky nonchalance that overlays a deep level of loneliness by Matt McGrath) who visits quite often and sometimes brings soup or coffee or other forms of sustenance. It becomes Carl’s mission to get Jody out of the shop, back on the streets, and to get tested. This complements his mission to convince Jody to attend the funerals and memorial services of their mutual friends who – daily it seems – have died from the complications of the AIDS virus.

Although the characters are mostly well developed and their significant conflicts easily identifiable, the plot is too predictable to support a two-act play – and that is unfortunate. The overall themes of finding one’s way in a time of divisiveness, oppression, and loneliness are relevant in the current socio-political environment and require thoughtful discourse and action. Conventions that worked twenty-five years ago do not always work in the present. What once seemed avant-garde in theatre appears conventional currently. One too easily identifies the reason Carl clutters Jody’s shop with chairs and the provenance of the stories from all the “jobs” Carl purports to have.

There are too many tropes in the script for any one of them to have the impact it should and to allow the bones of the play an opportunity to be properly enfleshed by the competent cast. Mr. Dietz overlays the important discussion about the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis (only referred to as “this disease in the script) with images of maps and chairs (think Ionesco) and repetitive dream-sharing and endless games. In his attempt to navigate through the maze of extended metaphors, director Silverstein never allows the characters to fully gel or to achieve a level of believability and authenticity. Jody and Carl talk “at” one another or “over” one another without being able to convince the audience they care about one another amidst their irrepressible pain of loss and loneliness.

It is good to see Mr. Burton and Mr. McGrath on the stage battling their characters’ formidable demons and the demons lurking outwith the shop. One wishes they had a more compelling play to exercise their craft.

LONELY PLANET

The cast of “Lonely Planet” features Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath.

The creative team includes Anshuman Bhatia (set design), Jennifer Paar (costume design), Paul Hudson (lighting design), Bart Fasbender (sound design), and Emilie Grossman (prop design). Casting by Calleri Casting. Kacey Gritters serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Performances of “Lonely Planet” run at The Keen Company at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street) through Saturday November 18, 2017. For further information including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.keencompany.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes with a 10-minute intermission.

Photo: Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 20, 2017

Broadway Review: “Time and the Conways” at the American Airlines Theatre (Through Sunday November 26, 2017)

Photo: Anna Baryshnikov, Charlotte Parry, Matthew James Thomas, and Anna Camp. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Broadway Review: “Time and the Conways” at the American Airlines Theatre (Through Sunday November 26, 2017)
By J. B. Priestley
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“No, Time's only a kind of dream, Kay. If it wasn't, it would have to destroy everything—the whole universe—and then remake it again every tenth of a second. But Time doesn't destroy anything. It merely moves us on—in this life—from one peephole to the next.” – Alan to Kay

Rebecca Taichman’s staging of “Time and the Conways,” currently running at the American Airlines Theatre, is a retelling of the important 1937 play that transforms Priestley’s important discussions about the relevance and the parameters of time, the permanence of war, and the vicissitudes of the nuclear and extended family from an intellectual exercise to a deeply spiritual quest that raises several deep, rich, and enduring questions.

What happens to a nation and its citizens during the time following the War to End All Wars and now on the brink of the war they never expected? What happens to the members of a dysfunctional family over time? Does the pain borne of collusion dissipate or cumulate? Why does time not somehow eradicate the abuse of women and permanently disarm the abuse of women by men? Is time beneficent or inherently maleficent?

These questions – and several others – arise at the twenty-first birthday celebration for Kay Conway (played with a fragility often masked by a delicate bravado by Charlotte Parry) held at the Conway residence in Newlingham, England in 1919 amidst the “rebuilding a shattered world” post-World War I. Though she professes not to be “used to happiness,” Mrs. Conway urges the family, “Let's all be cosy together and happy again, shall we?” Cosiness and happiness seem to elude the Conways despite the end of the war and the return of Robin Conway (played with a tender mixture of brokenness and irascibility by Matthew James Thomas) from the battlefield. Mrs. Conway’s feeling that “we all can be happy again, now that the horrible war's all over and people are sensible again” is crushed under the weight of dysfunction and collusion and bruised by disillusionment and disappointment.

The Conway matriarch (played with an admixture of coyness and a deplorable supremacy by Elizabeth McGovern) is an oddly static character: she remains possessive, delusional, and remorseless throughout the play. Time is not kind to Mrs. Conway: her husband and a daughter die and she loses most of her husband’s estate through sheer mismanagement. “Time and the Conways” carefully unmasks how Mrs. Conway’s character dismantles the health and resilience of her family and her own fragility.

When, at her bidding, the family reconvenes in 1937, Robin has abandoned his wife Joan (played with a hopefulness dashed by deep sorrow by Cara Ricketts) and his children; Madge (played with a steely resolve borne through disaffection by Brooke Bloom) disowns her mother; Hazel (played with a spirit broken by abuse by Anna Camp) is married to the “vulgar little bully” Ernest Beevers (played with a deeply deplorable psyche by Steven Boyer) and her friend and lawyer Gerald Thornton (played throughout by a charming tenderness by Alfredo Narcisco) discloses that Mrs. Conway is all but bankrupt. Kay fears there is “a great devil in the universe, and we call it Time.”

Neil Patel’s set supports Rebecca Taichman’s inventive staging of “Time and the Conways” by creating two separate sets for the changes in time (1919 to 1937 and back to 1919) instead of the original convention of changing the furniture and adding a wireless to the 1919 set. With one translucent set in front of the other, the audience “sees” into the past and Alan’s construct of time transcends time. This adds a welcomed magical realism to J. B. Priestley’s already metaphysical themes. Carol Conway (played with the ebullience of adolescence and the wisdom of old age by Anna Baryshnikov) bridges time and space with her presence on stage throughout the two acts. Her performance is chilling.

“Time and the Conways” is a sensitive and courageous exploration of how time (the fourth dimension) teases the fifth dimension and the possibility of alternate universes where, as Alan (played with a remarkable humility and grace by Gabriel Ebert) convinces Kay, “Time's only a kind of dream, Kay. If it wasn't, it would have to destroy everything—the whole universe—and then remake it again every tenth of a second. But Time doesn't destroy anything. It merely moves us on—in this life—from one peephole to the next.”

TIME AND THE CONWAYS

“Time and the Conways” stars Elizabeth McGovern as “Mrs. Conway,” Steven Boyer as “Ernest,” Anna Camp as “Hazel,” Gabriel Ebert as “Alan,” Charlotte Parry as “Kay,” and Matthew James Thomas as “Robin,” with Anna Baryshnikov as “Carol,” Brooke Bloom as “Madge,” Alfredo Narciso as “Gerald,” and Cara Ricketts as “Joan.”

The creative team includes Neil Patel (Set Design), Paloma Young (Costume Design), Christopher Akerlind (Lighting Design) and Matt Hubbs (Sound Design). Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

“Time and the Conways” plays Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for are available by calling 212.719.1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org, and in person at any Roundabout box office: American Airlines Theatre Box office (227 West 42nd Street); The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 W 46th Street) and Studio 54 (254 West 54th Street). Ticket prices range from $39.00-$149.00. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Anna Baryshnikov, Charlotte Parry, Matthew James Thomas, and Anna Camp. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
2 Comments - Read Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 20, 2017



Photo: Richard Hoehler in RJ Bartholomew’s “I of the Storm.” Credit: Hunter Canning.
Off-Broadway Review: “I of the Storm” at The Gym at Judson (Through Sunday October 29, 2017)
Written by RJ Bartholomew
Performed by Richard Hoehler
Directed by Janice L. Goldberg
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

What is a successful money manager to do after serving time in prison for the misappropriation of funds and finding he is bereft of family, friends, and home? The Speaker in Def Poet RJ Bartholomew’s “I of the Storm” faces that precise circumstance and chooses to come to terms with his homelessness by embracing it and “letting go.” This Speaker now lives in the same New York City Park he used to pass through on his way to work when he missed the shuttle or could not get onto the subway. He spends his days sharing his experiences with passersby (in this case, the audience) and encouraging them to focus on not being “programmed” by the world – as he was - but rather seeking opportunities to be thankful and to overcome the world’s negativity.

The Speaker’s “savior” was a thirty-something free spirit Mars who, after hearing his story, befriended him and became part muse, part daughter, part platonic lover, part co-conspirator in a variety of life-affirming escapades. Mars, too, has been “damaged” by society but strives to be “deprogrammed.” She plays an important part in the Speaker’s recovery and redemption and empowers him to not only “let go” but you literally and figuratively “clean up” the clutter of negativity and guilt that prevents him from moving forward. On the day of her funeral, the Speaker honors Mars with the eloquence of a poet, the centeredness of a monk, and the unconditional love of a therapist.

Richard Hoehler is the perfect match for RJ Bartholomew’s expansive spoken word text. Mr. Hoehler mines the depths of this extended “urban poem” and delivers the richness of the text with absolute perfection, giving the words precisely the power needed to convey the poet’s meanings. The text is punctuated with a myriad of cultural and religious imagery which makes it accessible to a broad audience. Listeners might not recognize every reference or allusion; however, there is something everyone can relate to and “tune into” the important themes of the work. Perhaps not many recognized the Shaolin Kung Fu basic movement – perfectly executed by Mr. Hoehler – but those who did instantly connected with the poet’s messages.

Those messages are multifaceted and counterpoint with the complexities and vicissitudes of the human experience and raise a series of deep, rich, and enduring questions. How can the individual be “in the world” without being “of the world?” In a competitive and often abusive work environment, how can the individual keep the “me” from overshadowing the need for justice and equality? How can the “I” (the ego) regain enough strength after almost disintegrating to “clean up” the detritus of emotional meltdown? Is the road to recovery from loss possible without a “helpmate?” The Speaker addresses these important questions in a remarkable riff.

The Speaker’s riff is divided into rants about all those things that have the potential of preventing the individual from “letting go” and preventing the individual from experiencing the “I” as her or his “I” is buffeted about by life’s storms. There are rants about social media, television, religion, family systems, and the workplace. At least one of these rants spirals out of control and lands the Speaker in a seventy-two hour “psych watch” in a mental hospital, an institution “far worse than prison.” The audience sits in near stupefaction at Richard Hoehler’s acumen at “spitting” the spoken word text. It is not possible to escape the intensity, the importance, the veracity of Mr. Hoehler’s character and that Everyman’s struggle for a life driven by integrity and compassion.

Director Janice L. Goldberg keeps the performance as visually interesting as it is emotionally and spiritually significant. Mr. Hoehler’s movements are precise, perfectly timed, and never extraneous. Mark Symczak’s sparse set punctuated by Michael Abrams’ lighting and Craig Lenti’s sound design are the perfect complement to RJ Bartholomew’s challenging and engaging text.

“I of the Storm” is a well-structured performance piece with a powerful dramatic arc. Its message is redemptive and salvific. This stunning performance piece should be on every serious theatre-goers must see list.

I OF THE STORM

“I of the Storm” is presented by India Blake and little victor productions.

The creative team includes: Mark Symczak (Original Scenic Design), Brian Dudkiewicz (Additional Scenic Design), Michael Abrams (Lighting Design), Craig Lenti (Sound Design), David Withrow (Costume Design), Jenifer Shenker (PSM), and Brierpatch Productions (General Management).

Performances are at The Gym at Judson (243 Thompson Street, NYC) and run on the following schedule: Monday through Thursday at 7:00 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. There are matinee performances on Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. For more information including tickets and performance exceptions, please visit https://www.iofthestormoffbroadway.com/. All tickets are $49.00 - $69.00 and can also be purchased at http://www.ticketcentral.com. Running time is 80 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Richard Hoehler in RJ Bartholomew’s “I of the Storm.” Credit: Hunter Canning.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 12, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Measure for Measure” at the Public’s LuEsther Theater (Through Sunday November 12, 2017)

Photo: Scott Shepherd in Elevator Repair Service’s “Measure for Measure.” Credit: Richard Termine.
Off-Broadway Review: “Measure for Measure” at the Public’s LuEsther Theater (Through Sunday November 12, 2017)
Written by William Shakespeare
Created by Elevator Repair Service
Directed by John Collins
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38

William Shakespeare’s plays have been abridged, modernized, and retold in every conceivable fashion. As the time for curtain approaches for “Measure for Measure,” currently running at the Public’s LuEsther Theater, the dramatis personae gather around the tables and chairs carefully placed on Jim Findlay’s sparse set and the audience begins to wonder what kind of retelling this Elevator Repair Service (ERS) creation will be. When the Duke (Scott Shepherd) communicates with Escalus (Vin Knight) using an early 1900s candlestick phone then reaches across the table to hand him a paper, the audience shifts from a sense of ‘wonder’ to a healthy grappling with ‘why.’

For two hours and ten minutes (without intermission), the cast of ERS’s “Measure for Measure” shares in the audience’s grappling by performing the iconic “comedy” through a deconstructionist lens. The play is less “the thing” here than the thing it is not. The ERS strips the play to its bare bones, not by abridgement, but by sorting through what they consider to be the essence of the bard’s comedic masterpiece, an essence that transcends the text itself and longs for reconstruction. Therefore, the members of the cast deliver their lines (often reading them from a “teleprompter”) is a variety of styles – from the familiar iambic petameter to the barely discernable.

Medium is the message here (Marshall McLuhan) and that message is pure Shakespeare and pure and unrefined “Measure for Measure.” Under John Collins’s inventive and meticulous direction, the play “gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil crushed” (Gerard Manly Hopkins) to a grandeur that defines itself for a new era of theatre-goers. Perhaps gone is the timeless need to honor iambic pentameter or Shakespeare himself and competing for attention is the message itself and the compelling query as to whether or not it remains relevant beyond its cultural entrenchment.

ERS’s “Measure for Measure” is itself an exercise in rhythm. The rhythm is not just inherent in the lines of the text and that rhythm vibrates with moral ambiguity and metacognition. Rich and enduring questions challenge Angelo (Pete Simpson), Lucio (Mike Iveson), Claudio (Greg Sargeant), and Isabella (Rinne Groff). Does imprisonment result in any benefit to the imprisoned or to society? ERA’s “Measure for Measure” successfully questions the nature and purpose of law and order and the role of the state in maintaining moral clarity. Does one receive “justice for justice?” The same enduring and rich questions challenge the members of the audience who seem to yearn for the familiarity of Shakespeare’s rhymes while remaining open to the vicissitudes of humankind across time and how those are presented on the stage.

Shakespeare’s words scroll across the set in ERS’s “Measure for Measure” and demand to be reckoned with in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE

The cast of Elevator Repair Service’s “Measure for Measure” includes Rinne Groff (Isabella); Lindsay Hockaday (Pompey, Juliet); Maggie Hoffman (Provost); Mike Iveson (Lucio); Vin Knight (Escalus); April Matthis (Francisca, Mariana); Gavin Price (Froth, Friar, Boy, Barnardine, Messenger); Greig Sargeant (Claudio); Scott Shepherd (the Duke); Pete Simpson (Angelo) and Susie Sokol (Mistress Overdone, Elbow, Varrius, Abhorson).

“Measure for Measure” features scenic design by Jim Findlay; lighting design by Mark Barton and Ryan Seelig; sound design by Gavin Price; production designer by Eva von Schweinitz; specialty and prop designer by Amanda Villabos; and costume design by Kaye Voyce. Production photos by Richard Termine.

The performance schedule is Tuesday through Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. For the schedule of added performances, please visit https://www.publictheater.org/. Public Theater Partner and Member tickets, as well as single tickets starting at $75.00, can be accessed now by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Scott Shepherd in Elevator Repair Service’s “Measure for Measure.” Credit: Richard Termine.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, October 11, 2017



Off-Broadway Review: “Charm” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Sunday October 15, 2017)
By Philip Dawkins
Directed by Will Davis
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“A compliment brings the charm to the surface. When we say that a certain color compliments your eyes, we mean it brings them out. You want to bring the other person out, make them feel special.” – Mama

At first glance, Philip Dawkins’s “Charm,” currently playing at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is a heartfelt play about Mama Darleena Andrews (played with a spirited transcendence tempered with humility by Sandra Caldwell) a sixty-seven-year-old retired transwoman who decides to volunteer at a Chicago Center – a shelter and community safe space for the queer Community. Her specific goal is to sponsor a Charm School for the young trans clients. D (played with just the right amount of activist rigor by Kelli Simkins), the Center’s youth coordinator, thinks “the youth will get a lot out of just knowing [Mama Darlin]. They don’t have a lot of older trans role models.” But what kind of role model will Mama be?

Darleena firmly believes the dictates of Emily Post will give her “Babies” the tools they need to succeed in life. Charm is everything to Mama and, by persistently complimenting her charges, she firmly believes they will understand that they are special and better prepared to survive the negativity and hatred they experience – and threatens their lives – in their Chicago neighborhoods. Whether it be learning “proper” table manners or practicing applying make-up, her trans and heterosexual cisgender Babies and those still experimenting with their gender expression need to be charming as well as beautiful. Some members of the Center push back. Donnie (played with a bravado that masks brokenness by Michael David Baldwin), a “mostly” heterosexual, homeless, African American cisgender male responds, “I ain’t got no table! The hell I spose to do with table manners?”

Under Will Davis’s direction, Sandra Caldwell and the rest of the talented cast deliver strong performances and reflect the sincerity of the script and its redemptive message; however, what is missing in this production is a sense of vulnerability or a recognition of the importance of atonement. The character of Mama, despite her good intentions, seems not to honor the youth she claims to love. True, she holds them to a higher standard, but whose standard is that? She calls their peers “thugs” and “troupes of tramps.” D further challenges Mama, “You’re telling these black, Latinx, trans, homeless youths how to behave like white cotillion girls. And, frankly, it’s offensive.” The moral ambiguity in Mr. Dawkins’s play is appropriately palpable.

It isn’t until Darlenna becomes vulnerable with Beta (played with an exquisite range and depth of emotion by Marquise Vilson), a male-identified African American transman, that the audience sees authenticity and honesty and a path to catharsis. Beta takes a huge risk when he shares, “Stop callin’ me beautiful!!! I ain’t beautiful. I ain’t smart! I ain’t Nothin’! Not everybody gotta be special, right?! Not everybody got a family like you do. Not everybody got no bunch of friends like you. Not everybody got people. Some of us got no one, a’ight?!!!!! I got no one! I am no one!” Mama replies, “My family disowned me” and that confession establishes the possibility for forgiveness and true redemption.

Darleena’s Babies do not need her to be something she isn’t. They need her to take risks and be totally honest with them about her real struggles – in the past and in the present. What happens between Mama and Beta should happen throughout the play to achieve a consistent level of honest discourse and a greater opportunity to address the rich and enduring questions raised by the trans community. Salvation comes from the most unexpected places – even from troupes of tramps.

CHARM

The cast of “Charm” features Michael David Baldwin, Jojo Brown, Sandra Caldwell, Marky Irene Diven, Michael Lorz, Hailie Sahar, Kelli Simpkins, Marquise Vilson, and Lauren F. Walker.

The creative team for MCC’s Charm includes playwright Philip Dawkins, director Will Davis, scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, costume design by Oana Botez, lighting design by Ben Stanton, and sound design by Palmer Hefferan. Casting is by Telsey + Company/Adam Caldwell, CSA, William Cantler, CSA, Karyn Casl, CSA. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

The NYC premiere of “Charm” plays through October 15 at the Lucille Lortel Theater (121 Christopher Street). For tickets and info, visit www.mcctheater.org. Running time is 2 hours including a 10-minute intermission.

Photo (L to R): Kelli-Simpkins, Hailie-Sahar, Marquise Vilson, Jojo Brown, Sandra Caldwell, Lauren F. Walker, Marky Irene Diven, and Michael David Baldwin. Credit Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Mary Jane” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday October 29, 2017)

Photo: Liza Colón-Zayas and Carrie Coon. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Mary Jane” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday October 29, 2017)
By Amy Herzog
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In Part One of Amy Herzog’s “Mary Jane,” currently playing at the New York Theatre Workshop, Mary Jane (Carrie Coon) is at home caring for her two-and-a-half-year-old son Alex. She shares that responsibility with several professional caregivers, including Sherry (played with compassionate expediency by Liza Colón-Zayas) and Donna, the incompetent nurse the audience never sees. Alex, born at twenty-five weeks and four days, suffered a severe brain bleed and almost did not survive. He is now gravely disabled. Mary Jane juggles his care with a job that provides the health insurance needed to pay for Alex’s constant care.

Laura Jellinek’s set design here is closed in, cramped, claustrophobic – much like Mary Jane’s psyche. She seems to be coping with all that she is responsible for; however, others like her building superintendent Ruthie (Brenda Wehle) see a different Mary Jane. While fixing the kitchen sink, Ruthie shares, “You seem to be someone who’s carrying a lot of tension in her body.” Carrie Coon balances Mary Jane’s inner and outer struggles and mechanisms of grappling with the vicissitudes of her life. Ms. Coon portrays a mother who bathes, suctions, lifts, walks, and medicates her disabled boy while fending off depression and exhaustion and abandonment. Ms. Coon’s multilayered performance counterpoints the rich layers of Amy Herzog’s script which, under Anne Kauffman’s razor-sharp direction, are peeled back with sensitivity and grace.

Just prior to Part Two, the set morphs before the audience in ways that must be experienced – to say more would be to take that “miracle” away. Gone is the Queens apartment and, its place, the gleaming sanitized expansiveness of Alex’s hospital room and the common room outside. After being unable to intervene successfully in Alex’s grand mal seizure, Mary Jane and Sherry call 911 and Alex is rushed off to this hospital where he seems suspended between the living and the dead and Mary Jane comes to terms with her “truth,” her mortality, and her fragile finitude.

No longer fully responsible for Alex’s care, Mary Jane has time to interact with Alex’s pediatric intensivist Dr. Toros (Liza Colón-Zayas), the music therapist Kat (played with compassion buried beneath the inability to cope by Danaya Esperanza), Chaya a Hasidic woman (played with a comedic flair tempered by years of sacrifice by Susan Pourfar), and the hospital’s Buddhist chaplain Tenkei (played with a wisdom garnered through challenge by Brenda Wehle). In her conversations with Dr. Toros and Kat, Mary Jane experiences the arbitrary nature of the medical establishment. Chaya, a mother with seven children – her daughter Adina in the hospital – reveals to Mary Jane the sense of reality that comes with the illness of a loved one. Finally, her time with Tenkei opens the possibility of a future without Alex as they both explore the cervices of repentance and reconciliation.

In these conversations, Mary Jane begins to face the arbitrariness of life and the precious gift of acceptance and thanksgiving. She tells Tenkei, “I don’t know whether he’s going to make it out of this surgery. I don’t know what to hope for anymore.” Mary Jane also experiences the breadth and depth of transcendence and catharsis at the play’s end in a scene rich in magical realism immersed in blessed redemptive release.

MARY JANE

The cast of “Mary Jane” features Liza Colón-Zayas as “Sherrie/Dr. Toros,” Carrie Coon as “Mary Jane,” Danaya Esperanza as “Amelia/Kat,” Susan Pourfar as “Brianne/Chaya” and Brenda Wehle as “Ruthie/Tenkei.”

“Mary Jane” features scenic design by Laura Jellinek, costume design by Emily Rebholz, lighting design by Japhy Weideman, sound design by Leah Gelpe, properties by Kathy Fabian, and wig, hair and makeup design by Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas. Lisa Chernoff serves as the Stage Manager. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

The performance schedule for “Mary Jane” at New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003) is as follows: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Exceptions: There will be no 7:00pm performance on Sunday, October 15. For further information visit https://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Liza Colón-Zayas and Carrie Coon. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “A Clockwork Orange” at New World Stages (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)

Photo: Jonno Davies (center) and the Cast of “A Clockwork Orange.” Credit: Caitlin McNaney.
Off-Broadway Review: “A Clockwork Orange” at New World Stages (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)
By Anthony Burgess
Created by and Directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“A Clockwork Orange” – a fair gloopy title. Who ever heard of A Clockwork Orange? ‘The attempt to impose upon man the laws and conditions appropriate only to a mechanical creation – against this I raise my Sword-Pen?’” – Alex

Alexandra Spencer-Jones’s staging of Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange” at New World Stages slices deeply into the human psyche where the unbridled libidinous “id” battles the “superego” for supremacy as the “ego” struggles to regain strength and restore “normalcy” to the personalities of Alex deLarge (Jonno Davies) and his irrepressible droogs Dim (Sean Patrick Higgins), Georgie (Matt Doyle), and Pete (Misha Osherovich).

Alex and his boys were real enough to Mr. Burgess and remain real enough to Ms. Jones: they are also powerful tropes for all that society currently faces as it finds itself worldwide in the grip of what might be described as “psychopathy” but might also have a completely different provenance other than degrees of moral rigor. The droogs terrorize seemingly without intention and randomly. The state’s “milk bars” have dehumanized them and replaced free will with psychotropic drugs and the “gangs” protest by their disregard for the “common law.”

Alex is betrayed by his buddies and ends up in prison where the violence is as common as in the “outside” world. Inmates are murdered without intervention by the guards. In an effort to shorten his sentence and return to the streets, Alex – prisoner number 6655321 – volunteers to undergo the Ludovico Technique after which he “will be able to leave this prison in a little over two weeks, never again [having] the desire to commit acts of violence or offend in any way whatsoever.” Alex’s “recovery” and his return to “civilization” is chilling to watch and the moral ambiguity underpinning the transformation is palpable.

Ms. Spencer-Jones’s creation is an accurate telling of the novel energized by the athletic dance movement and athleticism of the ensemble cast. Her decision to “reinstate” the final chapter of “A Clockwork Orange” is the perfect choice. Alex’s hopes for redemption and release are realistic at the end of this decade when the global yearning for meaning in life and reconciliation with all that appears good is so intense and when the global community yearns to reclaim the right to choose and decide the quality of its future.

Under Ms. Spencer-Jones’s precise and inventive direction, the ensemble cast of “misfits” and “miscreants” deliver uniformly authentic performances that challenge the status-quo understanding of “right and wrong” and “good and evil.” The “reading” through the psychological lens is telling and allows the audience member to experience projection and transference in shocking new ways. James Baggaley’s somber lighting, Emma Wilk’s magniloquent sound design, and the original music by Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott counterpoint Alexandra Spencer-Jones’s direction to create a theatre piece that scrapes away at the stolid underbelly of American morality with surgical precision and a merciless zeal to heal.

In addition to the original music for the Rape and Dream Sequences, “A Clockwork Orange” is infused with extant pop music written by or covered by such luminaries as David Bowie (“We Are the Dead”), Placebo, Gossip, Muse, The Flamingos and Alexandra Spencer-Jones. The German neoclassical/power metal band At Vance’s “5th Sinfone” (Ludwig van Beethoven) plays a pivotal role in the protagonist’s “salvific” journey.

The Chaplain (Timothy Sekk) introduces a moral dilemma to Alex when he chooses to undergo the Technique and introduces to the audience a morally ambiguous choice and an ethical system based more on situation than dictum: “It may not be nice to be good, 6655321. Is a man who chooses to be bad in some ways better than a man who is forced to be good? You know, what does God want? God help us all, 6655321.” This rich and enduring question rattles the audience to experience catharsis in unimaginable ways.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

The cast of “A Clockwork Orange” features Jonno Davies as Alex DeLarge, Matt Doyle as Georgie, Sean Patrick Higgins as Dim, Brian Lee Huynh as Frank/Dr. Brodsky, Timothy Sekk as Chaplain/Deltoid, Aleksander Varadian as Marty/Warder, Ashley Robinson as Minister/Old Woman, Jimmy Brooks as F-Me Pumps/Governor, Misha Osherovich as Pete, and Jordan Bondurant as a swing.

“A Clockwork Orange” is produced Off-Broadway by Glynis Henderson Productions, Martian Entertainment and Matthew Gregory for ABA UK. The production features Lighting Design by James Baggaley, Sound Design by Emma Wilk, Costume Coordination by Jennifer A. Jacob, and Casting by Stewart/Whitley. Production photos by Caitlin McNaney.

Tickets are $27.00 - $97.00 and can be purchased at www.Telecharge.com or by calling 1-800-447-7400. The performance schedule for “A Clockwork Orange” at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street) is as follows: Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For further information visit http://www.aclockworkorangeplay.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Jonno Davies (center) and the Cast of “A Clockwork Orange.” Credit: Caitlin McNaney.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord” at Primary Stages (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)

Michael Laurence, Thom Sesma and Duane Boutte in the Primary Stages production of “Discord.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord” at Primary Stages (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)
By Scott Carter
Directed by Kimberly Senior
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Members of the Primary Stages staff, prior to curtain, passed through the audience asking members to “select a button” based on who we thought would “win” the discordant discourse: Jefferson, Dickens, or Tolstoy – the three characters appearing in Scott Carters “Discord” currently running at Primary Stages. Further instructions included the option to change one’s mind after the play and select a different button, or return the button originally chosen leaving the theatre button-empty-handed. Audience members either stared back puzzled, made a conscious decision about the “winner” and selected the corresponding button, or grabbed all three to add to their growing button collection.

Those with the puzzled stare – with or without buttons – were the winners here since “Discord” itself is a puzzling entity with little to offer other than three fine performers grasping at lines of script as they too easily slipped through their fingers onto the theater floor. Duane Boutté, as “Charles Dickens,” Michael Laurence as “Thomas Jefferson,” and Thom Sesma as “Leo Tolstoy find themselves locked in what they soon discover is a “room” in Heaven – not even a “room of one’s own quips Dickens with nary a nod to Virginia Woolf. But who’s afraid of her anyway (with a nod to Edward Albee).

Playwright Scott Carter has these three giants of men (could there not have been a Virginia Woolf) settle their differences by writing their own gospel and the defending its contents. The bulk of the script – particularly in the beginning – is massive sections of the King James Bible quoted, retold, reimagined, and regurgitated ultimately to the mirrored wall of the room where the characters’ “defenses” result in walls of self-examination, self-recrimination, and heavy doses of guilt. The audience learns nothing about these men they did not know before they entered the theatre. Guess what Thomas Jefferson’s greatest sin was? Right!

If biblical commentary and exegesis by old dead white men sounds interesting, then “Discord” might be your ticket. Otherwise, make that perhaps overdue visit to church, temple, or mosque and revisit the origins of humankind’s journeys of faith. And talk to a friend about what you discovered. And then – write a play.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THOMAS JEFFERSON, CHARLES DICKENS, COUNT LEO TOLSTOY: DISCORD

The cast of “Discord” features Duane Boutté, as “Charles Dickens,” Michael Laurence as “Thomas Jefferson,” and Thom Sesma as “Leo Tolstoy.”

The production features set design by Wilson Chin; costume design by David Hyman; lighting design by Jen Schriever; sound design by Lindsay Jones; projection design by Caite Hevner; and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

Performances of “Discord” take place at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce St, New York, NY 10014) for a limited engagement through Sunday, October 22, 2017. For the complete performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit http://primarystages.org/. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.

Michael Laurence, Thom Sesma and Duane Boutte in the Primary Stages production of “Discord.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Tiny Beautiful Things” at The Public Theater’s Newman Theater (Through Sunday December 10, 2017)

Photo: Teddy Cañez, Nia Vardalos, Natalie Woolams-Torres, and Hubert Point-Du Jour. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Tiny Beautiful Things” at The Public Theater’s Newman Theater (Through Sunday December 10, 2017)
Based on the Book by Cheryl Strayed and Adapted for the Stage by Nia Vardalos
Directed by Thomas Kail
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Watching “Tiny Beautiful Things” at The Public’s Newman Theater can be described as experiencing the vicissitudes of the human experience through the kaleidoscopic lens of sheer redemptive grace. The broken hearted, the beaten down, the bereft, and the “just broken” send their questions on coping, overcoming, and raging against all forms of the “dying of the light” to “Sugar” (Nia Vardalos) the online newspaper columnist who is the purveyor of this unconditional prevenient grace. Sugar confesses to not being particularly qualified to dispense her advice; however, through sheer ethos and pathos, she says just the right thing at the right time to the right penitent resulting in boundless redemption and release.

Sugar not only identifies with her readers, she also shares from the depth of her experience. She has known rejection, abuse, and lost love. And she knows those who have miscarried, or are overweight, or struggle with sexual orientation or gender identity, or continue to crumble under the weight of guilt and remorse. This character’s ability to empathize and love without condition or judgement eventuates in the audience’s ability to understand more fully the overwhelming need for compassion and catharsis. Ms. Vardalos, who also adapted Cheryl Strayed’s book for the stage, delivers a powerful performance as Sugar, sharing her character’s counsel in the manner of an extended Sermon on the Mount.

Teddy Cañez, Hubert Point-Du Jour, and Natalie Woolams-Torres portray the readers of Sugar’s column, who reach out to her for advice. Their realistic queries bombard Sugar from all sides of the stage. Sometimes Ms. Vardalos responds across the expansive set (designed by Rachel Hauck and exquisitely lighted by Jeff Croiter); at other times she draws near to those asking the questions, sitting close to deliver her answers. The set is Sugar’s home from which she writes and into which (figuratively) she invites her “followers” to receive her “sanctifications.” Under Thomas Kail’s fluid direction, the actors offer authentic performances, giving each character a believable personality and a conflict that is identifiable and genuine. Each member of the audience has either experienced what these characters share with Sugar or they know intimately someone else who has.

Attending a performance of “Tiny Beautiful Things” is like seeing dozens of plays whose characters, conflicts, settings, and themes change with every twist of the kaleidoscope revealing the tiny beautiful things that make us human, and vulnerable, finite, and resourceful – full of grace and truth.

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS

The complete cast of “Tiny Beautiful Things” features Teddy Cañez, Ceci Fernandez, DeLance Minefee, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Nia Vardalos, and Natalie Woolams-Torres.

“Tiny Beautiful Things” features scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costume design by Jennifer Moeller, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, and sound design by Jill BC Du Boff. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Tiny Beautiful Things” runs through Sunday, December 10 in The Public’s Newman Theater (425 Lafayette Street). The performance schedule is Tuesday through Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. There is an added 1:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, October 11; 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 18; and 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 25; and an added performance on Sunday, November 5 at 7:00 p.m. There is no performance on Saturday, September 30 at 1:00 p.m. For more information, visit www.publictheater.org. Running time is 85 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Teddy Cañez, Nia Vardalos, Natalie Woolams-Torres, and Hubert Point-Du Jour. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, October 2, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Violin” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday October 14, 2017)

Photo: (L-R) Kevin Isola, Robert LuPone, Peter Bradbury in “The Violin” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Violin” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday October 14, 2017)
Written by Dan McCormick
Directed by Joseph Discher
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Okay. Some day we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house, and a couple of acres and a cow and some pigs and . . . And live off the fat of the land! And have rabbits. Well, we’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens.” – George in “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck (1937)

John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and the novel’s protagonists George and Lenny quickly come to mind when seeing Dan McCormick’s new play “The Violin” currently running at 59E59 Theaters. Indeed, the play also has the nuanced feeling of plays by Sam Shepard and William Inge. The characters here – Bobby and Terry – are lonely, frightened, broken, and seemingly bereft of moral strength – a condition of either their own making or of the society that has unwittingly (or not) left them behind.

Bobby (played with the perfect balance of moral depravity and salvific rigor by Peter Bradbury) and Terry (played with an unwavering naivete and scarred innocence by Kevin Isola) want to “be somebody” other than who they are and live somewhere other than the Lower East Side of Manhattan: Bobby longs for “beaches with palm trees.” Terry knows he is “not the sharpest tool in the wagon” and wants to make “life a heck of a lot easier” for Bobby. Terry fell out of the upper bunk of their bed and ended up “a scrambled egg like Humpty Dumpty.” Their father was “neck high” in the Irish mob and was killed in a mob hit along with the boys’ mother. After their parents’ death, Bobby inherits “a half-retarded brother to raise all on my own.” Their dreams have never been realized and they scrape by with the proceeds from Bobby’s petty thefts and Terry’s short-lived jobs. Both often seek surcease in the tailor shop of their surrogate father Gio (played with a high moralism masking an underlying guilt by Robert LuPone) who has his own share of moral ambiguity.

Things seem to change when Terry brings to the tailor shop a violin left in the cab he drives and forgets to return to the cab depot and the second act of the play focuses on the disposition of the found violin which turns out to be a 1710 Stradivarius worth “a minimum of four million bucks.” Bobby decides to ask for a reward of twenty-percent and manages to convince Gio to join the money-making scheme who claims the skills needed to manage the operation. Under Joseph Discher’s competent direction, the three actors navigate the treacherous terrain of contacting the owner and arranging the exchange of violin for reward. In the process, years of deception (including self-deception) are exposed, deep secrets revealed, and a surprise ending results.

Steinbeck and McCormack wrote on two “eves of destruction” (P. F. Sloan) – the eve of World War II and the eve of our own dystopian future – and have created believable characters whose conflicts are easily identifiable as significant and raising rich and enduring questions about the compass of morality in human behavior. As the action falls in “The Violin,” each character is forced to come to terms with his choices in the past and in the present. Whether that results in repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation is not clearly answered and the edge of moral ambiguity remains sharp and uncompromising.

If a violin is the main character in a play – and afforded that play’s title – one might expect that “actor” to have more to say in the two-hour running time of Dan McCormick’s “The Violin.” Gio could have showed Terry how to play the instrument, for example, which would have made the ending even more effective and cathartic.

THE VIOLIN

The cast of “The Violin” features Peter Bradbury, Kevin Isola, and Roberts LuPone. The creative team includes Harry Feiner (scenic design), Michael McDonald (costume design), Matthew E. Adelson (lighting design), and Hao Bai (sound design). Rose Riccardi serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Produced by The Directors Company in association with ShadowCatcher Entertainment, “The Violin” plays at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) through Saturday, October 14. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM & 7 PM. Single tickets are $25 - $70 ($25 - $49.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours including one 10-minute intermission.

Photo: (L-R) Kevin Isola, Robert LuPone, Peter Bradbury in “The Violin” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, October 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “As You Like It” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)

Photo: André De Shields and Hannah Cabell. Credit: Richard Termine.
Off-Broadway Review: “As You Like It” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by John Doyle
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

William Shakespeare’s romantic “Christian” comedy “As You Like It,” currently running at Classic Stage Company, is on the surface a play that has offered appreciative audiences over the centuries more than a sufficient supply of gender-bending antics, mistaken identity, banishment from court, trysts in forests, and unlikely pairs “tying the knot” at play’s end. It’s comedic flair, roster of songs, and enduring soliloquies make “As You Like It” a popular choice for Shakespeare lovers. One cannot resist, for example, Celia’s (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) and Rosalind’s (Hannah Cabell) arrival in The Forest of Arden after Rosalind’s banishment from Duke Frederick’s (Bob Stillman) Court or Touchstone’s (André De Shields) and Audrey’s (Cass Morgan) “foolish” romps in that same Forest.

Phoebe’s (Leenya Rideout) infatuation with the disguised Rosalind and her rejection of Silvius’s (David Samuel) advances are beautifully acted scenes that skillfully set up the play’s resolution. Noah Brody’s Corin delivers the shepherd’s “philosophy” with the conviction of innocence.

“As You Like It” is ultimately best described as a psychological thriller of sorts that explores in depth the more profound issues of relationships, equanimity, the true nature of love, the experience of a human life birth through death, melancholy, confession, reconciliation, and redemption. Rosalind’s (in disguise) scenes with Orlando (Kyle Scatliffe) in the Forest are mesmerizing and transformative. One will not easily forget the magical entwining of the two “men” as Orlando woos “Rosalind” as the shepherd. Nor will the audience forget Ellen Burstyn’s (Jacques) delivery of the iconic “All the world’s a stage” and “A fool, a fool! I met a fool i’th’ forest” soliloquies.

The songs in “As You Like It” are beautifully given a jazz-like feel by Stephen Schwartz’s original music. Bob Stillman leads the cast in performing these songs with a palpable depth of feeling. Ann Hould-Ward’s costume design and Mike Baldassari’s lighting design (those multi-colored acorns!) surround the cast with supportive charm. John Doyle’s overall design is effective and thought-provoking.

Under John Doyle’s exacting direction, the ensemble cast is uniformly excellent. Their performances – believable and authentic – carefully explore their characters’ levels of complexity and the engaging conflicts that drive the comedy’s fluid plot. The production is marred, however, by the inability of the audience to hear the dialogue. Much of the opening scene is completely inaudible and too many of the conversations in the Forest are lost. Whether this has to do with the reconfiguration of the theater or with direction is an unanswered question that needs to be addressed.

Overall, the Classic Stage Company’s “As You Like It” is a fitting addition to the Company’s fifty years of excellence in theatre.

AS YOU LIKE IT

The company of “As You Like It” features Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Celia), Ellen Burstyn (Jacques), Noah Brody (Oliver/Corin), Hannah Cabell (Rosalind), André De Shields (Touchstone), Cass Morgan (Old Anna/Audrey), Leenya Rideout (Phoebe), David Samuel (Charles/Silvius), Kyle Scatliffe (Orlando) and Bob Stillman (Duke Frederick/Duke Senior).

“As You Like It” features scenic design by John Doyle, costume design by Ann Hould-Ward and lighting design by Mike Baldassari. David Arsenault is Associate Scenic Designer and Amy Sutton is Associate Costume Designer. Production Photos by Richard Termine.

“As You Like It” performs Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. For tickets, visit classicstage.org, call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111, or in person at the box office (136 East 13th Street). For further information on Classic Stage Company, call 212-677-4210, visit the theatre in person at 136 East 13th Street, or go to www.classicstage.org. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.

Photo: André De Shields and Hannah Cabell. Credit: Richard Termine.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 28, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Treasurer” at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theatre (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)

Photo: Peter Freidman and Marinda Anderson. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Treasurer” at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theatre (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)
Written by Max Posner
Directed by David Cromer
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Max Posner’s “The Treasurer,” currently running at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, is a play about Ida Armstrong’s (played with a fragile irascibility by Deanna Dunagan) youngest son (played with an equally fragile ego strength by Peter Friedman) whose siblings have placed him in charge of their mother’s bank account, her spending, her assets and her liabilities. This role of treasurer proves difficult for a son who has allowed himself to be strong-armed by an uncaring mother who abandoned her children in their youth.

The Son’s collusion with his mother’s addiction to spending is not unlike that of any child who chooses to enable an addicted family member. Indeed, the entire family system has become completely dysfunctional through enabling Ida over the years because of unnecessary and clearly unreasonable layers of guilt. The Son is so racked with guilt he assumes – despite his disbelief in the construct – he will “go to hell” for his “mistreatment” of his selfish, horrible mother.

“The Treasurer” is a memory play narrated by The Son who attempts to “confront” his difficult mother in a long-distance relationship by phone and only succeeds in confronting his own deep-seated guilt about not being a good son. His older brothers Allen and Jeremy are played with authenticity by the same actors (Marinda Anderson and Pun Bandhu respectively) who play other roles. Playwright Max Posner seems to like repetition and, despite using one convention after another over and over, the first act manages to establish character, conflict, setting, and theme. The second act, unfortunately repeats this construct and makes the endeavor seem overlong and overwrought.

Mr. Posner’s play has much to offer and “The Treasurer” would have perhaps worked better if the fluidity and capriciousness of the mind matched more closely the workings of the script and if David Cromer’s unusual staging were less awkward and had better sight lines. This is an instance where a more realistic staging might have been more successful. There is no reason, for example, for stagehands to hang pictures after the actors are seated on stage – or if there is a reason, that needs to be made clearer.

There is much to mine in the underbelly of the dysfunctional family – especially when the encrustation is narrowly autobiographical. Mr. Posner might consider developing his characters more fully and delve into their motivations. How exactly did Ida’s leaving damage her children? Why have they allowed her to dominate their lives and their development? Why was there not an intervention at some point? Some of the play’s “scenes” are engaging and provide needed exposition about the protagonist. When, for example, The Son meets Woman (played with charming believability by Marinda Anderson) “on a Boeing 737 headed straight to Albany,” the audience begins to get a glimpse of how guilt can fester over time.

The Son’s monologues – delivered with the right amount of guilt-ridden anxiety by Peter Friedman – overshadow the “action” of the play. The “scenes” do not move the action forward with sufficient depth to provide the much-needed catharsis at the end of the play. The audience is left caring less than it should about a theme that deserves more development by the skilled cast exploring the script’s nooks and crannies for memories that matter.

THE TREASURER

The cast of “The Treasurer” features Marinda Anderson, Pun Bandhu, Deanna Dunagan, and Peter Friedman.

The production features scenic design by Laura Jellinek, costume design by David Hyman, lighting design by Bradley King, sound design by Mikhail Fiksel, projection design by Lucy Mackinnon and wig design by Leah J. Loukas. Production Stage Manager is Brett Anders. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

The performance schedule for “The Treasurer” is Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00 PM, Saturdays at 2:30 and 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 PM. Single tickets, $49.00 – 89.00, may be purchased online via http://www.phnyc.org, by phone at (212) 279-4200 (Noon – 8:00 PM daily) and in person at the Ticket Central Box Office, 416 West 42nd Street (between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Peter Freidman and Marinda Anderson. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Small World” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday October 7, 2017)

Photo: (L-R) Stephen D'Ambrose and Mark Shanahan in “Small World” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Small World” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday October 7, 2017)
By Frederick Stroppel
Directed by Joe Brancato
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“See, this is the crux of the matter. We have different aesthetic touchstones. I am drawn to characters like Apollo, Persephone, Oedipus Rex. You prefer Jiminy Cricket – Bambi – Goofy. My Pluto lives in Hades, yours lives in a doghouse. You are living in some silly parallel universe, of which I want no part.” – Igor

If the theme of Frederick Stroppel’s “Small World” is that “it’s a small world after all” where “different aesthetic touchstones” can coexist in perfect harmony like “the one moon and the one golden sun,” then the play fails. Despite the commendable efforts of Stephen D'Ambrose as Igor Stravinsky and Mark Shanahan as Walt Disney, Mr. Stroppel’s play lacks the necessary character development and focus to convince the audience of any consistent thematic strand.

In a series of imagined conversations about Disney’s “Fantasia” and whether Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” is the proper score for the movie-in-progress, the actors reiterate and defend their theories of musicology, animation, moral responsibility, artistic integrity, commercial success (or failure), and World War II era politics. These debates soon grow tiresome and reach no significant resolution.

The conversation in the second act about the retelling of “Faust” is perhaps the highlight of the play: Stravinsky’s and Disney’s disparate thoughts on how to reimagine the classic are engaging and thought-provoking. One wishes for more of this level of discourse. The argument over whether Micky Mouse is “effeminate” seems dauntingly inappropriate. Even the “heavenly” conversation between the two artists at the end of the play lacks the needed spark of conviction and is somewhat pretentious.

Mr. Brancato’s direction is serviceable but lacks subtlety. James J. Fenton’s scenic design places the actors center stage too often and Christina Watanabe’s lighting often lacks obvious purpose. The play ends with both characters celebrating “Magic” – something missing in “Small World.”

Listening to “The Rite of Spring” with the right glass of wine, followed by viewing “Fantasia” would have been far more satisfying than a playwright’s deconstruction of both. If only Mr. D’Ambrose and Mr. Shanahan had been given material that would have given them the opportunity to exercise their collective formidable crafts.

SMALL WORLD

“Small World” is produced by Penguin Rep at 59E59 Theaters. The cast features Stephen D'Ambrose as Igor Stravinsky and Mark Shanahan Walt Disney.

The creative team includes James Fenton (set design), Patricia Doherty (costume design), Christine Watanabe (lighting design), and William Neal (sound design). Michael Palmer serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Small World” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday, October 7. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM & 7:15 PM. Tickets are $25 - $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: (L-R) Stephen D'Ambrose and Mark Shanahan in “Small World” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, September 26, 2017

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