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“A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity” and “Clean” (Through Saturday April 26, 2014)

“A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity” and “Clean” (Through Saturday April 26, 2014)
Traverse Theatre Double Bill at 59E59 Theater B
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Challenged by a chauvinistic comment after her 2011 Edinburgh Festival solo show, playwright Sabrina Mahfouz is determined to write “a tale of three females who could easily be the basis of crime-based computer games.” The result “Clean” is currently running at 59E59 Theater B as part of the Brits Off-Broadway Series. The short play is paired with Douglas Maxwell’s “A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity” both offerings by Edinburgh’s The Traverse Theater Company. But first, “Clean.”

Three very talented actors are determined to mine the meaning from Ms. Mahfouz’s forty-five minute prose-poem adventure into the female world of “clean crime” but come to the surface without emerald or diamond in tow. There is much movement about the stage standing and sitting atop three white boxes - all carefully orchestrated by director Orla O’Loughlin - but there is little depth to the story line. Unfortunately the characters have lackluster conflicts which spin rather uninteresting plots. The three adventurers risk life and limb to exact revenge on nemesis Kristof and collect a hefty reward from Caitlin; however, the script does not give the actors much to work with to empower their performances with authenticity and honesty. Ultimately, it is difficult to care about any of their stories.

Despite moving to Level Two in their Dream Play computer-based crime computer game, Chloe (Jade Anouka) and Katya (Chloe Massey) eschew any further involvement in “clean crime” capers. Chloe decides to “disappear into the countryside” and Katya “misses her family” and chooses to “help things in [her] country.” Only Zainab (Emma Dennis-Edwards) decides to stay the “clean crime” course: “A normal life is behind me now, has been for a while but now it’s cemented, solid, this is it for me.” The three “gamers” hug each other at play’s end looking like “they have not been so close to another soul in a while” but this on stage bonding does little to connect the play to the audience hungry for the same closeness.

Douglas Maxwell’s “A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity” – the second short play in the Traverse Theater Double Bill – comes up the winner and engages the post-intermission audience with a brilliant script and riveting performances by Joanna Tope and Gavin Jon Wright. Ms. Tope plays Annabelle Love a grieving widow just after the “beautiful ceremony” for her deceased husband. At this point one sees a rather tightly wound wealthy woman willing to put grief aside to greet well-wishers, especially those employees from her husband’s company. Mr. Wright plays Jim Dick one of those employees who enjoys the time off work to come pay his respects to the former company owner. At this point one sees a rather loosely wound young man who while shaking hands in the reception line (non-consciously) refers to Annabelle’s dead husband with a particularly vulgar epithet.

Assuming he has been sacked, Jim Dick flees to his favorite Burger King where Annabelle joins him unexpectedly still holding her glass of wine. What follows is forty-five minutes of brilliant hilarity as Jim and Annabelle explore the meaning of language and relationships in non-conventional ways. Mr. Maxwell has created a conversation that gets at the very heart of language and its efficacy and at the very heart of what is significant in the matrix of human relationships. The script is spot on; the direction by Orla O’Loughlin is precise and punctilious; and the performances are riveting, authentic, honest, and engaging.

Jim Dick enables Annabelle to express herself in ways she had not considered in the past – through the words she chooses and the company she keeps. The content of this humorous play is as serious as it comes. Jim and Annabelle share these thoughts after Jim unpacks some vernacular for Annabelle:

“JIM: There’s a phrase, ‘come to grips,’ meaning, like, ‘get a grip.’ Over time folk must’ve changed their ‘grips’ to [expletive deleted].”

ANNABELLE: That’s what happens to language. It’s not erosion – as the didactical would have it – it grows.”

“A Respectable Widow” is a powerhouse of a play, the kind of product one has come to expect of The Traverse Theater. Audience members will review their cache of “small talk” and be challenged to communicate in the future with more honesty and more effectiveness. Language is power. Just ask any respectable widow gone vulgar.

A RESPECTABLE WIDOW TAKES TO VULGARITY AND CLEAN

59E59 Theaters (Elysabeth Kleinhans, Artistic Director; Peter Tear, Executive Producer) launches the Scotland Week celebrations with US premiere of the double bill of A RESPECTABLE WIDOW TAKES TO VULGARITY by Douglas Maxwell and CLEAN by Sabrina Mahfouz, both directed by Orla O'Loughlin and both are produced by the Traverse Theatre. The Scotland Week kicks off Brits Off Broadway.

The cast for A RESPECTABLE WIDE TAKES TO VULGARITY features Joanna Tope and Gavin Jon Wright. The cast of CLEAN features Jade Anouka; Emma Dennis Edwards; and Chloe Massey.

The design team includes Patrick McGurn (sets); Claire Elliot (lighting); Tom Saunders and Kevin McCallum (sound for CLEAN); and Tom Saunders, Camilla O’ Neill and Kevin McCallum (sound for A RESPECTABLE WIDOW). Production photos by Jeremy Abrahams.

A RESPECTABLE WIDOW TAKES TO VULGARITY and CLEAN run for a limited engagement through Saturday, April 26. The performance schedule is Tuesday – 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 and 7:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $40 ($28 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, April 09, 2014

“The Most Deserving” at The Women’s Project Theatre at New York City Center Stage II (Through Sunday May 4, 2014)

“The Most Deserving” at The Women’s Project Theatre at New York City Center Stage II (Through Sunday May 4, 2014)
By Catherine Trieschmann
Directed by Shelley Butler
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Catherine Trieschmann’s new play “The Most Deserving” is a delicious and raucous mélange of six characters facing their own and others’ sexism, racism, and homophobia as they struggle to bestow a twenty thousand dollar award to a deserving local visual artist. “This artist,” Jolene Atkinson (Veanne Cox) informs her Arts Council, “must have lived in Ellis County for five years. He must demonstrate both artistic excellence and financial need and should preferably be an underrepresented American voice.”

The recipient of this grant, the visual artist most deserving, is the subject of the play currently running at the Women’s Project Theatre at New York City Center Stage II. It is revealed through the playwright’s skilled exploration of point of view and motivation: each character understands the grant from her or his specific viewpoint and their vote is mired in layers of motivation which, as these layers are exposed, provide the entertaining and very funny story lines of Ms. Trieschmann’s quite brilliant script. Add inventive direction by Shelley Butler and impeccable performances by the ensemble cast and the Women’s Project Theatre scores a hit in this final offering of its 2013/2014 Season.

Jolene wants the award to go to Rick Duffy and her choice is politically motivated – Rick’s father Bob is Chairman of the City Council which approves funding for the Arts Council. Council member Dwayne Dean (Adam Lefevre) wants to “throw his hat in the ring” with his Vice President Portrait Series and recuse himself from the voting process. Newcomer to the Council Liz Chang (Jennifer Lim) wants the Council to extend the deadline to include Everett Whiteside (Ray Anthony Thomas) who – as an African American - would be the only candidate to authentically meet all the Award’s criteria. Liz’s motivation? She’s writing a book about Everett which hopefully will get her out of rural Kansas and into a better teaching position. Up for grabs are the votes of Jolene’s husband Ted (Daniel Pearce) and the Award’s matching-grant donor the recently-widowed Edie Kelch (Kristin Griffith).

As Jolene and Liz scramble to win over Ted and Edie, “The Most Deserving” builds to a fevered pitch until the last frenzied scene brings the audience to “rolling-over-on-the-floor” hysteria. Ms. Trieschmann’s play is one of the funniest to appear Off-Broadway in a very long time. And it is one of the best written plays in the recent past. Although it would be a spoiler to expose just how the final scene plays out and to disclose whether or not Everett get the Award, it is important to share some of the most humorous dialogue and scenes.

One of the funniest scenes in “The Most Deserving” involves Dwayne’s explanation of why he is “a minority.” During two three-ways with his wife – one with another man – Dwayne discovers he is sexually attracted to men and proudly admits to being “one-sixteenth homosexual male.” In another scene, the audience learns Ted is having an affair with Liz to “spite his wife.” And in another scene, his wife Jolene purchases lingerie to snare her husband’s vote from Liz’s clutches. One cannot make up this stuff which the playwright has successfully made up with amazing craft. Here is some dialogue. The whole enterprise borders on dining room farce without the dining room.

As an African American, Everett meets the qualifications of the Award; however, during his interview with the Arts Council, he inadvertently reveals his own deep racism:

EVERETT: The Masons. They got Uncle Sam in their pocket.
JOLENE: They do?
LIZ: I could really use some tea, Everett?
EVERETT: And you know whose [sic] on top of them? The greedy muthafXXX running the whole shebang?
JOLENE: No, who?
EVERETT: The Jews.

And Edie exposes her own racism during a conversation with Jolene:

EDIE: Of course, Junior's also having the worst luck at work. He's selling office supplies at Maxwell's, and do you know they only work on commission?
JOLENE: I didn't know that.
EDIE: This economy is terribly hard on white men.

Despite her feelings of discrimination against whites, Edie is the consummate feminist – a fact confirmed in the following and even more profoundly in the closing scene in the Art Gallery:

EDIE: I married him just to spite Mother. She wouldn't let me wear pants. It was 1963. All the girls wore pants. But no, she said, that's not our way.

“The Most Deserving” is an important and complex play which uses humor to deal with a variety of important issues and needs to be seen to be fully appreciated and understood. The play celebrates our wholeness in our brokenness, our health in our state of disability, and our strength in our apparent weakness.

THE MOST DESERVING

The cast of “The Most Deserving” includes Veanne Cox, Kristin Griffith, Adam LeFevre, Jennifer Lim, Daniel Pearce, and Ray Anthony Thomas.
The scenery for The Most Deserving is by David Barber, costumes by Donald Sanders, lighting by Traci Klainer Polimeni, and sound by Leon Rothenberg. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

“The Most Deserving” performs at New York City Center Stage II Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30pm with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets can be purchased online at www.NYCityCenter.org, by calling CityTix® at 212-581-1212, or at the New York City Center Box Office at 131 West 55th Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues). Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, April 08, 2014

“Don’t Wake Me: The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong” at 59E59 Theater C (Through Sunday April 20, 2014)

Jaye Griffiths (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
“Don’t Wake Me: The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong” at 59E59 Theater C (Through Sunday April 20, 2014)
By Rahila Gupta
Performed by Jaye Griffiths
Directed by Guy Slater
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Sans Cerebral Palsy (CD), sans Tourette’s Syndrome, sans his “twisted spine,” Nihal emerges from a block of stone hewn by a surrogate mother/sculptor as his birth mother - who was not with him at his birth and was not with him when he died – watches behind a wall of protective glass. Perhaps that glass wall serves as an extended metaphor for Nihal’s ballad of becoming a young adult – never quite completely breaking through walls of disability into full normalcy.

Rahila Gupta’s “Don’t Wake Me: The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong,” is the compelling story of the birth, life, and death of her severely disabled son Nihal. Currently spellbinding audiences at 59E59 Theaters as part of their “Brits Off Broadway” Season, Ms. Gupta’s heartfelt story is successful primarily because of its direct appeal to logos, ethos, and pathos. These powerful rhetorical devices bring Nihal’s story to life with persuasiveness, believability, and sensitivity.

Perhaps the most persuasive aspect of “Don’t Wake Me” is Ms. Gupta’s script. Jaye Griffiths delivers this powerful prose-poem as though Nihal had been her very own child and she had walked with him every step of his brave journey. This gifted actor knows Gupta’s words and embraces each syllable, each trope with profound perspicacity. There is not one bit of imagery or figurative language that escapes her notice and her tender care.

Despite the personal nature of Ms. Gupta’s story, it is not a unique narrative. There have been many children born with severe disabilities who, after heroic struggles, have died long before reaching adulthood. Because Ms. Gupta writes with such exactitude about Nihal’s story, audience members see her narrative as authentic and believable and are able to connect their stories of loss and disappointment with that of Nihal. The playwright does not sugarcoat her story: Ms. Griffiths show’s Nihal’s mother’s “righteous anger” even relating the time she struck her son in a moment of frustration. When the script refers to Nihal having “idiosyncratic charm” and “sweet ugliness” and his mother wishing he “were syntax,” it is clear she “never got over” the tragedy of Nihal’s complicated and compromised birth which exacerbated – perhaps caused – his extensive disabilities.

Jaye Griffiths recalls Ms. Gupta’s deeply moving script with rich emotional appeal and often with unexpected humor. But it is the pathos that centers this performance and gives it its weight and broad appeal. In each “scene” of “Don’t wake Me,” the actor makes Nihal’s presence real and honest. Nihal is with his mother throughout birth, the ride home from the hospital, living at home, going off to school, and enjoying a family vacation before scheduled surgery to repair his spine.

On the night of Nihal’s death, he awakened his mother twice with complaints she was not able to confirm: Nihal had no fever, he was breathing normally, so she went back to bed hoping not to be awakened a third time. Nihal did not call her that third time and his mother found him dead when she did awaken. Jaye Griffiths relates this event with riveting detail and brings the audience to a cathartic cleansing: this is drama at its best and not to be missed.

DON’T WAKE ME: THE BALLAD OF NIHAL ARMSTRONG

59E59 Theaters (Elysabeth Kleinhans, Artistic Director; Peter Tear, Executive Producer) presents Nihal Theatre Company in association with Louise Chantal Productions to Brits Off Broadway with the US premiere of DON’T WAKE ME: THE BALLAD OF NIHAL ARMSTRONG, written by Rahila Gupta, directed by Guy Slater, and starring Jaye Griffiths.

The production designer is Elroy Ashmore. Music is by Sophie Cotton. Trisha Henson is the AEA Stage Manager. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

DON’T WAKE ME: THE BALLAD OF NIHAL ARMSTRONG runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, April 20. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM & 7:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. The running time is 70 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Sunday, April 06, 2014

“I Remember Mama” at the Transport Group at the Gym at Judson (Through Sunday April 30, 2014)

“I Remember Mama” at the Transport Group at the Gym at Judson (Through Sunday April 30, 2014)
Written by John Van Druten
Directed by Jack Cummings III
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Memory is a tricky thing. Remembering events from one's past is fraught with complications. Like
dreaming, remembering puts the one remembering in complete control of the end product. When
Katrin (Barbara Barrie) decides to write about her family, she has to reconstruct the events from her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. And in that process of reconstruction, Katrin becomes the delightful unreliable narrator whose account of the events in the house on Steiner Street is at the heart of John Van Druten’s “I Remember Mama” currently playing at the Gym at Judson, home of the Transport Group’s 2014 Season.

Director Jack Cummings III and the creative team for “I Remember Mama” have designed the production with the human mind in mind. Ten dining room tables (each with eight chairs) – one for each actor – are spread across the stage nestled right up to the first row of chairs. A second tier of chairs completes the seating for the audience. Dimply lighted with only light cord-hand pendants, the stage resembles the “canyons of the mind” with their secretive and shadowy crevices of memory. And in these crevices, memories of Katrin’s life scramble across the stage. The inhabitants of these memories – parents, siblings, aunts, cousins, boarders – are all played by ten Broadway veterans. Age and sex matter not in memory so all ten play characters of all ages and both sexes.

Alice Cannon is perfect as “bossy” Aunt Jenny whom Katrin likes “the least.” Lynn Cohen doubles as the shifty boarder Mr. Hyde who leaves the family with a useless check to pay off his accumulated room and board and the feisty and irascible Uncle Chris. Rita Gardner shines in her role as Aunt Trina who discovers she is in love and wants to marry. Susan Lehman is splendid as the whining and complaining Aunt Sigrid. Heather MacRae plays both the ever-constant Nels and Aunt Trina’s love interest Mr. Thorkelsen, giving each character a distinct and memorable personality. Phyllis Somerville’s Dagmar is the picture-perfect “littlest sister” who has yet to see the dawn. Lousie Sorel shows the audience a sister willing to do anything to assure Nels can go to high school and the poet F. D. Moorhead who challenges Katrin to be a writer. And Dale Soules gives the audience a Papa (with pipe) who knows how to care for his family while deferring to Mama’s strength and resolve. Ms. Soules also portrays the physician who treats Dagmar and Cousin Arne.

Only Barbara Andres (Mama) and Barbara Barrie (Katrin) have unique roles to play and they develop their respective characters with impeccable craft. Ms. Andres’ Mama gathers her brood with unflinching care and knows how to trade her old world Norwegian recipes for Ms. Moorehead’s attentive reading of Katrin’s stories. Ms. Barrie owns the stage as the story’s narrator Katrin, moving into and out of time and discovering her talent as a writer by remembering Mama. Unfortunately, Dane Laffrey’s set and R. Lee Kennedy’s lighting do not do justice to the enormous craft of these ten actors. The decision to leave actors in the dark, moving them so far from audience members that they can be barely heard or seen without considerable craning of necks is questionable and puzzling. Somehow a concept with promise was executed with confusion.

Ultimately what matters in Mr. Van Druten’s memory play is the importance of family, tradition, identity, and purpose. The cast manages to convey these important themes with dignity and grace. Unfortunately, Mr. Cummings and his creative team do not treat the actors with equal dignity and grace. It is somewhat unconscionable to leave these splendid women unlighted, unseen, and unheard for long periods at a time. Those sitting in the “upper tier” fared better sight lines; however, seating location could not compensate for inadequate lighting and difficulty in hearing the important spoken word and the significant facial expressions and gestures of the cast.

Despite these shortcomings, it is worth the visit to see ten outstanding actors bring life to a venerable and timely drama.

I REMEMBER MAMA

Transport Group, the Drama Desk and OBIE award-winning theatre company, presents its revival of “I Remember Mama,” written by John Van Druten and directed by Jack Cummings III.

The cast features ten veteran actors playing all twenty-three roles and includes Barbara Andres, Barbara Barrie, Alice Cannon, Lynn Cohen, Rita Gardner, Susan Lehman, Heather MacRae, Louise Sorel, Da le Soules, and Phyllis Somerville.

The set design for I Remember Mama is by Dane Laffrey; costume design is by Kathryn Rohe; lighting design is by R. Lee Kennedy; and property design is by Alicia Bullen. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

“I Remember Mama” plays Tuesday - Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. at the Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street at West 4 Street. Prices start at $49.00 for general admission, and $65.00 for premium reserved seating. Season subscription packages are now available for $80.00, which includes premium reserved seating to both shows, unlimited ticket exchanges, access to purchase house seats, exclusive subscriber- only events, and a free glass of wine at each show. To purchase single tickets or subscriptions, visit www.transportgroup.org or phone 1-866-811-4111.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, March 31, 2014

“Bum Phillips All-American Opera” at the Ellen Stewart Theatre (Through Sunday March 30, 2014)

Gary Ramsey (Center) as Bum Phillips - Photo by Corey Torpie
“Bum Phillips All-American Opera” at the Ellen Stewart Theatre (Through Sunday March 30, 2014)
Composed by Peter Stopschinski
Libretto by Kirk Lynn
Conceived and Directed by Luke Leonard
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Bum Phillips (Gary Ramsey) is more anti-hero than hero in the opera being his name currently playing at the Ellen Stewart Theatre (La MaMa). The apparently iconic Houston Oilers football coach has to endure the same struggles heroes have always experienced (Ulysses, Antigone, and that lot) but the stakes in the strife seem lower and the return home less glorious. It is this anti-hero status that both weakens and potentially strengthens the impact of the opera.

Unless one knows who Bum Phillips is, one has great difficulty connecting to “Bum Philips All-American Opera.” Unfortunately, the librettist (Kirk Lynn) fails to provide enough exposition about Phillips or his “iconic” struggles. Even the reporters, serving as a Greek Chorus, fail to provide substantial (or even interesting) exposition or commentary about Mr. Phillips’ conflicts. Without a strong and identifiable protagonist with equally powerful conflicts, it is difficult for the libretto to drive engaging plots.

On the other hand, the gap in knowledge about Bum Phillips could provide the audience an “Everyman” with whom audience members could connect their own catalog of losses, victories, near-victories, faith crises, and unreasonable hopes. Had the characterization of Mr. Phillips been stronger, the audience member could easily have seen himself or herself in the vicissitudes of the coach’s life story.

Luke Leonard’s concept for an all-American opera is commendable and filled with potential. Some of that potential is met here in the design and the score composed by Peter Stopschinski. There are pleasant musical moments and the set and projections manage to adequately fill the large open space at the Ellen Stewart Theatre. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between the enormity of the space and the dimension of the man it embraces.

Ultimately, the scale of Marie Yokoyama’s set and Darwin Gilmore’s expansive projections does not match the “size” of the character of Bum Phillips: based solely on the libretto (which is all the audience has), he was a mediocre husband and father (“We took one family vacation); he leaned on his faith only in times of crisis or danger; his generous spirit, at least in the opera, seems limited to providing ice cream cones to his players; and he never reaches the one thing he wants – “peace on earth and a super bowl ring.”

Charlotte Griffin’s choreography and Luke Leonard’s direction score the end runs here, at times avoiding collisions with libretto and occasionally providing staging that brings authenticity to Earl Campbell’s (Anlami Shaw) truism: “it doesn't matter knock 'em back/knowing what's about to happen/doesn't stop what's about to happen.” The audience knows Bum Phillips will not reach the Super Bowl; however enough of Ms. Griffin’s and Mr. Leonard’s plays “knock back” obstacles to scoring to provide visual and cerebral delight.

BUM PHILLIPS ALL-AMERICAN OPERA

La MaMa, in association with Monk Parrots, proudly presents the World Premiere of Bum Phillips All-American Opera, a new contemporary opera conceptualized and directed by Luke Leonard, composed and conducted by Peter Stopschinski, with a libretto by Kirk Lynn.

The cast includes Gary Ramsey as Bum Phillips, Alison Bolshoi, Anlami Shaw, John Smiley, Jessie Dean, Julie-Anne Hamula, Briana Hunter, Victor Khodadad, Megan Lalley, Gates Leonard, Patrick Mulryan, Anna Noggle, Chelsea Burris, Sophie Delphis, Amanda Dupuy, Hunter Frederick, Mariah Ilardi-Lowy, Emmanuel Elpenord, John Harlacher, John Harmon, Morgan Hooper, Joey LePage and Faith Redding, along with members of American Modern Ensemble.

The creative team includes Luke Leonard and Marie Yokoyama (Production Design), Marie Yokoyama (Lighting Design), Alison Heryer (Costume Design), Trey Gilmore (Video Design), Trey Gilmore (Projection Design), Charlotte Griffin (Choreography), Joey LePage (Assistant Director), and Sheree V. Campbell (Production Stage Manager).

Performances at La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theatre, located at 66 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue & the Bowery in New York City, are Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:30pm. Tickets are $25.00 for adults and $20.00 for students/seniors and can be purchased online at http://LaMaMa.org/Ellen-Stewart-Theatre/Bum-Phillips-All-American-Opera, in person at the box office or by calling 212-475-7710. Previews La MaMa is accessible from the F train to 2nd Ave. or the #6 train to Bleecker St. Running time is 2 hours including an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, March 25, 2014

“Stockholm” at 59E59 Theater B (Through Saturday March 29, 2014)

Richard Saudek and Christina Bennett Lind (Photo by Russ Rowland)
“Stockholm” at 59E59 Theater B (Through Saturday March 29, 2014)
Written by Bryony Lavery
Directed by Nick Flint
Choreographed by Natalie Lomonte
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Codependent and cramped in a fantasy of intimacy, Kali (Christina Bennett Lind) and Todd (Richard Saudek) wage a dangerous battle of wits and words and take no hostages in the revival of Bryony Lavery’s “Stockholm” the One Year Lease Theatre Company production currently running at 59E59 Theater B.

There is little healthy fabric remaining in the marriage of Kali and Todd. Honesty has been absent since their first meeting at a restaurant opening when it took three rounds of falsehood to share their real names. In fact, there is little of truth in their relationship. The line between reality and fantasy, between truth and fiction, blurs scene by scene in Mr. Lavery’s engaging and challenging script. The fragility in their marriage and the deep co-dependence is belied in the recurring chorus of “Where are you? What are you doing?” Kali’s mistrust is so pervasive she wishes for “something so powerful it can look into someone’s brain and see what they are thinking…to check absolutely that someone means what he says….”

Kali knows she and Todd need help in order to escape the downward spiral of destructive behavior in their marriage and she knows the future will only hold even more horrific events. However, she and Todd are trapped in a co-dependent cycle of epic proportions. Their passive-aggressive exchanges only serve to intensify their abusive behavior and her level of mistrust escalates the level of disgust and rancor they feel for each other. After accusing her of what the couple has come to call retro-jealousy, Kali confronts Todd near the end of the play with, “Oh this isn’t retro-jealousy. This is contempt this is disgust this is about fundamental /unchangeable character you slept with her but it was just casual?”

Christina Bennett Lind and Richard Saudek completely understand the disturbed psyches of their characters and deliver exacting and chilling portraits of a couple in a myriad troubles, a veritable Pandora’s Box of psychic pain and emotional and physical abuse. These brave actors, under Natalie Lomonte’s movement direction, dodge sharp edges of set (and psyche) and portray Kali and Todd’s physical fights with a thrilling and often disturbing exactitude.

James Dardenne’s claustrophobic set successfully counterpoints the rough corners of the minds of this troubled couple and serves as a trope for the multilayered domain of the human psyche: although the superego is in short supply, the id and the ego loom large across Dardenne’s stark gray set illumined by the shafts of light (glimmers of hopefulness beyond the destructive behavior) provided by Mike Riggs’ splendid lighting.

The title of the play alludes not only to the destination of Kali and Todd’s upcoming vacation, it also alludes to a second definition of ‘Stockholm:’ “the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with, identify with, or sympathize with his or her captor.” This couple is held hostage to a repetitive cycle of abuse and scorn which will only result in a future of even more horrific torture not only of each other but perhaps of their offspring. The audience will need to ask theatre staff for seatbelts to survive the rockiness and turbulence in the final “dark and dingy cellar” scene.
In the end, however, the scope of Mr. Lavery’s shocking play transcends Kali and Todd’s renovated apartment: “Stockholm” is ultimately a trope for the pervasive abusiveness and destruction unleashed daily in homes, schools (bullying), institutions, and nation-states across the globe. One patron sitting behind me muttered several times during the performance, “depressing.” It would appear a better description would be “real.” Such reality can either be viewed as depressing or a lifeline depending on one’s point of view. See “Stockholm” and decide for yourself. It is worth the visit.

STOCKHOLM

“Stockholm” is produced by the ensemble of One Year Lease Theater Company (Ianthe Demos, Artistic Director; Nick Flint, Associate Artistic Director) and presented at 59E59 Theaters (Elysabeth Kleinhans, Artistic Director, Peter Tear, Executive Producer).

Nick Flint directs and Natalie Lomonte is movement director. “Stockholm” stars Christina Bennett Lind and Richard Saudek. The production features music by Estelle Bajou, set design by James Dardenne, lighting design by Mike Riggs, and costume design by Kenisha Kelly.

The NYC premiere of “Stockholm” by Bryony Lavery will run through Saturday March 29 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, NYC) and play according to the following schedule: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:15pm; Friday and Saturday at 8:15pm; Sunday at 3:15pm. There is an additional performance on Saturday March 29th at 2:15pm. Tickets are $35.00 and can be arranged through www.59e59.org or by calling 212.279.4200. For more information, please visit www.oneyearlease.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Sunday, March 23, 2014

“The Architecture of Becoming” at the Women’s Project Theatre at New York City Stage II (Through Sunday March 23, 2014)

Vanessa Kai and Danielle Skraastad (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
“The Architecture of Becoming” at the Women’s Project Theatre at New York City Stage II (Through Sunday March 23, 2014)
Written by Kara Lee Corthron, Sarah Gancher, Virginia Grise, Dipika Guha, and Lauren Yee
Directed by Elena Araoz, Lydia Fort, and Lauren Keating
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“…People are rivers, always ready to move from one state of being into another. It is not fair, to treat people as if they are finished beings. Everyone is always becoming and unbecoming.”
― Kathleen Winter, Annabel

Five writers, three directors, and six actors collaborate (conspire?) in five short scenes to tackle the sticky business of becoming in the Women’s Project Theatre’s current offering at City Center II. Indeed, the performance space itself is the sixth actor in the ensemble cast with its own history of the search for identity and meaning.

Serving as a trope for the discovery of self, purpose, identity, and (perhaps) utility, the specter of the Shriner’s resplendent Mecca Temple is woven into the story of a young Mexican playwright searching for an idea for a script. Siempre Norteada (Claudia Acosta) casually summons the “spirit of this place” (City Center) for inspiration only to be confronted with the Grande Dame (Danielle Skraastad) who reveals three stories of five individuals who have sought employment in, refuge in, and spiritual connection with the iconic performance space. In fact, the Grande Dame is the “city, the dreams that gather here, the call that draws the dreamers.” She offers “new life, transformation, and beyond.”

The Grande Dame’s stories are “at every moment/Starting /beginning /just now manifesting /becoming.” The three stories are “About dreamers, becomers/who heard/my call and left home/to become someone different, something better, some place far away/Stories from many eras/In many styles, many forms.” She also warns Siempre that she “will see The Cost [they paid for transformation].” Of the three stories, “The Art of Gaman” and “Poetics” are most engaging.

“The Art of Gaman” by Dipika Guha is a story of Shun and Tomomi, a Japanese couple new to New York City in the early 1940s. Jon Norman Schneider and Vanessa Kai give emotionally compelling performances of a couple dealing with the vicissitudes of marriage and the challenges of becoming who they are, including powerful homoerotic undertones and a soulful and chilling rehearsal of the atomic bombing of Japan.

“The Poetics” by Kara Lee Kothran is the compelling story of rappers and street performers trying to “become” in the late 1970s and is perhaps the most engaging of the three stories. Dude (Christopher Livingston) and Kid (Vanessa Kai) want nothing more than to perform at City Center but understand “This place is for the highbrow suckers.” Dude used to watch ballet at City Center before his dad “fell for Johnny Walker.” Dude exorcises the opera ghost from the space but her freedom does not lessen his angst. He and Kid know they are outsiders in a city losing its artistic soul.

A sometimes mysterious postcard (crimpled, folded, faded) connects the journeys of the five following their dream. The stories, including Siempre’s story, are rich in detail, imagery, and abundant in figurative language: a radio becomes a trope for discovery of one’s voice, a vertical bed a trope for revealing the inner workings of a marriage on the verge of failure, and a can of spray paint is a tantalizing trope for a young man’s war on insignificance.

Individuals and cities and buildings become and un-become. Their journeys inspire, offer hope, and warn of danger. They are, however, authentic stories of change and possibility. “The Architecture of Becoming” chronicles the complexities of the art of becoming and does so with charm and the right hint of challenge.

THE ARCHITECTURE OF BECOMING

Deadria Harrington, Jane Jung, Meropi Peponides, Aktina Stathaki, and Lanie Zipoy present the Women’s Project Theatre World Premiere of “The Architecture of Becoming” directed by Elena Araoz, Lydia Fort, and Lauren Keating. The cast includes Claudia Acosta, Vanessa Kai, Christopher Livingston, Jon Norman Schneider, and Danielle Skraastad. Scenery and lighting is by Justin Townsend, costumes by Kate Fry, and sound by Elisheba Ittoop. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

“The Architecture of Becoming” performs Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30pm with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm through March 23. Single tickets start at $60.00 can be purchased online at www.NYCityCenter.org, by calling CityTix® at 212-581-1212, or at the New York City Center Box Office at 131 West 55th Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues).
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Saturday, March 22, 2014

“No Exit” at The Pearl Theatre Company (Through Sunday March 30, 2014)

Sameerah Luqmann-Harris and Jolly Abraham
“No Exit” at The Pearl Theatre Company (Through Sunday March 30, 2014)
By Jean-Paul Sartre
Adapted from the French by Paul Bowles
Directed by Linda Ames Key
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Hope comes in the doing, not in the waiting.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

Cradeau, Inez, and Estelle – three war-weary Parisian compatriots – bear transgressions that serve as tropes for the horrors of the events surrounding World War II. Critics often have claimed that Sartre’s “No Exit” is not a war play; however, given the date of authorship and the autobiographical undercurrent of the play, such claims seem gratuitous at best. Though the sins of this hell-trapped trio pale against the backdrop of the atrocities of Hitler’s invasion of Europe, the Holocaust, and the Blitzkrieg, they land in hell – escorted by a Valet (Pete McElligott) - surprised to find no “thumbscrews, whips,” or other devices of torture. What they discover, however, is far worse.

The torture Cradeau (Bradford Cover), Inez (Jolly Abraham), and Estelle (Sameerah Luqmann-Harris) must endure for their eternal stint in the underworld is not imposed by their “captor;” their torture is self-inflicted as they rehearse their lives before death and inflicted on one another with unyielding ferocity. Each resident, after feigning ignorance of why he or she was in hell, eventually “comes clean” and confesses the transgressions that resulted in damnation. Under Linda Ames Key’s meticulous direction, the ensemble cast passionately portrays what it means to discover that “hell is other people.”

Doomed to an endless excursion “inside his head,” Cradeau rants about the difficulty he has putting up with himself after admitting to cheating on his wife “with a mullato girl” and mistreating his wife – this in addition to his admission of cowardice. The former journalist and writer is reduced to primal scream therapy to rid himself of his guilt as he is able to see the present actions of those who survive him. Bradford Cover skillfully peels away Cradeau’s layers of self-deception and cruelty and exposes the character’s tragic flaws.

Cradeau is soon joined in his hellish digs by two women: Inez the lesbian postal clerk who turned a woman against her husband (resulting in his death) and high-society Estelle who before her demise married an older man for his money, had an affair with a younger man, had a child with the younger man, and killed the child by throwing the child into a lake. Inez is intimately in touch with her cruel nature and Jolly Abraham handily portrays this character’s manipulative and conniving nature. Inez is comfortable seeing others suffer. Estelle eschews Inez’s romantic advances and prefers to attempt to seduce Cradeau. Sameerah Luqmann-Harris is the perfect seductive yet cautious Estelle who uses her mistakes in life as weapons in eternity.

“No Exit” successfully portrays the dilemma of life’s sometimes exit-less vicissitudes. Humanity manages to revisit hopelessness where fear itself is ineffective. Harry Feiner’s set encroaches on the action and on the audience with the help of Ann Wrightson’s eerie lighting and exposes the detritus strewn across the human landscape of suffering.

Existentialism raises rich questions in the minds of audiences. These are enduring questions essential to the health and survival of the human species and the planet they occupy. The question is not whether Cradeau will admit to his cowardice: the enduring question is whether cowardice is always a negative entity. The question is not whether Inez’s ability to manipulate the opinions of others is reprehensible: the enduring question is whether such manipulation has any positive outcome in negotiation. And the question is not whether Estelle was justified in having an affair: the enduring question is whether the nature of human relationships has been fully understood.

Ultimately, “No Exit” raises the troubling essential question whether humankind - eternally flying in the face of reason and decency – will continue to consign itself to a variety of hellish escapades with no exit possible. Sartre is a master at confronting his audience with the human realms of wickedness, shame, and fear and The Pearl has constructed a production which gives splendid reverence to the work of this existentialist master.

NO EXIT

The cast of “No Exit” includes Pearl Resident Acting Company (RAC) member Jolly Abraham as Inez and Pearl RAC member Branford Cover as Cradeau along with Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris as Estelle and Pete McGilligot as Valet.

The creative team of “No Exit” includes Harry Feiner (Sets), Devon Painter (Costumes), Ann Wrightson (Lighting), Jane Shaw (Sound), Kate Farrington (Dramaturg) and April Ann Kline (Production Stage Manager). Production photos are by Al Foote III.

“No Exit” runs through Sunday March 30, 2014 on the following schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday at 2:00 p.m.; Thursday–Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Performances are at The Pearl Theatre (555 West 42nd Street, NYC). Tickets are $65 ($39 seniors, $20 student rush, $20 Thursday rush). To purchase tickets. Visit www.pearltheatre.org or call 212.563.9261. Running time is 100 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, March 19, 2014

“Arlington” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 23, 2014)

“Arlington” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 23, 2014)
Book and Lyrics by Victor Lodato
Music by Polly Pen
Directed by Carolyn Cantor
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Channeling a more introspective and agonized June Cleaver, Sara Jane (Alexandra Silber) has an on-the-surface pleasant dialogue with all that is beyond theatre’s conventional fourth wall. In “Arlington,” currently playing at the Vineyard Theatre, that includes directly engaging the audience and the Pianist (Ben Moss) who appears behind an upstage scrim and not only accompanies Sara Jane’s non-stop singing but also succeeds in his own extrasensory skills channeling Sara Jane’s military husband Jerry. Although Sara Jane momentarily denies she is singing – “No, I’m just—I’m kidding! I’m kidding! I’m not singing” – she is immersed in a full blown operetta. And Victor Lodato’s book (libretto) and Polly Pen’s music shake the Vineyard and its inhabitants to a transformative and soul-purging existential crisis.

Sara Jane’s arias, recitatives and, occasionally her duets with the Pianist, tell the dramatic story of a young woman on the brink of a discovery about self identity, national and global identity, and the fragility of future. The delivery of these discoveries in song enables Sara Jane to distance herself from the message she delivers to the audience and enables the audience to shelter itself from the enormity of that message. In fact, Sara considers the members of the audience she addresses directly to be strangers: “Talking to strangers! I mean, who are you anyway? Good people, bad people. You never know.”

Addressing the audience is therapeutic for Sara Jane. Her sung-through psychoanalytic session strips away layers of consciousness disclosing her struggles with her mother, her struggles with success, her doubts about her husband’s commitment, and her angst over a variety of geopolitical shenanigans (including war). Sara has difficulty getting her mind around what she discovers including the images of war her husband has sent her as attachments to his email messages from battle.

A significant recitative in “Arlington” concerns these images of war. “Children running. Foreigners but, I mean they were kids. Some were bleeding, I don’t know, it was hard to… I couldn’t really get my head
around it. Some of the children were dragging other children. Trying to carry them. And someone was screaming.” Sara struggles with what is happening with the war and she is not sure it is what it is supposed to be.

Sara Jane does not like it when people change. She does not like it when her mother has plastic surgery. She does not like how her husband has changed in war (or has he?). She is not even completely comfortable with the change which her pregnancy has caused. “I want my baby!/ But what can I tell him? What kind of lullaby will do? What can I tell him? Innocent people die in a war? No—they’re killed! Why do people lie? Why do people lie? My husband killed those women/ My husband killed those children.”

Sara Jane’s virtual visit to the National Cemetery at Arlington, like her introspective journey, results in a rediscovery of self, a reaffirmation of her strength as a woman and a future mother, and her ability to navigate an unfamiliar world. She and the audience members are strangers in a strange land (literally and figuratively). Under Carolyn Cantor’s brooding and introspective direction Ms. Silber’s and Mr. Moss’ dangerous liaisons with veracity call into question all preconceived notions of love, relationships, and conflict. This brooding nature is matched perfectly by Dane Laffrey’s set, Tyler Micoleau’s lighting, and the sound design by Dan Moses Schreier.

“I mean how do you ever really know/ Another person? Really know them. Some afternoons I just sit here. I watch the light move across the wall. It moves from one side of the room to the other. You really don’t even see it move. It sort of creeps, like a clock. It moves when you turn away. And then all of a sudden it’s late. It’s dark. (Women and children. Little black bugs. All burned.) When my brother died,
My mother switched from drinking Whites to drinking reds.”

The Pianist dies not accompany the singer. The piano is as much a character as the one who plays it. At one point, Sara plays the piano in her living room and has a dialogue with the offstage piano and player. The dialogue results in terrifying realizations. “But what you have to realize is/ Innocent people/ Always die/ In a war.” “Men can’t afford to be/ Gentle, especially/ A soldier./ I mean, people are a mystery.”

“Arlington” affirms the mysteries of all things human and challenges the audience to determine how it will “switch things up” when confronted with all those things that creep across our lives and have the potential to leave us in outer darkness.

ARLINGTON

The cast of “Arlington” includes Alexandra Silber and Ben Moss.

“Arlington” will feature set design by Dane Laffrey, costume design by Jess Goldstein, lighting design by Tyler Micoleau, and sound design by Dan Moses Schreier. Production photos are by Carolyn Rosegg.

“Arlington” will perform Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $75.00 and can be purchased by calling The Vineyard box office at 212 353 0303, online at www.vineyardtheatre.org or during box office hours at the theatre (108 E. 15 St.) Running time is one hour with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, March 04, 2014

“Ode to Joy” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 30, 2014)

“Ode to Joy” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 30, 2014)
Written and Directed by Craig Lucas
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Yes, all who can call at least one soul/ Theirs upon this earth; /But any who cannot must creep tearfully/ Away from our circle.” - From “Ode to Joy” by Friedrich von Schiller, 1785

Soteriology, trying to figure out what it means to be a savior, is a difficult business and for the savior it is often a messy business. Saving others can result in considerable personal sacrifice and somehow subsuming the “sins” of others, even the sins of the whole world, can even result in death. For some reason, some humans just do not want to be saved from themselves and their pain. Fortunately, others do.

At the beginning of Craig Lucas’ “Ode to Joy,” protagonist Adele (Kathryn Erbe) sets the stage for all that follows, asserting that “This is the story of how the pain goes away. Or: How I got out of the way of me and everyone else.” Adele has the uncanny ability to get others to follow her. After meeting Bill (Arliss Howard) in the bar owned by his deceased wife and her brother (Bill lives upstairs), Adele captivates Bill as she earlier on captivates Mala (Roxanna Hope) whose relationship with Adele is chronicled in a series of flashbacks. There is much pain in these relationships and much that leads to redemption.

Lucas is skilled at foreshadowing. Early on, for example, the audience learns that Adele has “all kinds [of] powers.” And Bill lets the audience know that forgiveness will play a pivotal role in “Ode to Joy:” “It’s okay, forgiveness is the key to everything.” Under Lucas’ inventive and careful direction, the ensemble cast delivers powerful performances which delve into the depths of human despair and humanity’s attempts to numb despair’s concomitant searing pain. Mr. Lucas tackles salvation head on and scores.

In the New Testament, the word used for ‘to save’, the root for ‘salvation,’ is the koine (common) Greek word ‘sodzo.’ It is an interesting Greek word which the early church, and apparently Jesus, used to indicate that time-space continuum in which believers dwell after “accepting Jesus into their lives.” Believers were healed, delivered, and protected even from the inevitability of death. What many – perhaps most – Christians do not know is that the early church borrowed this word from its early military use to describe the loud, harsh noises horses made as they swam across dangerous waters – rivers, deep rivers and even seas. As long as the soldiers could hear the snorting, gasping, and snarling of the horses they knew that both they and the horses were ‘safe;’ they were ‘saved from drowning; they had, in essence, achieved ‘salvation’ on the distant shore.

This ‘salvation’ for the early church was achieved on the cross on Golgotha, the place of the skull. According to tradition, two ‘criminals’ were crucified with Jesus, one on his right, the other on his left. Here is how their conversation went: “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In the final salvific scene of “Ode to Joy,” Adele the ‘Noble One’ (as her name suggests) is working on her most recent painting which is called “Golgotha.” And in her apartment, her place of the skull, are two ‘criminals.” The one on her right is Bill, her ‘resolute protector’ (as his name suggests) and one on her left is Mara, her ‘necklace,’ her perhaps crown of thorns. Adele previously heard from Bill what Jesus “may actually have said” including, “People can kill you but they cannot harm your soul” and “He said he came to bring trouble, not peace.” Now, however, Adele is the savior and she and her cohort of executionees deliver their own words of salvation from their collective brokenness.

After accepting Bill’s proposal of marriage (for the third time), Adele delivers her ode to joy, proclaiming, “I can live with it, I can live with the pain. True joy is acceptance.” And this: “May you find joy. That’s all I’ve got. Love yourself first. Firmly secure your own mask before helping others. Try to forgive.” From her left, Mala shares her words of safety, “Eat well!” And that is the new New Testament, the new gospel, the new mantra of salvation. Soren Kierkegaard (about whom the audience hears much in Mr. Lucas’ play) would agree. In his journals, this great theologian wrote, "What the age needs is not a genius—it has had geniuses enough, but a martyr, who in order to teach men to obey would himself be obedient unto death. What the age needs is awakening.”

In “Ode to Joy,” Craig Lucas gives the audience a martyr for modern times. Adele has had the weight of the world on her shoulders; she has known suffering and pain as well as the cycle of confession, forgiveness, and redemption. And she is able to offer her own ode to joy.

ODE TO JOY

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s Artistic Director David Van Asselt and Managing Director Brian Long have announced that the world premiere of “Ode to Joy,” written and directed by Craig Lucas. The cast features Kathryn Erbe, Roxanna Hope and Arliss Howard. “Ode to Joy” is scheduled to run through Sunday, March 30.

The set design for “Ode to Joy” is by Andrew Boyce; costume design is by Catherine Zuber; lighting design is by Paul Whitaker; sound design is by Daniel Kluger. The production manager is Eugenia Furneaux; the production stage manager is Michael Denis. Production photos are by Sandra Coudert.

“Ode to Joy” plays Tuesday through Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Individual tickets, which are $66.00, may be purchased at www.rattlestick.org or by calling OvationTix at 866-811-4111. Student tickets are $21.00; and under-30 tickets are $26.00. The Cherry Lane Theatre is located at 38 Commerce Street, west of Seventh Avenue South. For more information, visit http://www.rattlestick.org
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, February 27, 2014

“My Mother Has 4 Noses” at The Duke (Through Sunday May 4, 2014)

Jonatha Brooke (Photo by Sandrine Lee)
“My Mother Has 4 Noses” at The Duke (Through Sunday May 4, 2014)
Written and Performed by Jonatha Brooke
Directed by Jeremy B. Cohen
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Despite the early protestation of playwright Jonatha Brooke, the aft end of the title of her “My Mother Has 4 Noses” is a trope; indeed, ‘4 noses’ is a well-developed and quite brilliant extended metaphor for not only the four seasons of the life of Brooke’s mother Darren Stone (“Stoney”) Nelson; the short phrase is also a metaphor for Stoney’s self-constructed surreal prosthetic devices designed and worn throughout the clown-poet’s life to cover and disguise the deep scars and deformity resulting from her sense of orphancy, her deep-seated depression, her deeply-entrenched bereavement, and the deep scars left by her often irrational faith in the tenets of Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science “magical thinking” – magical thinking which ultimately failed to transform her life into an abundant life and, indeed, was a contributing factor to her death.

Touted as a tribute to the indefatigable Ms. Nelson, “My Mother Has 4 Noses” is more accurately a tribute to the important victory of reason over magical thinking. It was faith-based magical thinking that motivated Stoney Nelson to ignore the unmistakable early signs of cancer. That untreated aggressive cancer and her decline into dementia ended Ms. Nelson’s otherwise energetic, gracious, and gloriously grandiose life. How dare faith do that to a wonderful human being? Fortunately, Stoney’s daughter Jonatha was by her side chronicling the upside and the downside, the joy and the sorrow of Ms. Nelson’s final journey and celebrating Stoney’s “complete presence in the moment” that characterized the best of those times with Jonatha Brooke.

The musical drama is also a fitting tribute to Jonatha Brooke who, despite her mother’s undaunted faith, insisted on the importance of rational (as opposed to delusional) thinking. It was Ms. Brooke’s fortunate departure from the “faith-speak” (“mental malpractice’) of Christian Science, that permitted her to seek medical help for her mother’s cancer, and later, her dementia. Indeed, “My Mother Has 4 Noses” is more about Ms. Brooke than about her mother. It is clear that Ms. Brooke has chosen to return to the unresolved “stages” of bereavement and her performance aptly gives her the opportunity to detach herself from guilt and grief and celebrate that death has come for her mother and her mother would celebrate her daughter’s forward movement into complete and unconditional acceptance. Only then will this charming musical drama become a tribute to the irrepressible Darren Stone Nelson.

Kudos to Ben Butler and Anja Wood whose guitar and cello (respectively) underscore Ms. Brooke’s persuasive narration and her ten musical numbers which punctuate her story-telling and her journey to knowing who, on the other side of the wall, truly loves her and always will.

MY MOTHER HAS 4 NOSES

Presented by Patrick Rains, My Mother Has 4 Noses has scenic design by Caite Hevner-Kemp, lighting design by ML Geiger, and sound design by Paul Mitchell. Ben Butler is the Musical Director. Anne Lowrie is the Production Stage Manager.

“My Mother Has 4 Noses” runs through Sunday, May 4th at The Duke on 42nd Street, “a New 42nd Street® project” (located at 229 W 42nd Street, between 7th & 8th Avenues) on the following schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $70.00. A $90.00 Premium Package is available which includes prime seating and a pre-signed CD. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.dukeon42.org/Home.aspx. Running time is 90 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Sunday, February 23, 2014

“Bitten” at Quinn's Bar (Through Saturday February 22, 2014)

Lucy McMichael as Stella O'Conner
“Bitten” at Quinn's Bar (Through Saturday February 22, 2014)
Written by Penny Jackson
Directed by Joan Kane
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“With thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsicate/Of life at once untie: poor venomous fool/Be angry, and dispatch.” —Cleopatra, Act V, scene II

Cleopatra knew the allure of the asp, the Egyptian cobra. Its venom, its bite, was – in her opinion – a rather dignified and relatively humane way to administer capital punishment offering “sleepiness and heaviness without spasms of pain.” That same bite, tradition tells us, brought that same surcease to Cleopatra VII Philopater, the last active pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.

While waiting for Pronto Car Service to whisk Stella O’Conner (Lucy McMichael) and her gynecologist grandson Brian (Nick Palladino) off to the Sunset long-term care facility in Tenafly, New Jersey, the patrons of Quinn’s bar in Richmond Hill, Queens (seen and unseen) attempt to confront their panoply of knotty and nagging life challenges. These “knots intrinsicate” are cleverly exposed throughout Penny Jackson’s “Bitten,” the site-specific play currently running at Quinn’s Bar and Grill on 44th Street in Manhattan. Grandma Stella and her persistent suitor Professor Alexi Negretsky (J. Dolan Byrnes) challenge her grandson and the bar’s caregiver and barkeep Sean Maquire (Logan McCoy) to face their ghosts past and present by sharing a story about a herpetologist whose curiosity about a cobra in a bag became not only his personal best challenge but his untimely demise.

In confronting her own brokenness, Stella uses the story of the cobra – the play’s important and predominate extended metaphor – to enable Sean to care for his own needs as well as he does for his “family” at Quinn’s; to enable her grandson Brian to accept his status as a gay man and take a chance on love (perhaps with Sean?); to enable Alexi to go with his son to Maine to live out his days; and to enable herself to admit that there might be an alternative to spending time inebriated on the floor of Quinn’s whether what alternative is Sunset Home in Tenafly or a second crack at making Queens work.

The ensemble cast treats Ms. Jackson’s complex and interesting characters well. At times, especially in pre-performance, they seem a bit reserved. Logan McCoy’s Sean is tender and lovable and layers his performance with skill. His admitted difficulty with women blossoms into his acceptance of his true status. J. Dolan Byrnes’ Alexi is perfectly rough around the edges and delivers his one hundred eleventh proposal to his Stoli Stella with charm. Nick Palladino’s Brian is appropriately annoying as his fear of self projects onto his grandmother and his concern for her safety. Lucy McMichael brings Stella to a level of feistiness and fragility but could push just a bit further to make her character more gritty and genuine. And Teddy Lytle’s voice and guitar lend authenticity to Quinn’s persona. And that unseen character octogenarian Limerick Louise is brought to life by Penny Jackson’s ability to create and develop authentic characters.

Penny Jackson’s multi-layered script suffers a bit from the unresolved tension between “site-specific” and “fourth wall” agendas that need resolution in this fine production before it moves on. One longs for patrons sitting around tables laden with peanuts and pitchers of Irish ale, lights dimmed, the faint sound of a flat screen television, even – perhaps – the occasional intrusion of a cell phone taking center “stage” with Ms. Jackson’s cast of endearing characters trying with all their might to untie some of the intricate knots, the intricate complexities of life. But for now, under Joan Kane’s generous and charitable direction, “Bitten” is just fine and goes a long way to help unravel those complexities.

BITTEN

“Bitten” features Lucy McMichael, Logan McCoy, Nick Palladino and J. Dolan Byrnes with music performed by Teddy Lytle. Choreography is by Shannon Stowe and sound design is by Ian Wehrle.

Ego Actus presents a site-specific, Equity Showcase Code, workshop production of “Bitten,” a new play by Penny Jackson, directed by Joan Kane on the second floor of Quinn's Bar and Grill, 353 West 44th St in New York City. “Bitten” plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm through Saturday February 22nd. All tickets are $10 cash at the door. For reservations or press inquiries please call (646) 246-4131. Running time is one hour with no intermission.

For more information about Ego Actus, please visit http://www.egoactus.com/index.html. To learn more about playwright Penny Jackson, please visit http://pennybrandtjackson.com/. To learn more about Joan Kane, please visit http://www.EgoActus.wix.com/Joan-Marie-Kane. Running time is one hour with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, February 21, 2014

“Love and Information” at New York Theatre Workshop at the Minetta Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 23, 2014)

Photo by Joan Marcus
“Love and Information” at New York Theatre Workshop at the Minetta Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 23, 2014)
Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by James Macdonald
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” I Corinthians 13:8 (NIV)

Sans a singular protagonist, sans a singular antagonist, sans clear conflicts, therefore sans plot, Caryl Churchill’s “Love and Information” depends on a singular trope to provide focus and interest in her new play. This is a risky business – defying the conventions of theatre - but a business which works on many levels to provide an hour and fifty minutes of slide-show scenes of information gone haywire and love’s labor a bit lost. That trope is exemplified in an affirmation made by one of the one hundred characters that comprise Churchill’s new New York Theatre Workshop play currently running at the Minetta Lane Theatre: “she’s just information.” Humankind, in other words, IS information.

To the playwright’s dramatic cauldron, add the “eye” of BuzzFeed, the “toe” of Digg, the “tail” of YouTube, and the “hair” of GMA’s Play-of-the-Day and Pop-News, stir briskly and savor the taste of the steroid laden brew called “Love and Information” which streaks across the visual field and plants itself firmly in the audience member’s psyche. The show’s kaleidoscopic vignettes seem (often at the same time) funny, odd, weird, confusing, intrusive, and precise and somehow manage to provide a plethora of information about the human condition – some useful, some useless.

Like all things gone viral, the feeling, the emotion, the meaning inherent in this information comes from the viewer, the one interloping, the spy, the peeping Tom, and the voyeur in all of us. As one character bemoans, in order to improve the mind and memory, one must “somehow acquire and retain stacks of information.” In the midst of this information overload, love sometimes intervenes: “It doesn’t hurt to know it. Information and also love.” Even what used to be “hard news” is now more information than news. Newscasters and political commentators now tell audiences what they need to know and what they need to feel about the information disseminated: they have become or in-loco voyeurs. They have taken away our right to sneak a peek. We laugh when they laugh, cry when they suggest we cry – they emote for us so we are free to “be informed.”

And as the audience acquires and retains the stacks of information provided in “Love and Information,” one occasionally hears above the din of information the faint mention of love. One character proclaims, “I really loved you then” but neither partner could agree on when the “then” was. Another character strives to get her partner to remember who she is despite her claims of love. “Do you love me?” asks one character as he feeds trivia questions to his partner. Her response, “Don’t do that.” But love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13:7, NIV). Before responding with “Sea anemone” to his question “By what name do we usually refer to Oceanus Australensis Picardia?” she admits “I do yes I do.”

Caryl Churchill takes the risk to bombard her audience with a fusillade of scenes filled to overflowing with visual and sound bytes that require the audience’s undivided attention. This risk pays off in a culture where people cannot exist without cell phones. Miriam Buether’s set design and Christopher Shutt’s sound design artfully mimic the screens we cannot stop watching. If there is something to “Like on Facebook,” to “Tweet on Twitter,” to “Post on Instagram,” to “Pin to Pinterest we will watch it sine intermissio.

One downside to the production is its location. Because of the overwhelming success of “What’s It All About,” the New York Theatre Workshop needed to mount “Love and Information” at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Although this venue has the ability to provide all the technical needs of Ms. Churchill’s play, it has sight lines inadequate to fully enjoy the performance. Unless one is seated dead center, one is likely to miss a considerable amount of what is on stage; indeed, if seated far audience left or right, one will spend the one hundred ten minutes craning ones’ neck trying to catch a glimpse of what is playing out on the floor of the playing area.

That said, “Love and Information,” under the careful eye of director James Macdonald, is a delectable foray into the uber-information age. The ensemble cast handily portrays the one hundred characters. But despite the excellent performances and the diverse costumes designed by Gabriel Berry and Andrea Hood, the changeless persona of the actors and the re-iteration of wine glasses and chairs in the vignettes make it somewhat difficult to appreciate fully the effort of the outstanding cast. “Love and Information” is worth the visit.

LOVE AND INFORMATION

The cast of the New York Theatre Workshop production of “Love and Information” includes Phillip James Brannon, Randy Danson, Susannah Flood, Noah Galvin, Jennifer Ikeda, Karen Kandel, Irene Sofia Lucio, Nate Miller, Kellie Overbey, Adante Power, John Procaccino, Lucas Caleb Rooney, Maria Tucci, James Waterston, and Zoë Winters.

The scenic design for “Love and Information” is by Miriam Buether; costume design is by Gabriel Berry and Andrea Hood; lighting design is by Peter Mumford, sound design is by Christopher Shutt. Production photos are by Joan Marcus.

The New York Theatre Workshop production of “Love and Information” plays at the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane through March 23, 2014. The regular performance schedule is Tuesday and Wednesday at 7pm; Thursday and Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 3pm and 8pm; Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. There will be a special student matinee on March 19, 2014. Orchestra tickets are $85 and mezzanine tickets $30 for performances February 4-19 and $65 after. Tickets may be purchased online at nytw.org, or by phoning Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787. For exact dates and times of performances, visit nytw.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, February 19, 2014

“Intimacy” at the New Group at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Saturday March 8, 2014)

Austin Cauldwell, Ella Dershowitz, and Daniel Gerroll (Photo by Monique Carboni)
“Intimacy” at the New Group at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Saturday March 8, 2014)
Written by Thomas Bradshaw
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“My mother just walked out the door one morning, and never came home. She once said to me: “Follow your heart, Matthew. Follow your heart, and you will always be happy.” I’m going to follow my heart. This way I’ll always know that she’s proud of me.” - From Matthew’s Prologue

Just as Matthew’s (Austin Caldwell) “high end” video camera pans into a scene in his “A Frot in the Neighborhood” porn film” then fades out and goes into and out of focus, intimacy itself engages the audience then retreats in importance and comes into pedagogic focus then blurs into the realm of inconsequence in Thomas Bradshaw’s “Intimacy” currently running at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row as part of the New Group’s current season.

Despite Matthew’s heartfelt and transparent Prologue, “Intimacy’s” first act seems to deliberately lack focus and wobbles about as actors, despite lacking connection and credibility, provide a respectable amount of exposition in anticipation of the second act. Once characters begin to “follow their hearts,” the second act of Mr. Bradshaw’s important play evidences a more coherent and cohesive plot structure. Each character’s complex and well-developed conflict matrix drives an interesting and challenging story line brings into question society’s double standard response to its prurient underbelly and exposes the racism inherent in this wealthy suburb. From the script:

SARAH (To Matthew): See! But that’s your only race awareness. You’re only aware of it when you feel threatened. I think most white people mean well, but that they don’t realize the small things that they do.

JAMES (To Fred): The problem is that they lack proper supervision. In Mexico, they get to sit around
all day, and sing and play the banjo, but here they have to really work. They need someone to keep them focused, but you’re never around. I need you to come to my house and supervise them every day. Can you do that?

Thomas Bradshaw chooses what might be the most unlikely trope for “Intimacy;” namely the extended metaphor intimacy is frottage. This metaphor allows Mr. Bradshaw to explore the intricacies of the phenomenon of intimacy while keeping the audience constantly wondering, “What exactly is going on here?” Those who give this playwright the space he needs are rewarded with a profound understanding of intimacy in human relationships and an equally sophisticated treatment of human creativity and potential.

Perhaps “Intimacy’s” most authentic scene occurs in the second act during the filming of “A Frot in the Neighborhood.” When asked if he would star in Matthew’s porn movie, Fred (David Anzuelo) agrees to participate only if he can film a scene with the eighteen year old filmmaker. Though happily married to the woman he used to pimp when she was a prostitute (one cannot make this up), Fred enjoys pleasuring himself while surfing a variety of homoerotic porn sites on the internet. After his initial doubt, Matthew agrees to do the scene and, in fact, wants to be closer to Fred after filming the scene. After completing the project, Matthew affirms (from the script):

MATTHEW: When we began this artistic endeavor I thought it was about frottage. But after being with all of you, and witnessing the emotional and transformative breakthroughs that we've gone through together, I now see what my film is really about. It's about Intimacy. It's all about intimacy.

Despite the weak first act, “Intimacy” manages to raise important questions about the meaning of authentic closeness and tenderness. Whether or not this important quest could be achieved without the exposure of the male and female sexual anatomy (real and plastic) is moot. This is the choice the playwright made. And that choice exposes the deep desire humans have to be close, to connect, to be honest. Sex has never been the only way to achieve honesty. “Intimacy” is perhaps a testament to the affirmation that sex is the least successful way to express human warmth and tenderness. The audience needs to decide for itself: Thomas Bradshaw, Scott Elliott and their dedicated and talented ensemble cast have raised the questions and provided a forum for sharing answers. “Intimacy” is well worth the time and effort it demands.

INTIMACY

“Intimacy” features David Anzuelo, Austin Cauldwell, Ella Dershowitz, Laura Esterman, Daniel Gerroll, Déa Julien, and Keith Randolph Smith.

This production includes Set Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Scott Elliott, Lighting Design by Russell H. Champa, Sound Design by Shane Rettig and Video Design by Olivia Sebesky. Associate Costume Designer is Kristine Koury. Production photos are by Monique Carboni.

“Intimacy” plays through Saturday March 8, 2014 as follows: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at 7:00pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:00pm; with matinees on Saturday at 2:00pm. For each performance, a strictly limited number of $25 tickets will be available in the first two rows. Regular tickets are 65.00. Premium tickets are $85.00. Tickets may be arranged through www.telecharge.com or (212) 239-6200, or at the Theatre Row Box Office (12–8 PM daily). For more, please visit www.thenewgroup.org. Running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, February 14, 2014

“The Correspondent” at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday March 16, 2014)

Heather Alicia Simms and Jordan Geiger (Photo by Joan Marcus)
“The Correspondent” at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday March 16, 2014)
Written by Ken Urban
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“[Charlotte’s] come back to me. There’s nothing more right.” – Philip Graves to Mirabel in Scene Nine

Bereavement makes for a strange bedfellow. It joins battle with the bereaved and insists on skirmishes with denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and (ultimately) acceptance of the death of the loved one. These incursions into the life of the bereaved are not necessarily ad seriatim events: the skirmishes can coalesce into an anxiety-ridden Armageddon. It is at this point of lamentation the audience encounters Philip Graves (Thomas Jay Ryan) whose wife Charlotte died recently in an accident. Philip’s uncommon and a bit uncanny response to that loss is the engaging subject of Ken Urban’s “The Correspondent” currently running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

In classic denial style, Philip refuses to believe Charlotte’s death is permanent and brokers with a service to send a correspondent to heaven to deliver a message to his deceased wife. The service provides an employee who expects to die in the near future and promises to deliver Phil’s letter to Charlotte. That employee is Mirabel (Heather Alicia Simms) whose Roxbury tough exterior belies a thirty-something woman searching for something new in her life. After hearing Philip’s story, con artist Mirabel begins to morph into his strongest advocate after an off-stage voice and a series of handwritten letters from the deceased introduces an androgynous Young Man (Jordan Geiger) who brazenly claims to be Phil’s deceased wife Charlotte. Philip is convinced the Young Man is Charlotte redivivus, falls in love with him, and shuts Mirabel out completely. From the script:

MIRABEL: Who is he?
Pause.
PHILIP: He has her memories.
MIRABEL: I know you’re hurting. But that boy is not your wife. How can he be?
PHILIP: I don’t understand what’s happening. But it’s her.

Gathering information culled from obituaries, newspaper articles about Charlotte’s death, and conversations at Mass General where Charlotte volunteered, both Mirabel and the Young Man jockey for a position of importance in the interstices of Philip’s profound grief. Even when the Young Man’s memory misfires during a dinner conversation, Philip refuses to enter the space of disbelief. From the script:

PHILIP: How could you not remember that summer we went up the coast? That weekend on the beach / we stayed right there–
YOUNG MAN: Ridiculous. You’re changing the subject. Any excuse not to talk, not to hear–
PHILIP: You used to say it was one of our happiest times–
YOUNG MAN: What replaces desire is blame. The night we fought, you struck me because I forced you to see, finally, your part in this. I should’ve fought harder.

What results is a kaleidoscope of gender-bending, death-defying, convention-challenging three-ring performances with playwright Ken Urban and director Stephen Beckett holding forth as ringmasters and illusionists par excellence. Ken Urban is a master illusionist: he has the uncanny ability to challenge an audience’s perception of – indeed its understanding of – reality. Aided and abetted by Mr. Brackett, Mr. Urban’s script takes the audience on a tour-de-force mind-bending series of twists and turns that keep the audience engaged long after leaving the theatre.

The depth and intricacy of Andrew Boyce’s set dimly lighted by Eric Southern successfully simulates the gyri and sulci of the brain and the recesses of both the human mind and the jagged corners of elusive memory and provides the prototypical arena for Ken Urban’s beautifully executed resurrection mind games and morally ambiguous behaviors of his complex characters.

The importance of the motivation and the authenticity of the play’s characters are inherent in the cast’s scintillating performances. Heather Alicia Simms’ Mirabel (“of wondrous beauty”) is a disenfranchised woman determined to change her future, willing to do whatever it takes to hold Philip to his pledge of love including haunting him “for the rest of his life.” Jordan Geiger’s Young Man is searching for love and meaning in the last moments of his life and risks opening himself to a relationship with a grieving straight man to discover surcease from loneliness. Mr. Geiger moves about spirit like and glides across Philip’s floors with the grace and charm of the bereaved’s wife Charlotte. Finally, Thomas Jay Ryan’s Philip Graves (what an apt surname!)broods about his home convinced he can contact his dead wife. Philip, much like “Chicago’s” Mister Cellophane, is a character Mirabel and the Young Man can “look right through” and “walk right by” never knowing he is there except as a vehicle for their own redemption and release.

Add to all of this the audience member’s own memories of love, conflict, disillusionment, loss, grieving, and culpability and Mr. Urban’s extraordinary script becomes a veritable Pandora’s Box of human angst counterpointed by a treasure chest brimming with human hope and opportunity. “The Correspondent” needs to be on the theatre-goers’ list of must see performances.

THE CORRESPONDENT

The cast of “The Correspondent” is Jordan Geiger, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Heather Alicia Simms.

The set design for “The Correspondent” is by Andrew Boyce; costume design is by Jessica Pabst; lighting design is by Eric Southern; sound design is by Daniel Kluger. The production manager is Eugenia Furneaux; the production stage manager is John Crotty. Production photos are by Joan Marcus.

“The Correspondent” plays Monday and Wednesday at 7pm, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, west of Seventh Avenue South, between West 11 and Perry Streets. Tickets may be purchased at www.rattlestick.org or by phoning OvationTix at 866.811.4111. Individual tickets are $55; student tickets are $10; under-30 tickets are $15. For more information about “The Correspondent” and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, visit www.rattlestick.org. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, February 14, 2014

“Philosophy for Gangsters” at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row (Through March 1, 2014)

The Cast of "Philosophy for Gangsters" (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
“Philosophy for Gangsters” at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row (Through March 1, 2014)
Written and Directed by Liz Peak and Barry Peak
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Buried somewhere beneath tired (and tiring) humor – much of it in poor taste – lies a story Liz Peak and Barry Peak intended to be engaging as well as humorous. Unfortunately their well-intentioned plan falls mostly flat in the world premiere of their “Philosophy for Gangsters” currently running through March 1, 2014 at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row in Manhattan.

This story involves Mafia heir Callie Rizzoli’s (Courtney Romano) attempt to deconstruct the meaning of mob and redefine the meaning of crime in the twenty-first century. She enlists the help of kidnapped NJCU Professor of Philosophy Willie May (Tom White) who (obviously) becomes a love interest for her and a liability for the current Don of the Family Rizzoli (Bruno Iannone).

Despite heroic efforts on the part of the talented cast, the thin plot unravels and suffers from a plethora of less-than-interesting characters burdened with equally implausible and, quite frankly, boring problems. The Don wants to see the day when criminals won’t have to go to jail “just because they are guilty.” Callie affirms that she and other miscreants “have the right to do wrong.” Willie May is conscripted to write the definitive “Guerilla Manifesto.” And, to save her new beau Willie, Callie fakes his death in an explosion, Luther (Tally Sessions) removes all of Willie’s teeth to substantiate the professor’s demise, and Callie and Willie head off in the sunset to inhabit you-know-whose now vacant cave in Afghanistan. And so it goes.

Repetition, redundancy, blackouts too many to count, an overly long first act, and the dogged attempt to provide exposition through unnecessary three-minute scenes doom this dramatic effort to less than success.

PHILOSOPHY FOR GANGSTERS

The cast for Philosophy for Gangsters includes Michael Brusasco, Kyle Robert Carter, David Demato, Shabazz Green, Bruno Iannone, Leajato Amara Robinson, Courtney Romano, Tally Sessions, Deborah Tranelli and Tom White.

The creative team is comprised of Julia Noulin-Mérat (scenic design), Sarah Cogan (costume design), Carl Wiemann (lighting design), M. Florian Staab (sound design) and Lauren Genutis (properties). Jessica Pollack is Production Stage Manager.

Tickets are $61.25 and may be purchased online through Telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200. They may also be obtained in person at the Theatre Row box office (410 West 42nd Street). Hours are Monday-Saturday from 12noon to 6pm and Sunday from 12noon to curtain. There are no advance sales (1) one hour prior to curtain.

The performance schedule is: Tuesday at 7:00pm, Wednesday, Thursday & Friday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00pm and Sunday at 3:00pm. Running Time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, February 10, 2014

“The Tribute Artist” at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theater A (Through Sunday March 16, 2014)

“The Tribute Artist” at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theater A (Through Sunday March 16, 2014)
Written by Charles Busch
Directed by Carl Andress
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Charles Busch and his band of merry-makers have pitched camp (for all too short a time) at 59E59 Theater A for the final offering in Primary Stages’ twenty-ninth Season, Mr. Busch’s gender-bending and exquisite “The Tribute Artist.” The result of this incursion into the winter blues is nothing short of brilliant. From cast to creative team to direction, this delicious dip into debauchery brims with over-the-top humor and a subtle entreaty for the return of honesty in human relationships. But first, the dip into the debauchery.

After disposing of wealthy recluse friend Adriana’s (Cynthia Harris) body, celebrity tribute artist Jimmy (Charles Busch) and real estate friend Rita (Julie Halston) hatch a “fool-proof” plot to dispose of Adriana’s body using a fake identity and find a way to sell her West Village townhouse and split the enormous profits. Sharing the twenty million deal would solve Jimmy’s unemployed problem – his Vegas celebrity tribute show cancelled – and Rita’s less than stellar realtor rating – 1.5 out of 4.

The plot – which naturally proves not to be fool-proof – involves Jimmy posing as the deceased Adriana until Rita can sell the townhouse. The two decide to live in Adriana’s townhouse unnoticed by authorities, neighbors, or incompetent housekeepers: fortunately – and in the refined improbably style of farce – Adriana provides all the necessary exposition before expiring. This hastily-hatched plan begins to quickly unravel at the tattered seams of Adriana’s castaway clothes. Niece Christina (Mary Bacon) arrives with her “tran-man” daughter/son Oliver (Keira Keeley) to claim the townhouse as her own. Christina completely buys into the sham and Oliver falls head-over-heels in love with his new auntie. To further complicate the plot, Oliver friends (the real) Adriana’s former lover Rodney (Jonathan Walker) on Facebook and invites him back into auntie’s life and love. And, naturally, Jimmy - playing Adriana - takes a romantic shine to Rodney who discovers the “grand dame’s” true gender and threatens to expose the plot if Jimmy rats on Rodney.

The complex and well-rounded characters in this solid farce are so unbelievable they become completely credible due to the formidable skills of the cast and the oversight of director Carl Andress who transforms the complicated conflicts of the characters into an engaging and interesting comedic drama. It would not be fair to expose the plot in detail. It is sufficient to say that it involves an orgy, dismembered human remains, at least one dead body in the basement of the townhouse, gender-bending hilarity, and a powerful performance by Keira Keely whose bullied and culture-battered Oliver manages to provide the tenderness and compassion missing in the lives of the other characters.

And there are a host of other unseen characters who burst forth from tribute artist Jimmy’s repertoire throughout the play. At the end of the second act, Jimmy floods the stage with impersonations which Rita identifies, asserting that “there are people in this room who do not know your references!” Again, to be fair to future audience members, this pantheon of drag favorites will not be fully disclosed here but it is sufficient to note that Marilyn, Betty, Rosalind and their ilk are not in short supply.

With the skill of a surgeon, Charles Busch is able to eviscerate his carefully crafted characters to reveal – beneath the layers of assumed superficiality – the core of honesty and tender humanness. These are all characters attempting to make sense of the fractured farcicalities of life on planet Earth. And every good farce needs an equally good set and Anna Louizos does not disappoint, providing a scrumptious well-appointed townhouse drawing room replete with wedding cake ceiling molding, seamless sliding doors, and a rock-solid period staircase. Gregory Gales’ costumes are perfect all around and Kirk Bookman’s subtle lighting and Jill BC Du Boff’s sound create appropriate mood including the thunder and lightning that forebodes the falling action in the second act. Finally, Katherine Carr’s wigs are wildly spot on.

Charles Busch’s character Jimmy claims early on to Rita – after she defines his art as “drag” – that he is not someone who performs in drag; rather, he is a celebrity tribute artist, an illusionist. Jimmy describes Charles’ art form with precision and perfection: Mr. Busch remains one of the stage’s most creative, innovative, and talented actors who continue to deliver performances defined by authenticity and honesty. “The Tribute Artist” is a tribute to Mr. Busch’s legacy and brilliance as an illusionist. Jimmy says early on to Rita, “The more honest you are, the more people believe you.”

THE TRIBUTE ARTIST

Primary Stages (Casey Childs, Founder and Executive Producer; Andrew Leynse, Artistic Director; Elliot Fox, Managing Director), Daryl Roth, and Ted Snowdon in association with Jamie deRoy present “The Tribute Artist,” a new world premiere comedy written by and starring Tony-nominee Charles Busch and directed by Busch’s long-time collaborator Carl Andress.

The cast of “The Tribute Artist” features Mary Bacon, Playwright Charles Busch, Cynthia Harris, Julie Halston, Keira Keeley , and Jonathan Walker.

“The Tribute Artist” features a scenic design by Anna Louizos, costume design by Gregory Gale, lighting design by Kirk Bookman, sound design by Jill BC Du Boff, original music by Lewis Flinn, and wig design by Katherine Carr. The production photos are by James Leynse.

“The Tribute Artist” plays a limited engagement through March 16, 2014 at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street). Performances are 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. There will be a special Wednesday matinee at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 19. There is no performance on March 5 and March 12. Single tickets are priced at $70 for all performances and may be purchased by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, online at www.primarystages.org, or in person at the 59E59 Theaters Box Office. Please visit the website at www.primarystages.org,<
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Sunday, February 09, 2014

Bernard Dotson “Live” at the Metropolitan Room (Returning on Wednesday April 16, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.)

Bernard Dotson “Live” at the Metropolitan Room (Returning on Wednesday April 16, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.)
Directed by Bob E. Gasper
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Any doubt that Bernard Dotson is an intriguing multi-talented performer is soon dismissed after seeing his new energy packed show which debuted at the Metropolitan Room and will soon take flight around the country. “I don’t know how to begin/ To let myself let you in” are the opening lyrics heard from an offstage voice and will soon prove to be an ironic and mistermed phrase as the evening wears on and Mr. Dotson shows his ownership of the stage. His presence, poise, voice and honesty provide proof of a first rate entertainer and contribute to his ability to captivate an audience with charm. His journey which brings him to this time and place is revealed throughout and shows evidence of gratitude and humility, coinciding with interest and humor. Mr. Dotson gets up close and personal with his choice of songs and stories but never forces a feeling or emotional connection to the material and sheds any inhibitions to reveal himself to the audience. His vocals are precise, clear, bold and pure, along with lyrics delivered with humor, romance or sentimentality.

The eclectic evening of song is filled with pop standards, Broadway and even an hysterical Disney medley recollecting his performance gig at Disney Tokyo. Mr. Dotson rocks the house with a Barry Manilow staple “It’s a Miracle” and croons “All I Care About Is Love” from “Chicago” (John Kander/Fred Ebb). A highlight of the show is his interpretation of “Mr. Bojangles” (Jerry Jeff Walker) spotlighting inventive phrasing and reassuring the fact that you are watching a Broadway actor hone his craft, which is also all too evident in his rendition of “Fallin.” It is a rare occasion when a cabaret audience witnesses a Broadway actor recreate a song he originated on the stage. When Mr. Dotson belts out “Make Them Hear You” from “Ragtime” (Stephen Flaherty/Lynn Ahrens), you are immediately transported to that important time and place in his career as he takes you there with him. It is one powerful moment that is surely a gift.

The evening is enhanced by the accompanying musicians Skip Ward on Bass, Peter Calo on Guitar, David Silliman on Drums, and Musical Director Tracy Stark on Piano. Marya Grandy and Jeanne Montano support with backup vocals and duets, while Matt Heimer turns in a great rendition of “Lovin Feelin” (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Phil Spector) with Mr. Dotson. Bernard Dotson will return to the Metropolitan Room on Wednesday April 16, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. The reader should consider this a not-to-be-missed event.

BERNARD DOTSON LIVE

Bernard Dotson appeared at The Metropolitan Room on Monday February 3, 2014 and will return to the Metropolitan Room on Wednesday April 16 at 7:00 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes prior to performance at 6:30 p.m. The Metropolitan Room is located at 34 West 22nd Street in Manhattan. There is a $25.00 per person Music Charge and a Two Drink Minimum. A VIP Gold Package is available for $115.00. For further information, visit http://metropolitanroom.com/. Mr. Dotson will also appear At the Power Station in the Loews Hotel in Annapolis, Maryland on March 15, 2014 and Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal in North Hollywood, California on June 29 and June 30 at 7:00 p.m.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, February 07, 2014

Karen Wyman – “The Second Time Around” at the Metropolitan Room (Returning in March, 2014)

Karen Wyman – “The Second Time Around” at the Metropolitan Room (Returning in March, 2014)
Directed by Dennis Deal
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

A national sensation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Karen Wyman has decided after twenty-three years to stage her comeback and continue what has always been her passion: singing for her live audiences. That decision comes after having successfully raised her family and realizing that musically she had “a lot of growing up to do” in terms of truly understanding the lyrics she was singing intuitively “as a kid” in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Recent appearances at Birdland and the Mabel Mercer Foundation and this current appearance at the Metropolitan Room prove incontrovertibly that this was the quintessential time for Karen Wyman’s return to the cabaret stage and that she not only has full control of her splendid vocal instrument but also understands every word she sings with renewed passion and authenticity.

Backed by John Odo on piano, Dick Sarpola on bass, Eddie Caccavale on drums, and directed by Dennis Deal, Ms. Wyman glides through a formidable chunk of the Great American Songbook with style and grace and demonstrates that “Come Rain or Come Shine” (Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer), she is here to stay and “Why [She] Can’t Walk Away” (George Weiss/Hugo/Luigi). This George Weiss song was the first she sang on the Ed Sullivan Show when she was just sixteen.

Karen Wyman’s unique and pleasant styling and her now mature understanding of the lyric undergird her interpretations of “After You’ve Gone” (Turner Layton and Henry Creamer), Irving Berlin’s “Always,” and her well-chosen Edyie Gorme medley. And her dynamic and soulful phrasing shines through in “Where Do You Start” (Alan and Marilyn Bergman).

Perhaps no three songs could better underscore Ms. Wyman’s journey to the necessary and powerful rediscovery of self than “Just One of Those Things” (Cole Porter), “Gotta Move” (Peter Matz with lyrics by Barbara Streisand), and “All By Myself” (Irving Berlin) which this honest and thoughtful singer performs with lots of “grown up” integrity.

Sharing in Karen Wyman’s successful comeback, the audience at the iconic Metropolitan Room wonders what its members have generously sacrificed in their own lives and now need to give a second-time-around chance. Ms. Wyman gives her listeners the second opportunity to “get out, find some place, some brand new place” (Barbara Streisand) where they can just be themselves. Make plans now to see Karen Wyman in March to share in her remarkable gift of the rediscovery and celebration of self.

KAREN WYMAN – THE SECOND TIME AROUND

Karen Wyman appeared at The Metropolitan Room on Friday December 20, 2013 and will return to the Metropolitan Room on the four Wednesdays (5, 12, 19, 26) in March, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes prior to performance at 6:30 p.m. The Metropolitan Room is located at 34 West 22nd Street in Manhattan. There is a $25.00 per person Music Charge and a Two Drink Minimum. A VIP Gold Package is available for $115.00. For further information, visit http://metropolitanroom.com/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, February 07, 2014

Jason Morris: Musically Yogic at the Metropolitan Room (Returning on Monday March 17, 2014)

Jason Morris: Musically Yogic at the Metropolitan Room (Returning on Monday March 17, 2014)
Musical Direction by Tracy Stark
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

MetroStar's 1st Runner Up Jason Morris is not only an international trainer of yoga teachers and a successful entrepreneur involved in a successful chain of yoga centers; he is also an accomplished and unique performer. In his recent appearance at the Metropolitan Room, Mr. Morris continues to validate his mantra: “music has not only the power to move us to feel, but more importantly, the power that propels us to act and heal.”

Spending time with Jason Morris and his music is indeed powerful: his insistence on being in the present and being completely authentic is healing for the mind, the body, and the spirit. His voice is soothing and his style is eclectic. Jason treats every lyric with respect and the result is a melodic line with fresh and clarifying phrasing. This blend of styling and phrasing places a welcome demand on the audience to appreciate music and lyrics with renewed interest. One must be disciplined and breathe with Jason Morris to fully “attain liberation from the material world and union of the self with ones ultimate principle.” In other words, to spend time with Mr. Morris at the Metropolitan is perfectly yogic.

Jason’s unique styling is evident throughout the thirteen songs (including the Encore with Julie Reyburn) he shares in “Musically Yogic” but perhaps most conspicuous in “Thank Goodness” (Stephen Schwartz); “Magic to Do” from “Pippin” (Stephen Schwartz); and Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newly’s “Pure Imagination” which, in Mr. Morris’ hands, is pure “paradise.”

It is difficult to imagine any crooner - male or female – finding hidden treasure in Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from “The Sound of Music;” however, that is precisely what Jason Morris accomplishes in his interpretation of this timeless song. The lyric, “A dream that will need /All the love you can give /Every day of your life /For as long as you live,” takes on a new meaning in his care as he shares with the audience the news of his mother’s recent diagnosis with ALS.

Jason’s Encore “The Letter” (Elton John/Lee Hall) sung with Julie Reyburn rounds out an enchanting evening with a remarkably gifted performer. The audience leaves the Metropolitan Room wanting more from Jason Morris who wants nothing more that each member of his audience know that “in everything you do/ always be yourself /and you always will be true.”

JASON MORRIS: MUSICALLY YOGIC

Jason Morris appeared at The Metropolitan Room on Monday January 20, 2014 and will return to the Metropolitan Room with his “Musically Yogic” on Monday March 17, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes prior to performance at 6:30 p.m. The Metropolitan Room is located at 34 West 22nd Street in Manhattan. There is a $20.00 per person Music Charge and a Two Drink Minimum. A VIP Silver Package is available for $85.00 and a VIP Gold Package for $115.00. For further information, visit http://metropolitanroom.com/. For more information on ALS, please visit http://www.alsa.org/. Photography by Jeffrey Mosier.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, February 06, 2014

“Bitten” at Quinn’s Bar and Grill (Through Saturday February 22, 2014)

“Bitten” at Quinn’s Bar and Grill (Through Saturday February 22, 2014)
By Penny Jackson
Directed by Joan Kane
Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Ego Actus presents a site-specific, Equity Showcase Code, workshop production of “Bitten,” a new play by Penny Jackson, directed by Joan Kane on the second floor of Quinn's Bar and Grill, 353 West 44th St in New York City. The show opens February 6th, 2014 and plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm through Saturday February 22nd. All tickets are $10 cash at the door. For reservations or press inquiries please call (646) 246-4131.

As a snowstorm is forming, Brian tries to convince his Irish grandmother Stella to just visit a nice retirement home. Will he be able to get her out of her favorite neighborhood bar before the blizzard hits? Bitten is about living and ending life on your own terms, no matter what.

“Bitten” features Lucy McMichael, Logan McCoy, Nick Palladino and J. Dolan Byrnes with music performed by Teddy Lytle. Choreography is by Shannon Stowe and sound design is by Ian Wehrle.

For more information about Ego Actus, please visit http://www.egoactus.com/index.html. To learn more about playwright Penny Jackson, please visit http://pennybrandtjackson.com/. Running time is one hour with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, February 06, 2014

“Row After Row” at the Women’s Project Theater at New York City Center Stage II (Through Sunday February 16, 2014)

Rosie Benton, Erik Lochtefeld, and PJ Sosko in "Row After Row" (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
“Row After Row” at the Women’s Project Theater at New York City Center Stage II (Through Sunday February 16, 2014)
By Jessica Dickey
Directed by Daniella Topol
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Trope after trope thrusts Jessica Dickey’s “Row After Row” into a kaleidoscope of images present and past celebrating humankind’s insistence on moving forward through often seemingly insurmountable “battles” on an off the theatres of war. Currently running at New York City Stage II, “Row After Row” is part of the Women’s Project Theater’s thirty-sixth season of presenting plays written by and directed by women. Ms. Dickey’s play is a haunting, albeit comedic, reminder of the existential angst of living isolated in a vacuum of power with “no army, no flag, no uniform” not knowing “which direction to march, what to kill, what to save.”

As Tom (Erik Lochtefeld) and Cal (PJ Sosko) retreat to an old pub in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania after reenacting General George Pickett’s July 3, 1863 Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, they encounter Leah (Rosie Benton) sitting where they usually sit to drink their beers. A spirited discussion ensues and each of the three is forced to play their full hand of hopes, fears, dreams, and cultural baggage. This conversation is interrupted – or rather paralleled by – enactments of the Gettysburg Charge the three just reenacted and the counterpoint of past and present is brilliantly directed by Daniella Topol and performed with honesty and authenticity by the ensemble cast. Tyler Micoleau’s sensitive lighting and the actors’ speech patterns clearly delineate past from present and Ms. Dickey’s choice to have “the 1863 speeches feel slightly heightened in their presentation, almost like Shakespeare” is spot on.
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Musket-like sparks fly as these three wonderfully crafted round and dynamic characters expose their inner turmoil which Mr. Lochtefeld, Mr. Sosko, and Ms. Benton unravel and put on display with the utmost honesty and authenticity. Their characters are not static and each is capable of change and growth. Each transmutes into the Civil War characters they have chosen to reenact and draw upon their counterparts’ passion to move forward in their own lives. Leah, who “has not been able to feel her body in a long time” and “has literally fought for her life,” opens herself to the possibility of friendship with Cal. Tom, still somewhat the deserter, retreats into the relative comfort of his family leaving Cal bereft and bemused. And Cal – perhaps the richest of Ms. Dickey’s characters here – sheds the shards of culture and exposes his vulnerable and fragile inner essentia.

Tom, Cal, and Leah march daily in step with the rest of humankind, row after row into their own oncoming battles fighting for peace and “with [their] hands raised to the future say Hello. Hold, Help.” It is not always clear what their –or the audience’s – battles are or even who they or we are. Isolated by our own design and by the intention of others, we still dare march into the unknown battlefields embracing, with Tom, the hope that “Maybe — the whole goddamn war will smoke itself out. We can
Just live. And we can have our pie. Our pappy. Our pretty.”

The run of “Row After Row” ends far too soon and it is important to see this important play before it closes.

ROW AFTER ROW

The cast of “Row After Row” includes Rosie Benton, Erik Lochtefeld, and PJ Sosko. Sets and costumes are being designed by Clint Ramos, lights by Tyler Micoleau, and sound by Broken Chord. The production stage manager is Jess Johnston. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

“Row After Row” performs Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30pm with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:30pm through February 16. Single tickets are $60 can be purchased online at www.NYCityCenter.org, by calling CityTix® at 212-581-1212, or at the New York City Center Box Office at 131 West 55th Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues).
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, February 05, 2014

“Almost, Maine” at the Gym at Judson (through Sunday March 2, 2014)

Kevin Isola and John Cariani in "They Fell" (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
“Almost, Maine” at the Gym at Judson (through Sunday March 2, 2014)
Written by John Cariani
Directed by Jack Cummings III
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“when by now and tree by leaf/ she laughed his joy she cried his grief/ bird by snow and stir by still/anyone's any was all to her” – E. E. Cummings

Ginette (Kelly McAndrew) and Pete (John Cariani) provide the dramatic context for Mr. Cariani’s “Almost, Maine” currently running at the Gym at Judson and already extended one week even before its opening date. These two complex characters and their equally sophisticated conflicts drive an intricate plot about the complexities of human relationships. Their search for intimacy in the midst of ennui and profound loneliness counterpoints the same quest in the lives of eight other couples who venture out on the same snowy Friday night in the uncharted terrain of Almost, Maine.

Sitting as far away from Pete as possible and looking more at Pete looking at the heavens than looking directly at Pete, Ginette – after a prolonged and delicious silence – confesses her love for Pete. Flummoxed and a bit defensive, Pete agrees to admit his love for Ginette but dodges real connection by reminding her, as she defines the move toward him on the bench as closeness, they are actually farther apart than ever.

Heartbroken, Ginette leaves and seamlessly the action focuses on Glory (Donna Lynne Champlin) who is carrying her own broken heart in a paper bag and has come to Almost to ask her dead husband for forgiveness as his spirit drifts heavenward on the waves of the Northern Lights. She camps in East’s (Kevin Isola) backyard and the two begin a captivating dance toward intimacy in a brilliant dialog that captures the vicissitudes of human bonding.

“Almost, Maine” is all about the arduous journey toward meaning in relationships as a variety of couples attempt to understand what it means to bond, to belong, to care, to pay attention, to draw close, to see clearly, to embrace pain, to understand loss, and to literally fall in love. The four actors, including the playwright, manage to portray an impressive twenty-one characters giving each a unique personality and a believable personal story. One of the most engaging stories is the heartwarming and comedic account of Chad (Kevin Isola) and Randy (John Cariani) literally falling down in love with one another. Indeed, the small population of Almost, Maine happens to know an awful amount about love.

Mr. Cariani’s script is a fascinating journey recounting how seemingly simple folk enjoy life and the beauty of finding and being in love and face the despair and sadness of losing and falling out of love. As each inhabitant’s story is told, the audience learns just how fragile the heart is and is able to connect emotionally on the human level with the knowledge that at some time they have felt the same. When the night is over the audience does not want to leave this place, these people or the feelings they stir up and the audience understands that whether it be glad or sad, euphoric or painful, there is the ultimate need to discover one’s self, someone else, and to fall in love with both. Fortunately “Almost, Maine” is an intriguing place for it to happen.

John Cariani’s “Almost, Maine” works as well as it does because it takes the time to ask the kinds of enduring questions that engage audiences in profound and substantive ways. This particular production works because of the commitment of the cast and director to make Almost, Maine the locus of Almost, Anywhere where “anyone [lives] in a pretty how town (with up so floating many bells down”) - E. E. Cummings.


ALMOST, MAINE

Transport Group, the Drama Desk and OBIE award-winning theatre company, has announced a one-week extension of “Almost, Maine,” written by John Cariani and directed by Jack Cummings III.

The cast of “Almost, Maine” is playwright John Cariani, Donna Lynne Champlin, Kevin Isola, and Kelly McAndrew.

The creative team includes Sandra Goldmark (scenic design), R. Lee Kennedy (lighting design), Kathryn Rohe (costume design), Walter Trarbach (sound design), Tom Kochan (original music), Kristina Corcoran Williams (dramaturg), and Theresa Flanagan (production stage manager). Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Almost, Maine” plays Tuesday - Thursday and 7pm; Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm and 8pm; Sunday at 3pm at the Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street at West 4 Street. The schedule for the extension week is Tuesday - Thursday at 7pm; Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm; Sunday at 3pm and 7pm. Prices start at $49 for general admission, and $65 for premium reserved seating. Season subscription packages are now available for $80, which includes premium reserved seating to both shows, unlimited ticket exchanges, access to purchase house seats, exclusive subscriber-only events, and a free glass of wine at each show. To purchase single tickets or subscriptions, visit www.transportgroup.org or phone 1-866-811-4111. Running time is 120 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, February 05, 2014

“Beertown” at 59E59 Theater C (Through Sunday February 16, 2014)

“Beertown” at 59E59 Theater C (Through Sunday February 16, 2014)
Devised by dog & pony dc
Directed by Rachel Grossman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“We come here today to question, to debate, to learn, to grow, and, yes, to leave our mark in the record so that future generations may share the privilege of learning who they are by remembering who we are. What would you have us do instead? How else would you have them remember us?” – Leonard Fishman, General Editor, “Beertown Bugle,” February 1, 1974

The current research on memory is not only exhaustive but exciting as well and although this data is not within the purview of this review of dog & pony dc’s “Beertown,” the questions about memory are relevant to this significant theatre piece currently running at 59E59 Theater C. What is memory and is it static or dynamic? What is sacred to a village and who decides that question? What really matters in a community’s history and in the re-collection of that history?

The members of the Beertown community gather every five years to examine the contents of their Time Capsule which contains five Permanent Artifacts and nine Ephemeral Artifacts. “Beertown” is a “real time” celebration of this event with audience members becoming participants in the festivities from opening pot-luck to the final steps in deciding what is taken out of the time capsule and what replaces the voted-out artifact. The actors portray a provocative cross-section of Beertown including its current Mayor Megan Soch (Wyckham Avery), Representative Lawrence Pickel-Cooper (Max Freedman), Archivist Joann Ryals (Elaine Yuko Qualter), Youngest Daughter of Ninkasi MJ Soch (Rachel Grossman), and Ombudsman Edwin McFarlan (J. Argyl Plath).

These remarkable actors stretch their impressive craft across two hours and ten minutes of history-making story telling with embracing grace and infectious style. Each knows his or her character’s back story with detail. During a conversation with Representative Lawrence Pickel-Cooper during the intermission, Max Freedman never flinched when I pressed him to provide details about his newly-purchased home, its prior owner’s name, and his girl friend’s occupation in Washington, DC! He even offered to call over Archivist Joann to confirm the name of the former owner of his new home in Beertown.

An assortment of “Antecedents” provides sometimes valuable exposition; unfortunately, these flashbacks are not of consistent quality and importance and do not always provide sufficient ‘HEAT’: Antecedent #4 (Tug of War) pales in when compared to Antecedent #16 (The Last 5 Years) which is perhaps the most powerful part of “Beertown.” In this remarkably well-crafted staging, a voiceover recounting events of the last five years (2009 through 2013) counterpoints with simultaneous events occurring in the community in pantomime.

“Beertown” is striking evidence of dog & pony dc’s commitment to excellence in theatre. The company clearly does extensive research into the topics they choose to translate to the stage and holds company members to the highest standards in performance and stagecraft. The outstanding ensemble cast, generously directed by Rachel Grossman, all gave authentic performances and engaged the audience in an important and honest dialog about re-membering. Their work presented the audience with a reminder and a challenge.

As humankind reweaves memories – celebrating its past and hoping to secure its future – what does that unfolding and re-emerging community preserve and what does it eradicate from its “time capsule?” Further, will humankind (and the nations inhabited by humankind) learn to “debate, to learn, to grow?” It would have been good to learn in “Beertown” that the Thakiwaki Nation – as part of the “Trail of Tears – were moved to a reservation west of the Mississippi in 1876, in reaction to the Battle of the Little Bighorn and Custer’s Last Stand. That memory must remain forever in the tapestry of America’s collective memory.

BEERTOWN

The cast of “Beertown” features Wyckham Avery, Max Freedman, Rachel Grossman, Melanie Harker, Colin Hovde, J. Argyl Plath, Elaine Yuko Qualter, Jon Reynolds, and Yasmin Tuazon.

The design team includes Colin K. Bills (set and lighting design) and Ivania Stack (costume design). The Production Stage Manager is Melanie Harker. Production photos were taken by C. Stanley Photography.

“Beertown” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 16. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday - Saturday at 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, February 03, 2014

“The Window” at the Cherry Lane Theater (Through Sunday January 26, 2014)

“The Window” at the Cherry Lane Theater (Through Sunday January 26, 2014)
By Marta Mondelli
Directed by Shira-Lee Shalit
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is an interesting, stylish and refreshing short play entitled “The Window” debuting now at the Cherry Lane Studio Theater, produced by Teatro Italiano Network. It is an intriguing work which plays well on stage but also has the uncanny ability to present itself somewhat as a television series which you want to tune into next week to see what happens to the characters. It appears as only one minor episode in their complicated yet ever so human existence certainly having an interesting past and an exciting future. It is a story of three characters coming to terms with who they are and what they want, accepting that knowledge, and moving on to more discoveries about themselves and others. The plot is clever but it is the characters that are fascinating as they peel away superficial layers to expose their true selves and enjoy the revelation. The entire cast is excellent and wears the 1950’s time period well in fashion and social mores.

Cristina Lippolis is innocent and charming as Eva and captures the disillusion of youth with an inquisitive glimmer in her eye. Marta Mondelli who also penned the script is vibrant, focused and the epitome of style as she carves and sculpts the sultry Nora. Scott Freeman is all a fifties leading man should be; squared jawed, he pulls off a nicely nuanced character as Bill. Under the astute direction of Shira-Lee Shalit motives are clear; movement is precise and economical as the conflict moves along at a desirable pace. The entire creative team should be applauded for producing a clean, polished production with high artistic integrity.

THE WINDOW

Teatro Italiano Network presents “The Window,” a romantic thriller by Marta Mondelli, directed by Shira-Lee Shalit. The cast features Scott Freeman, Cristina Lippolis, and Marta Mondelli. The creative team includes Nicholas Biagetti and Pedro Marnoto (set design), Haejin Han (lighting design and stage manager), and Rebekka Fellah (costume design). Production photos are by Nicholas Biagetti. photo credit for the poster is Nekole Kemelle (photographer) and Rebekka Fellah (art director.

“The Window” runs at the Cherry Lane Theater (38 Commerce Street, 3 blocks south of Christopher Street). Remaining performances are Tuesday January 21 through Saturday January 25 at 8:00 PM and Sunday January 26 at 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM. Tickets are $20.00, $12.00 for groups of 10 or more, students and seniors. For tickets visit http://www.cherrylanetheatre.org/onstage/the-window/ or https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/930350. For more information, go to http://www.thewindowtheater.com/. The running time is 75 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, January 20, 2014

Baby Jane Dexter: More Rules of the Road (Fridays April 18 and 25, 2014)

Baby Jane Dexter: More Rules of the Road (Fridays April 18 and 25, 2014)
At The Metropolitan Room
Previewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Baby Jane Dexter will return to the Metropolitan Room on two Fridays in April 2014. Here is a review of her “Rules of the Road” from December 2013.

Baby Jane Dexter steps onto the stage of The Metropolitan Room on the first evening of her current nine-show run with the confidence and grace that have become hallmarks of this cabaret legend. Most accomplished vocalists use their physical instruments to create what becomes their signature “style.” Baby Jane Dexter sings with not only her vocal instrument: she also sings with her entire body, mind, and spirit. In fact, there are times when her vocal “instrument” includes her musical director Ross Patterson. It is sometimes difficult to discern where voice and accompaniment diverge.

Ms. Dexter’s rich and resonant contralto carries the sense and meaning of every lyric with a richness that often leaves the listener wondering just what has happened to her or his auditory senses. Whether delivering a line in a sensuous legato as she does with Rufus Wainwright’s haunting “The Art Teacher” or in a gripping staccato as she does with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” Baby Jane Dexter interprets lyrics in unique and complex ways.

Using the trope (here an extended metaphor) of the “one thousand mile” road trip (who remembers Mille Bornes?), Baby Jane Dexter’s “The Rules of the Road” deconstructs the distance cards of the classic family auto-trip game and maneuvers its way through the vicissitudes of life: life’s many nasty hazards, its serendipitous caesurae for “refueling,” and its unexpected interruptions for “repairs.”

Life’s hazards are brought into sharp focus in “15 Ugly Minutes” Baby Jane Dexter and Drey Shepperds’s recounting of the horrors of emotional and physical rape. Songs of refreshing refueling include “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (George and Ira Gershwin) and “Something to Live For (Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn). And life is often interrupted by the joys of new love and affirmation. No pairing in the program’s offerings captures this life opportunity more than “I’m a Believer” (Neil Diamond) and “Glad There is You” (Jimmy Dorsey and Paul Madeira). Baby Jane Dexter’s phrasing in “I’m a Believer” approaches perfection and will haunt this critic for many years to come.

Remembering Bob Dylan’s 1974 “Planet Waves” album is the quintessential way for Baby Jane Dexter to honor her own road trip: the second half of her encore (Elton Jon and Bernie Taupin’s “Never Too Old was the first half) is “Forever Young” the remarkable song co-authored, Jim Cregan, Bob Dylan, Kevin Savigar, and Rod Stewart. This is an appropriate sign-off on a flawless, timeless performance that will forever keep Baby Jane Dexter’s audiences young and young at heart.

BABY JANE DEXTER: MORE RULES OF THE ROAD

Baby Jane Dexter will appear at The Metropolitan Room on Friday April 18, 2014 and Friday April 25 at 7:00 p.m. Doors open 45 minutes prior to performances. The Metropolitan Room is located at 34 West 22nd Street in Manhattan. There is a $25.00 per person Music Charge and a Two Drink Minimum with a $5.00 discount for MAC/Industry Members. For further information visit http://metropolitanroom.com/
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, January 20, 2014

Marilyn Maye: “Marilyn by Request” at the Metropolitan Room (Thursday January 9, 2014)

Photo by Stephen Sorokoff
Marilyn Maye: “Marilyn by Request” at the Metropolitan Room (Thursday January 9, 2014)
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Cabaret legend Marilyn Maye extends the celebration of the New Year with seven glorious performances at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan. Joined by Billy Stritch (piano), Tom Hubbard (bass), and Warren Odze (drums), Ms. Maye dazzles her fans for ninety remarkable minutes with her unique blend of song stylist, lyricist, and shaman.

Marilyn Maye lets the audience know “how much she loves them” in her rendition of the re-imagined and comedic “I Love Being Here with You” (Peggy Lee/Bill Schluger) and “I Want to Be Happy” from “Tea for Two” (Vincent Youmans/Irving Caesar). Before launching into the “By Request” portion of the evening, Ms. Maye engages the audience with her comfortable humanness as she glides through “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face” from “My Fair Lady” (Frederick Loewe/Alan Jay Lerner), “Golden Rainbow” (Walter Marks) with remarkable phrasing, the pop song “Make Your Own Kind of Music” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil), and a jazzy-operatic “Here’s to Life” (Phyllis Molinary/Artie Butler.

The “By Request” includes a veritable fusillade of hits from the Great American Songbook. Perhaps most memorable of these are the a cappella “Look to the Rainbow” (Burton Lane/E. Y. Harburg), “Make Me Rainbows” (Alan Bergman/Marilyn Bergman), “Ribbons Down My Back” with ethereal embellishments (Jerry Herman), “He Won’t Send Roses” from Jerry Herman’s “Mack and Mable,” “When the World Was Young (Johnny Mercer) and the tribute to New York medley.

Maye’s rich tones and scat-laced phrasing mine meaning from every lyric of every song she delivers. She leaves no note unexplored and her treatment of a song often becomes operatic: her songs are arias to be reined in to absolute perfection.

During the entire January 4, 2014 performance, drummer Warren Odze, despite asking for a more audible piano monitor, played too loudly and made it difficult for the orchestra to achieve a proper balance. At one point, Ms. Maye walked over and silenced the cymbals with a pinch of the fingers on her left hand.

Eighty-five going on twenty-five, Marilyn Maye lives in the moment and invites her listeners to “be here, be now” with her. Maye’s love with the present moment contributes to her electrifying ability to approach each lyric and each note with a freshness that engages the audience and leaves them wanting more. Marilyn Maye closes the performance on January 4 with Jerry Herman’s “The Best of Times Is Now.” No truer words have been written or spoken or sung. Being there, being now with Marilyn Maye is a gift of grace and wonder.

MARILYN MAYE: MARILYN BY REQUEST

Marilyn Maye’s final performance of “Marilyn By Request” was on January 13, 2014 at 7:00 pm. The music charge is $35, with a two-drink minimum. For information, or to order online, visit www.metropolitanroom.com. For reservations call 212/206-0440.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, January 20, 2014

Stacy Sullivan: A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee at the Metropolitan Room (Through Saturday April 26, 2014)

Stacy Sullivan: A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee at the Metropolitan Room (Through Saturday April 26, 2014)
Directed by Sondra Lee
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Any day is a good day when it includes sitting in the iconic Metropolitan Room listening to the equally exemplary Stacy Sullivan and her “Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee.” Ms. Sullivan understands the nature of a tribute as she examines the career of Peggy Lee, knowing who she was and what she was and using that vehicle to take the audience on a transcendent ride through her own reconstructed and re-imagined tour of the musical icon’s songbook.

The music, lyrics, and Ms. Sullivan’s style, phrasing and pure tone transport her audience to another time and place where she “messes with” the material. What makes this performance true star quality is her honesty and devotion along with the courage to explore and create her personal image and execution which is nothing less than magical.

Ms. Sullivan’s unique and refreshing style and phrasing is evident in “Hey There” from “The Pajama Game” (Richard Adler/Jerry Ross) and “Cheek to Cheek” (Irving Berlin). Her sensual and almost sultry tone vibrates through “Till There Was You” from the 1957 “The Music Man” (Meredith Wilson) and “Where did They Go” (Harry Lloyd/Gloria Sklerov). Honoring Peggy Lee’s decision to “sing softly,” Stacy Sullivan closes her performance with a heartfelt interpretation of “Angels on Your Pillow” (Peggy Lee/Paul Horner) and “Fever” (Eddie Cooley/Otis Blackwell).

During our conversation with Ms. Sullivan after her performance on January 11, 2014, we came to a significant consensus: our urban children and students have the ultimate phrase to define excellence. That short phrase is “All right, now.” Stacy Sullivan’s resplendent tribute to the legendary and courageous Miss Peggy Lee is just that: it’s “All right, now!” Plan to visit the incomparable Metropolitan Room to enjoy this tribute on one of the remaining dates of performance (see below).

STACY SULLIVAN: A TRIBUTE TO MISS PEGGY LEE

Stacy Sullivan appears at The Metropolitan Room on the following schedule: Saturday February 15, 2014 at 7:00 p.m., Friday March 28, 2014 at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday April 26, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. Doors open 45 minutes prior to performances. The Metropolitan Room is located at 34 West 22nd Street in Manhattan. There is a $25.00 per person Music Charge and a Two Drink Minimum. For further information visit http://metropolitanroom.com/
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, January 20, 2014

“Miss Lead” at 59E59 Theater B (Through Sunday January 26, 2014)

“Miss Lead” at 59E59 Theater B (Through Sunday January 26, 2014)
By Mary Kathryn Nagle
Directed by Madeline Sayet
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Any controversy resulting from the atrocities heaped upon the nations of the Original Peoples of North America by the United States and its corrupt and capricious Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is an important and somber discussion. Mary Kathryn Nagle’s “Miss Lead” brings sharp and disturbing focus to the events surrounding the Tri-State Mining District in Joplin, Missouri.

Several American Indian Nations were forcibly removed to this region on various “Trails of Tears” from 1830 onward (Indian Removal Act of 1830). This act of ethnic cleansing is one of the most horrific events in Native American history. The play focuses specifically on the discovery of lead on this land and the processing of the lead for military use. This mining and processing created toxic levels of lead in the soil and the increase in cancer and auto-immune diseases in the residents of the area.

In “Miss Lead” Katie (Tanis Parenteau) is diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and celiac sprue and it is clear that her diagnosis results from living in Joplin. Her father George (Tyree Giroux) is the current owner of the Tri-State Mining Company and, although the mining of lead in the area ceased, still promotes his family’s legacy and attempts to fend off a fuselage of law suits filed by members of the area’s Native American Nations.

Katie’s story in the present counterpoints the story of miners from the past and Katie’s journey of her acceptance of her important Native Miami heritage. The conflicts in these parallel plots, though clear, often become muddled in the clumsy scene changes and the production overall does not do justice to the material of the script. Too frequently the direction of “Miss Lead” is ponderous and leaves the actors in awkward and sometimes ludicrous exchanges and appearing more like cartoons than authentic characters. The cast does its best to honor the important script but the struggle is unfortunately often without the desired result.

One wishes that Ms. Nagle’s sincere concerns about ethnic cleansing and Superfund Sites might have a more sagacious and thoughtful treatment.

MISS LEAD

AMERINDA Inc. presents the New York premiere of “Miss Lead,” written by Mary Kathryn Nagle and directed by Madeline Sayet.

The cast features Claire Burke, Dylan Carusona, Brett Hecksher, Tyree Giroux, Michelle Honaker, Dawn Jamieson, Stuart Luth, Nancy McDoniel, Tanis Parenteau, and Elizabeth Rolston.

The design team includes Tristan Jeffers (set design); Evan Roby (lighting design); Marty Pavatea (costume design); and Phil Carluzzo (sound design). The Production Stage Manager is Jeremy Duncan Pape. Production photos are by Steve Bartel.

“Miss Lead” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, January 26. The performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday - Saturday 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 $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. The running time of “Miss Lead” is 2 hours including a 10 minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, January 20, 2014

“I Am the Wind” at 59E59 Theater C (Through January 26, 2014)

“I Am the Wind” at 59E59 Theater C (Through January 26, 2014)
By Jon Fosse (English Adaptation by Simon Stephens)
Directed by Paul Takacs
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“When rain has hung the leaves with tears/I want you near to kill my fears, / To help me to leave all my blues behind. / Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind.” – Donovan

Billed as the confrontation of the inexorable mystery of fate by two friends spending a day boating, Jon Fosse’s “I Am the Wind,” currently running at 59E59 Theater C is better understood as a brilliant and often disturbing examination of ontology – “the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations.”

The protagonists are simply referred to as The One (Christopher Tierney) and The Other (Louis Butelli) and the characters are tropes for not only an Everyman dyad, but the dichotomy present in all human interpersonal and intrapersonal transactions. The One and The Other question the meaning of existence, friendship, happiness then quickly assert that meaning itself is “just something you say –words, words, and more words!” Indeed their Beckett-esque theatre of the absurd dialogue questions the meaning and importance of language itself.

Both The One and The Other rehearse the difficulties of living: they are frightened; they are alone; they are burdened heavily with ennui. And although they play out their anxieties as separate entities, it is clear that these characters might well be the inner life of the human condition. Or what the audience sees and hears might be “just imagined.”

At the beginning of this important new play, The One claims to “be gone now” having “left with the wind.” This same assertion closes the play with The One declaring that he is the wind. It is likely that there is no beginning and no ending to “I Am the Wind” and the ontological discussions throughout, including the ever-present possibility of suicide when one gets too heavy and is barely able to move.

Despite the ageless dialogue – quintessentially portrayed by Christopher Tierney and Louis Butelli – between faith and disbelief, angst and assurance, the dynamic and the static and despite the quest for meaning in language, in imagery, in writing, humankind is ultimately alone and balances precariously between hope and despair. Whether humankind can survive in isolation bereft of “the other” is an experiment still in progress.

Jon Fosse’s “I Am the Wind,” brilliantly and carefully directed by Paul Takacs, successfully engages the audience (often lighted as starkly as the stage itself) in the impossible but necessary task of examining the deep and often absurd recesses of the human condition as we attempt to “head toward the lighthouse” of hopefulness.

I AM THE WIND

The US premiere of “I Am the Wind” is presented at 59E59 Theaters by The Shop, written by Jon Fosse, translated by Simon Stephens, and directed by Paul Takacs.

The cast features Christopher Tierney and Louis Butelli.

The design team includes Steven C. Kemp (set design); Nick Solyom (lighting design); Amanda Shafran (costume design); and Palmer Hefferan (sound design). The Production Stage Manager is Michele Connelly. Production photos are by Cherylynn Tsushima.

The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday - Saturday at 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $18 ($12.60 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 60 minutes without an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Saturday, January 18, 2014

“Devin Bing and the Secret Service Part Deux” at the Metropolitan Room (Through February 28, 2014)

“Devin Bing and the Secret Service Part Deux” at the Metropolitan Room (Through February 28, 2014)
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

On April 7, 2013 Theatre Reviews Limited observed that the engaging Devin Bing was on a journey to success and that it was important for this delightful and talented crooner to decide soon which “road” would be the best choice for him. This review comes after returning to the Metropolitan Room to revisit musical artist Devin Bing to hear his “Secret Service Part Deux” and to observe how Mr. Bing has progressed in his career.

He is still a performer with boundless energy that contagiously infects the audience and finds them nodding, bopping, swaying or tapping to the sometimes hypnotic albeit repetitious rhythms. His musical prowess is most evident in the jazz influenced arrangements he has penned (“Lovin’ You’s So Easy” and “Take Me or Leave Me”) and in his pleasant tenor voice: a versatile vocal instrument duly demonstrated when imitating the sounds of a trumpet during one interlude. Unfortunately his performance is solely concentrated on the sounds, riffs and rhythms he and his accompanying band can produce often disregarding the heartfelt elucidation of the lyric. The lack of emotional investment in the words he is singing, with more bravado than vulnerability, completely distances him from the material. He satisfies the visual and rhythmic senses of the audience with his style, energy, and musicianship but fails to reach their hearts with honest, genuine and purposeful interpretation.

The gracious and talented band “The Secret Service” featuring Gavi Grodsky on guitar, Michael Feinberg on base, Blaise Lanzetta on drums and Mark Bader providing percussion and vocals do a fine job and at times reach mini rock concert temperament. All said “Devin Bing and the Secret Service Part Deux” is an entertaining evening performed by a young talented musician. One can only hope that with more discipline he will settle in, find his direction, listen, learn and aspire to be the potential rising star he could be.

DEVIN BING AND THE SECRET SERVICE PART DEUX

Devin Bing will appear at the Metropolitan Room on Thursday January 30, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. on Friday February 28 at 7:00 p.m. The Metropolitan Room is located at 34 West 22nd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues) and is easily accessible by public transportation. There is a $20.00 per person Music Charge and a Two Drink Minimum with a $5.00 discount for MAC/Industry Members. For further information visit http://metropolitanroom.com/
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Saturday, January 18, 2014

“She is King” at Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery (Through January 26, 2014)

Laryssa Husiak as Billie Kean King
“She is King” at Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery (Through January 26, 2014)
Conceived and created by Laryssa Husiak
Directed by Katherine Brook
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Laryssa Husiak’s “She is King,” currently running at Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery, is a heartfelt and emotionally compelling tribute to the life and spirit of tennis superstar and innovator Billie Jean King. Ms. Husiak, who also portrays Billie Jean King, provides a sensitive and authentic depiction of the tennis star’s passion for gender equality, the importance of tennis being an open sport, and the importance of an entertainer’s “emotional involvement” with the audience/spectators.

“She is King” includes verbatim accounts of three important interviews in King’s long career: her 1973 interview with James Day (Joshua William Galb), host of a CUNY-TV cable talk show, “Day at Night;” her interview with pop singer Toni Tennille (Louisa Bradshaw); and her interview in 1981 with Barbara Walters (Louisa Bradshaw) after she was outed following her affair with Marilyn Barnett.

In each of these interviews, Ms. Husiak successfully embodies Billie Jean King’s extraordinary dedication to the sport of tennis, the need for strong role models for young players, and the need for changes in the understanding of and the teaching about gender role stereotypes. King’s challenge to James Day to define what it means to be “masculine” and “feminine” belies the depth of sexism and chauvinism in the early 1970s. Day simply does not understand King’s interpretation of “mental toughness” and the importance of concentration.

A group of energetic middle-school “Ball Kids” acts as “run crew” for the production. Of these students, the press release states: “Citing Billie Jean King's own efforts on behalf of equal rights regardless of gender, race, class, age and sexuality, Ms. Husiak sees youth involvement in the production as an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of equality and social justice for all people, and also notes that it was as a pre-teen that Billie Jean King herself first discovered her own passion for tennis.” The students, despite their energy, were sometimes distracting, especially in the final scene when their removal of a somewhat heavy prop interrupted the beginning of Ms. Husiak’s powerful singing of Bob Dylan’s 1967 “I Shall Be Released.”

“She is King” is well worth a visit and seats should be reserved soon for the remained of its short run.

SHE IS KING

“She is King” is presented by Incubator Arts Project as part of the “Other Forces 2014” annual independent theatre festival and is directed by Katherine Brook. Laryssa Husiak portrays Billie Jean King, Louisa Bradshaw plays Barbara Walters and Toni Tennille, and Joshua William Gelb plays James Day and Larry King, Billie Jean's husband. “She is King's sound design is by Chris Giarmo; scenic and lighting design is by Josh Smith.

“She is King” runs on the following performance schedule at St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery, 131 East 10th Street in Manhattan: Jan. 16 at 7 pm; Jan. 18 at 5 pm; Jan. 19 at 5 pm; Jan. 23 at 7 pm; Jan. 24 at 7 pm; Jan. 25 at 5 pm; and Jan. 26 at 5 pm. General admission tickets are $18.00 and can be purchased at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe.c/9860484 Running time is 62 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, January 16, 2014

Anita Gillette: “After All” at the Metropolitan Room (December 16, 2013)

Anita Gillette: “After All” at the Metropolitan Room (December 16, 2013)
Directed by Barry Kleinbort
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When an actor sings, lyrics and music are transformed into a performance of a unique kind. When that actor has appeared in fourteen Broadway shows as well as in film and on television – as Anita Gillette has – the performance is majestic and transformative. For example, when Anita Gillette sings Kander and Ebb’s “Don’t Tell Mama” (from “Cabaret”) or Bob Merrill’s “Mira” (from “Carnival”), her body is firmly planted on the stage of the Metropolitan Room but her spirit is on the stages of the Imperial Theatre, the Broadway Theatre, and the Winter Garden Theatre.

Anita Gillette’s passion for where she has come from and her celebration of the moment is exhilarating and is evident in each song that she styles. Highlights of her performance are “Don’t Tell Mama (John Kander, Fred Ebb); “Mira” (Bob Merrill); “Yesterdays” (Jerome Kern, Otto Harbach with additional lyric by Barry Kleibort); “He May Be Your Man” (Joe Williams); “Did I Ever Really Live”/”I Still Believe in Love” (Albert Hague, Allan Sherman/Marvin Hamlisch, Carole Bayer Sager with additional lyric by Barry Kelinbort).

Ms. Gillette interprets her songbook with the sensitivity and authenticity of a seasoned performer, a performer who is still exploring the meaning of each note, each phrase, and the hidden meaning in each lyric. Her energy is captivating and her voice is magical. Spending tie with Anita Gillette is indeed a confirmation that “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” after all. Introduced by Ethel Merman in George White’s 1931 “Scandals,” the lyrics of this memorable song invite the listener to celebrate life’s joy and possibilities: “Life is just a bowl of cherries;/Don't make it serious;/Life's too mysterious.” Thanks to Anita Gillette, the audience embraces all of life’s possibilities and all of life’s mysteries.

“After All” is directed by Barry Kleinbort. Ms. Gillette is accompanied by Steve Doyle on upright bass, Steve Bartosik on drums, and pianist and arranger Paul Greenwood. Mr. Doyle and Mr. Greenwood provided backup vocals.

ANITA GILLETTE: AFTER ALL

Anita Gillette appeared at the Metropolitan Room through Tuesday December 17, 3013. The Metropolitan Room is located at 34 West 22nd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues) and is easily accessible by public transportation. There is a $25.00 per person Music Charge and a Two Drink Minimum with a $5.00 discount for MAC/Industry Members. For further information on future performances at the Metropolitan Room, visit http://metropolitanroom.com/
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, January 16, 2014

“I Could Say More” at the Hudson Guild Theatre

Playwright, Director and Cast Member Chuck Blasius
“I Could Say More” at the Hudson Guild Theatre
Written and Directed by Chuck Blasius
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Billed as a “the tale of a modern family,” “I Could Say More” is primarily the tale of a train wreck of a summer weekend (and a fast forward to its fall conclusion) shared by the newly-married hosts Carl (Chuck Blasius) and Drew (Brett Douglas), their adopted son Jason (Brandon Smalls) and a smorgasbord of family, friends, and their assorted mates. If one defines “modern family” as infidelity, rancor, jealousy, homophobia, and unhappiness incarnate then Mr. Blasius’ new play is about the nature of the modern family. Hopefully, however, the future of the American family is far from what “I Could Say More” attempts to portray.

It is difficult to discern what the playwright was hoping to accomplish in this two-act play. The characters, though clearly defined, are uninteresting (except for Jason the adopted son) and their conflicts and problems are equally banal leaving a thin trail of driven plot. Even the act one discussion of the dead body washed up on the Long Island coast close to the summer rental beach – revisited mysteriously in act two – is pointless. The audience, assuming this to be a streak of interesting foreshadowing is left - like the play itself - with no resolution.

Perhaps most troubling is the main character Carl whose understandings of marriage and parenthood are as appalling as his manners as a host. Carl has been with Drew for fifteen years and their recent marriage certainly has not solidified a caring and committed relationship. Carl is in love with his husband’s drug-addled brother Phil (Grant James Varjas), constantly ignores and belittles his adopted son Jason and treats all of his guests with utter disdain. When one of his guests comments on how well Jason is getting along with her boyfriend Joe, the following dialogue occurs:

LILA: The two of them are really hitting it off.
CARL: Who?
LILA: Jason and Joe. Maybe you should have a straight man around the house more often.
CARL: You didn’t just say that.

There is much more like that. In a discussion with Drew about Dyson’s “grand theft auto” incident (taking a car without permission to visit the Eagle Bar ten miles away), Carl wonders:

CARL: Can you blame him for wanting to get away from all of us? I’d do it myself, but I don’t know where I’d go.
PHIL: Oh, haven’t there been enough games?
CARL: Ha. Said the emcee.

Indeed there is much game playing in Mr. Blasius’ play and the audience often wonders if there were someplace they could go to get away from all of the play’s characters. The ensemble cast does its best to bring their characters to life and cannot be blamed for whatever has gone wrong. This critic could say more; however, it is enough to say that it is difficult to write, direct, and act in a play and Mr. Blasius’ attempt to do all three in “I Could Say More” is without the success he surely intended.

I COULD SAY MORE

“I Could Say More” is presented by Other Side Productions and is written and directed by Chuck Blasius. The cast includes Chuck Blasius, Frank Delessio, Brett Douglas, Robert Gomes, Kate Hodge, Keith McDermott, Brandon Smalls, Grant James Varjas, and Monique Vukovic.

Scenic design is by Clifton Chadick; lighting design is by Brian Tovar; and sound design is by Roger Anderson. Costumes are by Esther Colt Coats. Katy Moore is stage manager.

Scheduled through February 1, I COULD SAY MORE will perform Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 7:00 PM (No performance Monday, January 20) at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 441 W. 26 St. in Manhattan. Tickets are $18.00 and can be reserved online at www.othersideproductions.org or by phone at 212 352 3101 or also online at www.theatermania.com.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"The Surrender" at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row

Toni Bentley
THE SURRENDER, stage adaptation of TONI BENTLEY’S erotic memoir receives N.Y.C. premiere in January


The Carol Tambor Theatrical Foundation is thrilled to announce the U.S. premiere of the stage adaptation of Toni Bentley's groundbreaking erotic memoir THE SURRENDER, directed by Zishan Ugurlu and starring Laura Campbell. THE SURRENDER will have its U.S. debut following critically acclaimed productions by the Spanish National Theatre (Centro Dramático Nacional) in Madrid and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013. Performances begin on Wednesday, January 8 for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 2 at The Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues). Opening Night is Wednesday, January 15 at 8 PM. The performance schedule is Tuesday through Thursday at 7:00 PM; Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00 PM; and Sunday at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $45 ($31.50 for preview performances from January 8-January 14). For tickets, which go one sale on Friday, December 6 at 12:30 PM, please call Telecharge at 212-239-6200 or visit at www.telecharge.com. For more information, visit www.thesurrendertheplay.com.

Long before Fifty Shades of Grey, former Balanchine dancer Toni Bentley offered readers a sensual glimpse into a taboo erotic experience with her daring memoir THE SURRENDER. After premiering in a production by the Spanish National Theatre in Madrid to great acclaim and a sold-out run and then causing a sensation at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, THE SURRENDER is stripped bare for the New York City stage.

The story of a woman's sexual obsession, THE SURRENDER tells of a classical ballerina who is seduced into the ultimate act of sexual submission by a sexy stranger. She is overcome and changed forever by his arousing alternative to convention.

Based on Toni Bentley's explicit and controversial erotic memoir, THE SURRENDER is "an extraordinary confession by a woman with an axe, and an ass, to grind" wrote Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna.) An "eye-wateringly sexy show" (The Stage), THE SURRENDER is the witty, profound, and true story of one woman's experience of erotic transcendence.

Joyce McMillan in The Scotsman praised THE SURRENDER as “A remarkable sustained piece of writing that belongs to the time-honoured tradition of French intellectual erotica, reaching back to De Sade.” Writing in On Stage, Michael Coveney enthused, “A serious play about sex is a rarity, and Kenneth Tynan would surely have applauded this beguiling and seductive adaptation of New York ballerina Toni Bentley’s book.”

TONI BENTLEY was born in Australia, and grew up in England before entering the School of American Ballet at age 10. She was invited to join Balanchine’s New York City Ballet at age 17, and published her first book, “Winter Season,” at age 22. She is the author of five books and numerous articles and essays for such publications as The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, and Playboy. “The Surrender, An Erotic Memoir” was named one of the Best 100 Books of the Year by the New York Times and has been published in 18 languages. She is a Guggenheim Fellow.
www.tonibentley.com @thetonibentley

ZISHAN UGURLU is a native of Istanbul and came to New York in 1995 at the invitation of Ellen Stewart, founder of La MaMa Theater, where she is now a resident actress and director. She has worked extensively both in New York and abroad. Her directing credits include the solo performances "Oysters, Orgasms, Obituaries" by R. von Waldenburg (Nominated for New York Innovative Theater Award for Outstanding Solo Performance) and “Request Program” by F. X. Kroetz. She recently directed “The Judith of Shimoda” by Brecht, and is currently creating a devised theatre piece with inmates at a maximum security prison in upstate New York based on reentry issues. She is a graduate of Columbia University.

LAURA CAMPBELL was born in Northern Ireland and moved to the United States at age ten. She attended Tulane University in New Orleans where she received her degree in Theatre Studies and International Relations followed by a Masters in Acting from Columbia University where she studied with Kristin Linklater, Andrei Serban, and Anne Bogart. Since graduating she has worked locally and regionally in theaters across the country including productions of “Dinner,” “Dust,” “Taming of the Shrew,” and “The Lion in Winter.” Her latest film release is "Doomsdays" directed by Eddie Mullins. She has done numerous guest star appearances on television including “Law & Order” and “Blue Bloods.” www.lauraecampbell.com
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Saturday, January 11, 2014

“What’s It All About?” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through January 5, 2014)

“What’s It All About?” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through January 5, 2014)
Music by Burt Bacharach
Lyrics by Hal David and Others
Directed by Steven Hoggett
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When Kyle Riabko finishes his improvised introduction of the band and the origin of “What’s It All About” which he co-conceived with David Lane Seltzer, he glides into his soulful arrangement of “Anyone Who Had A Heart” (Bacharach/Hal David). The audience collectively leans in (Mr. Riabko intentionally makes his audience pay attention) and everyone is immediately aware they are in the realm of re-imagination – somewhere just beyond the iconic Never Neverland. And the journey for the remaining ninety minutes is exhilarating, redemptive, and restorative of spirit.

Kyle Riabko has re-imagined the Bacharach songbook for a new generation and although this re-imagining connects with all generations of Bacharach fans, “What’s It all About” will resonate in a profound way with the Millennial Generation (the Peter Pan Generation). The themes of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David (and other lyricists) songs counterpoint with the mantras of this generation in electrifying ways and those themes are as universal as they are essential for the future of humankind.

Womanizer Alfie’s angst in the 1966 film by the same name generates his existential query, “What’s it all about? Is it just for the moment we live?” And his dubiety results in an important affirmation: “I know there’s something much more/Something even non-believers can believe in.” Alfie’s query and his resolution are at the contrapuntal core of Mr. Riabko’s successful experiment in re-imagining Burt Bachrach for his generation, a generation far too often dismissed as being as self-centered and perpetually pubescent as Alfie.

There is nothing self-centered about Kyle Riabko and his merry band of six co-conspirators in tapping into the imagination of their audience. This is as generous a group of actors and musicians anyone could hope to have assembled. Clothed in their generation’s garb, this brilliant cast invites the audience into their space – the whole front-of–house has been decorated as “the stage” with the same décor on and off the actual playing area. As they wander about, they explore an impressive 28 Bacharach songs (one outside the theatre) and armed only with their Kierkegaard-esque mantra, they manage to assure “those who have ears to hear” that what humankind needs is to be held tight, to be accepted for who they are (“Don’t Make Me Over”), to reach out to others and be open to being reached out to.

Mr. Riabko’s arrangements are as eclectic as they are persuasive. Bacharach’s songs are re-imagined with rock-and-roll, rock, metal, folk, country, and spoken work beats (and more) and reverberate through the New York Theatre Workshop space with an energy that brings salvific light “[into] the darkness in everybody’s life” (Rocky Horror).

Together, Kyle Riabko and director Steven Hoggett manage to not only reimagine the Bacharach songbook; they also reimagine musical theatre in the process. What the world needs at the moment – Kyle Riabko’s reimagining affirms – is both unconditional and non-judgmental love as well as love of the pussycat eyes variety. All that love, freely given and freely received – might not keep the raindrops from falling on heads desperate for affection and renewal of spirit but that love is redemptive and freeing:

“Raindrops keep falling on my head/But that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turnin' red/
Crying's not for me/ 'Cause I'm never gonna stop the rain by complainin'/ Because I'm free/
Nothing's worrying me.”

It’s all delicious and readers should make reservations to see this remarkable new musical before January 5, 2014. Hopefully, news of the show’s move will be announced before then. Nothing should be worrying Kyle Riabko, Steven Hoggett, and their imposing

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?”

New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) Artistic Director James C. Nicola presents “What’s It All About? Bacharach Reimagined,” with music by Burt Bacharach; lyrics by Hal David and others; musical arrangements by Kyle Riabko; conceived by Kyle Riabko and David Lane Seltzer; and directed by Steven Hoggett.

The cast of “What’s It All About?” includes Daniel Bailen, Laura Dreyfuss, James Nathan Hopkins, Nathaly Lopez, Kyle Riabko, James Williams, and Daniel Woods.

The scenic design for “What’s It All About?” is by Christine Jones and Brett Banakis; costume design is by Andrea Lauer; lighting design is by Japhy Weideman; sound design is by Clive Goodwin; casting is by Jim Carnahan. The production stage manager is Lindsey Turteltaub; music direction is by Kyle Riabko. Production photos are by Eric Ray Davidson.

“What’s It All About?” plays at New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, between Second Avenue and Bowery. The regular performance schedule is Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00pm; Thursday and Friday at 8:00pm; Saturday at 3pm and 8pm; Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. There will be a special student matinee on Wednesday, December 18. “What’s It All About?” runs through January 5, 2014. Tickets are $85 and may be purchased online at www.ticketcentral.com, 24 hours a day, seven days a week or by phoning Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, noon – 8pm daily. For exact dates and times of performance, visit www.nytw.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, December 10, 2013

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Walter Kerr Theatre (Open Run)

Photo by Joan Marcus
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Walter Kerr Theatre (Open Run)
Book and Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman
Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” is a rollicking romp through the hilarious escapades of Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham) as he eagerly disposes of any relative who appears to be an obstacle in his desire to become the heir to the Earl of Highhurst and the D’Ysquith family fortune. It is a sumptuous theatrical feast that serves up seven delectable courses of death and murder, accompanied by two delicious vintage love affairs, with flavors that are complex and combustible. This delectation is presented with wonderful melodic music, clever lyrics and incredibly detailed, lush period costumes by Linda Cho that capture every mood and scene to perfection.

Based on the novel by Roy Horniman, “A Gentleman’s Guide to love and Murder” is an intricate and subtle blend of theatrical styles subsuming an extraordinary amalgam of operetta, farce, quick change magic and pure exceptional good old fashioned musical comedy that is fun and filled with endless laughter. Admirably it is packed with over the top characters that never rely on offensive language or politically incorrect situations or commentary to produce humor, even though there is plenty of perfectly executed innuendo. Deftly directed by Darko Tresnjak, it moves at lightning speed and never misses a beat or an opportunity to extract a laugh from the tightly well crafted script.

The cast is brilliant and ever so generous to the audience and to one other. Bryce Pinkham is inexhaustible, remaining onstage for the entire performance except for a couple of moments to catch his breath. His vocals are delivered with pure controlled tone, precise diction and accompanied by facial expressions that rival the most revered silent movie icons. His interpretation of “Foolish to Think” is wonderful and will help make this song become a Broadway standard for years to come. Jefferson Mays is a wonderment who embodies eight different characters with broad appeal and manages complete costume changes with incredible precision and timing. He is the master of quick change artistry.

Lisa O’Hare commands the stage as the naughty lover Sibella Hallward and creates a devilishly impudent character with a heavenly soprano vocal. Lauren Worsham is a delight as the wholesome, demure fiancé Pheobe D’Ysquith who is as sincere and stable as her fluent and robust vocal quality which enhances every scene she encounters. Jane Carr is exceptional as the stout, caring, lovingly diabolical Miss Shingle. The entire ensemble is more than capable as they mold definitive characters, create scenes that compliment the bedlam, and explode with enthusiasm as they tread upon the magnificent Victorian set designed by Alexander Dodge.

Characterization, stage craft, direction, and song collide throughout the musical but perhaps in a no more memorable way than in “I’ve Decided to Marry You” the delicious dining-room farce scene that emerges from Monty’s memory as he awaits the jury’s determination on his guilt or innocence. In this tantalizing play within a play (all things lovely and murderous are at least once removed from the conscience of the audience), Monty fends off the affections of former flame Sibella (who on all counts is just shy of ‘Isabella’) and current interest Phoebe of the family D’Ysquith. Courting Phoebe in the parlor while fending off Sibella in the boudoir becomes a hilarious ménage a trois with Monty often barricaded in the hallway between the two rooms opening one door then the other to engage his suitors.

It was never a movie; it is not a jukebox musical; and there are no film stars to draw audiences: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” holds its own and is precisely what Broadway needs. Mr. Freedman and Mr. Lutvak have concocted a musical comedy that resonates with a freshness and spontaneity that is imaginative, inventive and will certainly stand the test of time.

A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER

The cast for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” includes Pamela Bob, Jane Carr, Joanna Glushak, Eddie Korbich, Mark Ledbetter, Jefferson Mays, Lisa O’Hare, Bryce Pinkham, Jennifer Smith, Price Waldman, Catherine Walker, and Lauren Worsham.

The design team for “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” includes Alexander Dodge (Scenic Design), Linda Cho (Costume Design), Philip S. Rosenberg (Lighting Design), Dan Moses Schreier (Sound Design), Aaron Rhyne (Projections Design), and Charles LaPointe (Wig Design). Orchestrations are by Jonathan Tunick and Vocal Arrangements are by Dianne Adams McDowell and Steven Lutvak. Paul Staroba serves as Music Director. Production photos are by Joan Marcus.

The performance schedule for “A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder” is as follows: Tuesday, October 22 through Friday, November 16 - Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:00 PM, and Sunday at 3:00 PM. Beginning Tuesday, November 19 - Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 PM, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM, Sunday at 3:00 PM, with 2:00 PM matinees on Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets, priced from $99-$137, are on sale via telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200 / (800) 447-7400. Tickets are also available for purchase in person at the Walter Kerr Box Office (219 W. 48th Street). Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, November 26, 2013

“And Away We Go” at the Pearl Theatre Company (Through December 15)

Micah Stock/Photo by Al Foote III
“And Away We Go” at the Pearl Theatre Company (Through December 15)
Written by Terrence McNally
Directed by Jack Cummings III
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Terrence McNally’s “And Away We Go,” currently running at The Pearl Theatre Company, has the capacity to shake even the most torpid theatre-goers to tears. In fact, it literally shakes the theatre! The Pearl’s 30th Season world premiere celebrates the endurance of the theatre throughout the ages and consecrates the “spirit” of the theatre that transcends time and space. That spirit has survived all plagues (ancient and modern), all revolutions, all man-made and natural disasters, and all fiscal challenges (local and global). Indeed, all of these challenges have served to strengthen the entity we call the theatre and make it even more resilient and more resplendent. “Away We Go” is pure theatrical brilliance.

During the Prologue, the actors enter one by one. Each respectfully and lovingly kisses the stage, introduces him or herself, and shares most favorite and least favorite role. Each also shares one thing the audience should know before the performance begins. At the Saturday matinee before opening night, Rachel Botchan shares that she just realized she was not wearing the jacket she was supposed to be wearing for her performance. This honesty puts the audience at ease and paves the way for a night of bewitching and beguiling live theatre unlike anything that has been on stage in a very long time.

These six splendid actors portray over thirty characters that, across the ages, have understood and celebrated the “idea of artistic community” and take the audience on a “whirling, imaginative journey through the joys, missteps, anxieties, and triumphs that have faced theatre companies across the ages” (Kate Farrington, PTC Artistic Director). The ensemble cast responds generously to Jack Cummings III’s splendid and inventive direction and unanimously gives rich, authentic, and genuine performances, portraying a cross section of thespians and theatre professionals as they gather backstage to ply their craft and ponder the future of their theatre.

In Athens in 458 B.C.E. at the Theatre of Dionysus, a frustrated actor Dimitris (Sean McNall) blusters backstage about his unfinished mask. In the South Bank of London in 1610 at the Globe Theatre, Richard Burbage’s wife Gretna (Donna Lynne Champlin) struggles to fit into the backstage banter about the business of theatre. At the Royal Theatre of Versailles in 1789, a playwright Christophe Durant (Micah Stock) defends his work against the King’s censor. Leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution in 1896 Moscow, delivery boy Pavel Leshmenev (Micah Stock) whispers words of revolution to the theatre’s anxious cleaning woman Nina Kozlovsky (Donna Lynne Champlin).

Anxiety continues in 1956 at the South Florida Coconut Grove Playhouse. Backstage after a poorly received performance of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” Lucine Gershwin an irate subscriber (Carol Schultz) decides she needs “to speak for the audience” and complain that the theatre needs to produce plays that “shake their fist at God,” not Godot. This scene morphs into a scene which includes the actors from Athens, England, France, Russia, Florida, and the present converging in one common backstage place. This is an electrifying and emotional scene which leaves few dry eyes in the audience and reminds the audience that theatre has always been “something very special: a safe place for some of the greatest plays ever written – and maybe some that maybe weren’t so great.”

Interwoven is the theme of the survival of the theatre – survival as a concept as well as the survival of theatre companies locally and globally. Mr. McNally’s script grabs at the very heart of the theatre and the collective heart of the audience. At the end of the play, in the present, theatre company executive director Shirley Channing (Carol Schultz) gathers her actors and creative team to hear the important announcement from board member Anne Tedesco-Boyle (Donna Lynne Champlin) that she is donating sufficient money to allow the company to continue its plans for the next season.

Sandra Goldmark’s leviathan set is all about the business of the theatre: it pulls the audience into the theatre’s world of sets, costumes, props, lighting fixtures, and workspaces. Front and center is the ghost light, the same ghost light Archie turns on at the end of the play after Godot understudy Peter (Sean McNell) dies quietly in the midst of friends. Stage manager Gordon calls “House to half, Go. House out, Go. Cue music, Go. Lights up, Go.” The backstage is now empty and all the actors have found their places. “And Away We Go” is a remarkable play that will most likely have a future beyond its current magical run at the very special Pearl Theatre Company. Be sure to see it before December 15th.

AND AWAY WE GO

The cast of “And Away We Go” includes Rachel Botchan, Donna Lynne Champlin, Dominic Cuskern, Sean McNall, Carol Schultz, and Micah Stock.

The creative team includes Sandra Goldmark (Sets), Kathyrn Rohe (Costumes), R. Lee Kennedy (Lighting), Michael Rasbury (Sound), Kate Farrington (Dramaturg) and Lloyd Davis, Jr. (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Al Foote III.

Performances of “And Away We Go” run through December 15 on the following schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.; and Thursday–Saturday at 8:00 p.m. The Pearl Theatre is located at 555 West 42nd Street in New York City. Tickets are $65 ($35 seniors, $20 student rush, $20 Thursday rush) and can be purchased by visiting pearltheatre.org or calling 212-563-9261. Tuesday Talkbacks with Cast and Crew on Nov. 26 and Dec. 10, post-performance, free with admission. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Sunday, November 24, 2013

“Witnessed by the World” at 59E59 Theater B (Through December 15)

“Witnessed by the World” at 59E59 Theater B (Through December 15)
Written by Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale
Directed by Karen Carpenter
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

With thousands of books published about John F. Kennedy, including tomes promulgating a variety of assassination conspiracy theories, it would seem risky to write a script about the events surrounding yet another conspiracy theory. Notwithstanding, Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale decide to take that risk on the 50th Anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination with their new “Witnessed by the World” currently playing at 59E59 Theater B. It is regrettable to report that their concerted effort does not result in the success they most likely anticipated. The production falls flat on almost every level.

The playwrights’ script seems weak and predictable and Ms. Carpenter’s direction leaves the cast performing on the same emotional level throughout the ninety minute play. The production is further hampered by a set design that often appears more cluttered than sparse and although the “chalk drawing” projections that establish setting provide some interest, they cannot compete with the rest of the set’s deficiencies. And the black-outs between scenes are distracting and unnecessary.

“Witnessed by the World” has a stellar cast. Unfortunately these accomplished actors seem to deliver no more than lackluster performances. They seem not to be engaged with the script or with the inner workings of their characters. Even characters that might have some interesting traits fall flat on stage. For example, the announcement of Jack Ruby’s sister Eileen Kaminsky’s (Lois Markle) untimely death – first to screenwriter Ira Basil (Max Gordon Moore) then to acclaimed reporter Joan Ross (Charlotte Maier) seems to have the same emotional vector as mobster Joe Capano’s (Joe Tapper) offer of coffee to Aaron Spencer (Bob Ari) in his liquor store.

This lack of energy detracts from the impact the play might have with more energetic direction and a more functional set. It is intriguing that those involved in a conspiracy theory fifty years ago might still be interested in covering up their tracks; however, this premise might not provide the most interesting dramatic composition.

WITNESSED BY THE WORLD

The cast includes Bob Ari, Charlotte Maier, Lois Markle, Max Gordon Moore, and Joe Tapper.

The design team includes Libby Stadstad (Scenic Design), Cory Pattak (Lighting Design), Martin T. Lopez (Costume Design), Lindsay Jones (Sound Design), Matthew Haber (Projection Design). The Production Stage Manager is Jana Llynn. Production photos are by Douglas Denoff.

“Witnessed by the World” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, December 15. 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. Please note, there is no performance on Thursday, November 28 (Thanksgiving). Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $49 ($33.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Saturday, November 23, 2013

“One Night …” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through December 15, 2013)

Rutina Wesley as Alicia G/Photo by Sandra Coudert
“One Night …” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through December 15, 2013)
Written by Charles Fuller
Directed by Clinton Turner Davis
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The utter moral ambiguity of war and its accoutrements is powerfully reflected in Charles Fuller’s spellbinding “One Night …” the co-production of Cherry Lane Theatre and Rattlestick Playeright’s Theatre currently running at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Although Mr. Fuller’s play provides no new information about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in returning war veterans – that is not the purpose of this important play – it does focus on important matters of motivation, including the need to confess and the desire to be forgiven.

Alicia G (Rutina Wesley) ends up living in her car behind her mother’s house after returning from serving in the military in Iraq. Alicia has not only been brutalized by the vivid and recurring memories of her time in Iraq; she continues to be brutalized by the equally vivid and recurring memory of the one night she was gang-raped by fellow servicemen. Alicia is surprised by a visit from Horace Lloyd (Grantham Coleman) the fellow serviceman who, after fourteen months, has managed to track her down, travel to her home, and offer to help her out of her homeless despair.

This odd liaison lands the pair in a shelter which mysteriously burns to the ground and relocates them in a nearby motel for one night. And it is in this motel, in the midst of PTSD flashbacks, that another mystery is solved; namely, who was responsible for the gang-rape of Alicia G. Not unlike a cat-and-mouse thriller, “One Night …” explores the motivations of Horace and Alicia as they delve deeper into the relationship that has tapped into their matrix of co-dependence and search for unconditional and non-judgmental love.

Grantham Coleman and Rutina Wesley use their formidable craft to skillfully and carefully peel away the fear-laden layers of their characters’ personalities. Watching these two young actors provides a window into the tortured lives of two veterans scarred not only by war but by their disparate backgrounds and baggage. Their characters are manipulative, frightened, combative, angry, and confused and Mr. Coleman and Ms. Wesley give performances that permit the audience to question everything they previously believed about war and peace.

Motel owner Meny (Cortez Nance, Jr.) is the “stateside” version of the battlefields abroad who fails to understand why Horace would object to pimping Alicia to his hourly-rate clients. Mr. Nance portrays Meny with all the character’s smarminess and depravity firmly in place. K. K. Moggie and Matthew Montelongo handily portray the characters that inhabit Alicia’s and Horace’s debilitating PTSD flashbacks and memories.

“One Night …” is a hauntingly powerful extended metaphor for all the atrocities of war and the effects those offenses have on returning serviceman and their families. It raises important questions – most with no specific answer – about what is delusional and what is real; who is crazy and who is not; racism; sexism; and the necessity of war. This is not an easy menu of queries to resolve; however, Mr. Fuller’s play, under Clinton Turner Davis’s resplendent and firm direction, does raise the significant questions about the human condition when it is forced to interface the inhumanity of war.

ONE NIGHT …

“One Night...” is a co-production of the Cherry Lane Theatre and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and is directed by Clinton Turner Davis.

The cast of “One Night…” is Grantham Coleman, Bianca LaVerne Jones, K.K. Moggie, Matthew Montelongo, and Cortez Nance Jr.

The scenic design for “One Night…” is by John McDermott; costume design is by Jessica Jahn; lighting design is by Nicole Pearce; sound design is by Sean O’Halloran; video design is by Gil Sperling. The production manager is Eugenia Furneaux; the production stage manager is C. Renee Alexander; the assistant stage manager is Kristin Pfeifer. Production photos by Sandra Coudert.

“One Night…” plays Monday and Tuesday at 7pm, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, Sunday at 3pm at Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street (three blocks south of Christopher Street, west of Seventh Avenue South). Tickets to “One Night…” may be purchased by visiting www.cherrylanetheatre.org or by phoning Ovationtix at 866-811-4111. Individual tickets are $66, $25 for patrons under 30 years old and theater artists, $20 for military with valid ID, and $20 for students with valid ID. Information for specially priced Rattlestick membership tickets is available by visiting www.rattlestick.org/memberships or by phoning 212-627-2556. For more information about “One Night...,” please visit www.cherrylanetheatre.org. Running time is 90 minutes without an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, November 21, 2013

“All That Fall” at 59E59 Theater A (Through December 8, 2013)

Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon
“All That Fall” at 59E59 Theater A (Through December 8, 2013)
Written by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Trevor Nunn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The LORD upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.” Psalm 145:14 (NIV)

During her belabored round trip from her home to the train station to pick up her husband Mr. Rooney (Michael Gambon) on his birthday, Mrs. Rooney (Eileen Atkins) rehearses the variety of her physical and emotional deficits: there is much that has “bowed down” this seemingly broken older woman; however, she has all but given up on any chance of divine intervention for redemption or release. The Rooney’s malaise is the subject of Samuel Beckett’s timeless “All That Fall” currently gracing the Theater A stage at 59E59.

This 1956 one-act radio play is Samuel Beckett tragicomedy at its best. Underscored (figuratively) by Franz Shubert’s “Death and the Maiden,” “All That Fall” is a testament to death and all its precursors and its movements (the trip to the station alone, events at the station, the walk home together) counterpoint the vicissitudes of the human experience as seen from the point of view of all that is absurd and surreal.

The brokenness of Maddy’s and Dan’s lives is unmasked in Maddy’s conversations with stydung salesperson Christy (Ruairi Conaghan), cyclist Mr. Tyler (Frank Grimes), her old admirer Mr. Slocum (Trevor Cooper), station porter Tommy (Billy Carter), stationmaster Mr. Barrell (James Hayes), Protestant do-gooder Miss Fitt (Catherine Cusack), and with her husband Dan on the way home from the station. When Maddy feels ignored by Tommy, she expresses the ultimate of twenty-first century ennui as she shares with him, “Don’t mind me. Don’t take any notice of me. I do not exist. The fact is well known.”

Miss Fitt (Catherine Cusack) is not the only misfit on the journey from Brighton Road to Foxrock Railway Station. Everyone Maddy Rooney encounters has issues of loss, poor health, maladjustment, madness, or sheer meanness. Oddly the only centered character is young Jerry (Liam Thrift) who is saddled with the adult responsibility of delivering a ball Mr. Rooney apparently dropped on the train. He also delivers the news that the train was delayed because “It was a little child fell out of the carriage.”

The production is faithful to the Beckett estate’s conditions for staged readings: producers agree to limit the action to actors speaking the lines and walking to and from chairs. Under Trevor Nunn’s genteel direction, the brilliant ensemble cast manages to convince the audience it is observing a radio broadcast that would take place with or without the onlookers. It is the audience’s privilege to be able to “peek” into the “studio” as the actors move from chairs to “overhead microphones” back to their seated positions when not “reading” their scripts.

Whether we exist or not is not a question relevant to Maddy Rooney alone: nor is wondering if there is anyone “out there” to lift us up when we fall. Samuel Beckett’s “All That Fall” allows the listener to tune into her or his own sense of lassitude and abandonment. The radio play also allows the audience to honestly face its own complicity in the falling of others from grace, in the “falling under the wheels” of those who by their very existence challenge our autonomy and authenticity.

ALL THAT FALL

Produced by Richard Darbourne Ltd and Jermyn Street Theatre in association with Gene David Kirk, “All That Fall” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, December 8 and is directed by Trevor Nunn.

Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon will be joined in the Off Broadway production by Ruairi Conaghan, Frank Grimes, Trevor Cooper, Billy Carter, James Hayes, and Catherine Cusack.

The creative team includes Cherry Truluck (designer); Phil Hewitt (lighting designer); Paul Groothuis (sound designer); Anthony Biggs (associate director); and Ed Clarke (associate sound director). Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

“All That Fall” is at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues). The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday - Saturday 8 PM; with matinee performances on Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM; and Sunday at 3:00 PM. Please note, there is no performance on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 28. Single tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Tuesday, November 19, 2013

“Fix Me, Jesus” at Abingdon Theatre Company’s Dorothy Streslin Theatre (Through November 24)

“Fix Me, Jesus” at Abingdon Theatre Company’s Dorothy Streslin Theatre (Through November 24)
Written by Helen Sneed
Directed by Sam Pinkleton
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Fix me for my long white robe, /fix me, Jesus, fix me. /Fix me for my starry crown, /fix me, Jesus, fix me.
Fix me for my journey home, /fix me, Jesus, fix me. /Fix me for my dying bed, /fix me, Jesus, fix me.”
(African-American Spiritual, adapted and arranged by William Farley Smith)

There appears to be a considerable amount of fixing going on in Dallas, Texas in November of 1986 and in the preceding decades leading up to Annabell Armstrong’s (played with brilliance by Polly Lee) last minute shopping spree at Dallas’ famed Neiman Marcus store. Primarily, almost everyone in Annabell’s life has thought she needed fixing – everyone except Jesus.

Annabell’s mother (played with appropriate frenzy by Lori Gardner) – she a co-dependent creature – always believed Annabell was “fat” and needed to slim down. The child’s grandmother (played deliciously Southern by Lisa McMillan) considers Annabell’s left-leaning Weltanschauung in need of serious fixing. After slapping Annabell’s face hard after, as a child, she referred to a guest at the Democratic National Convention as a “Negro lady,” doting grandma fixes her grand-daughter’s diction with: “There’s no such thing as a “nigra lady!” A nigra is never called a “lady.” The proper term is colored woman or colored girl. (To Mother) See how you’ve corrupted her.” The chain of fixing never ends. Nor apparently does the scourge of racism.

Additionally, Annabell’s transplanted-from-New-York psychoanalyst Dr. Maxwell Feld (played with sweet smarminess by Mitch Tebo) also joins the fixing frenzy by suggesting all Annabell’s ills stem from a fear of success. Although he proves to be somewhat correct, his professional opinion is tarnished by his (not unexpected) confession of love for Annabell despite his married status.

Playwright Helen Sneed develops all of these characters with a firm commitment to authenticity and believability. She also provides conflicts that drive a series of compelling plots that cross over space and time. Annabell as a child (played with grace and charm by Kate Froemmling) stands on stage right next to the adult Annabell; both characters often performing the exact same movements in two different time periods. The “glue” which connects all space and time is Mrs. Craig (played with steely yet sensitive skill by Lee Roy Rogers) who is the only character who loves Annabell throughout her life unconditionally and non-judgmentally.

Ultimately, Annabell finds her way through the maze of self-acceptance and emerges a separate and individuated adult. She divorces herself from the “past which has caught up with her” and her “self-loathing” behavior and stumbles headlong into a meaningful construct of health and hope.

Special mention goes to director Sam Pinkleton who exquisitely fuses past and present into a unified and powerful performance given by a dedicated and craft-honed ensemble cast. Finding one’s way from co-dependence to authentic adulthood is not an easy task and many fail in the attempt. “Fix Me, Jesus” is the perfect anecdote to that failure. Annabell is fixed for her journey home in the present and in the future.

FIX ME, JESUS

The ensemble features Kate Froemmling, Lori Gardner, Polly Lee, Lisa McMillan, Lee Roy Rogers, and Mitch Tebo.

The creative team includes Christopher Ford and Dakota Rose (co-set and costume design); Vadim Ledvin (lighting design); Margaret Pine (composer and sound design). Production Stage Manager is Deidre Works. Production photos are by Kim T. Sharp.

Performances of "Fix Me, Jesus" run through November 24: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. (with the following exception: Sunday, November 10 at 5:00 p.m.) at Abingdon Theatre Company's Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues). Tickets are $25. For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit www.abingdontheatre.org. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Saturday, November 16, 2013

“How to Make Friends and then Kill Them” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through November 24)

Katya Campbell, Jen Ponton, and Keira Keeley/Photo by Hal Horowitz Photography
“How to Make Friends and then Kill Them” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through November 24)
Written by Halley Feiffer
Directed by Kip Fagan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Co-dependent sisters Ada (Katya Campbell) and Sam (Keira Keeley) and their alter-ego sidekick Dorrie (Jen Ponton) suffer from a somewhat classic case of disambiguation and their individual and corporate arrested development occupy the stage in Helley Feiffer’s complex and often disturbing “How to Make Friends and then Kill Them” currently running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

Ms. Feiffer’s new play not only begs for but demands psychological criticism to successfully peel off the delicious layers of meaning in her text. Superego, ego, and id collide, morph, collapse, and re-emerge as the three characters rehearse the stages of development for the often unsuspecting audience. Ada’s, Sam’s and Dorrie’s childhoods, teenage years, and adulthoods never quite achieve separate developmental identities; rather, they are each “stuck” somewhere in development and cry out for redemption and release from their psychological angst. Sam admits to wanting to die “so bad.” Unable to escape her addictions, Ada simply just “does not care” any more. And Dorrie does whatever is necessary to be loved including offering up her life.

Katya Campbell, Keira Keeley, and Jen Ponton skillfully navigate their way through the complexities of their characters’ psyches with an uncanny understanding of Ada, Sam, and Dorrie respectively. The portrayals they give are never simplistic or overwrought. They bring the vignettes from their characters’ lives to a realistic albeit disquieting level often matching the girls’ definitions of “weird” and “creepy.” They rehearse childhood games in their adulthood hoping to recapture a more innocent time. They are so without boundaries they easily exchange identities and desires. They struggle to understand what friendship is and always manage to just miss its mark.

Andromache Chalfant’s multi-level set is a striking mindscape which reflects the inner workings of the human mind: there are places where memories reside; there are unfinished mental landscapes (insulated wall studs with no sheetrock); and there is the cellar, the mysterious and frightening aspects of the mind’s domain. Most of the action takes place in the family kitchen, the room normally occupied by warmth and nurturing but in this case the scene of horrific memories of an alcoholic mother and the characters’ recurring attempts to cheat the dissolution of their ego strength perhaps one more time.

Director Kip Fagan manages to make all of this work with a distinguished level of grace and care. There are no wasted moments in this fine production. And under Mr. Fagan’s direction the cast makes only right choices about their characters and their motivations. The challenge for the audience is to determine whether Ada, Sam, and Dorrie are separate individuals or a surreal representation of the complexities of the human mind as it “walks the boards” of separation and individuation. In either case, the result is gripping theatre which insists that the audience grapples with the mysteries of growing up, codependence, and all too often, the “fear and trembling unto death.”

HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND THEN KILL THEM

“How to Make Friends and then Kill Them” is presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Artistic Director David Van Asselt and Managing Director Brian Long), is directed by Kip Fagan and runs through Sunday, November 24.

The cast of “How to Make Friends and then Kill Them” includes Katya Campbell, Keira Keeley, and Jen Ponton.

The scenic design for “How to Make Friends and then Kill Them” is by Andromache Chalfant; costume design is by Jessica Pabst; lighting design is by Tyler Micoleau; sound design is by Daniel Kluger. The production manager is Eugenia Furneaux; the production stage manager is Michael Denis; the assistant stage manager is Michelle Scalpone. Production photos by Hal Horowitz Photography.

“How to Make Friends and then Kill Them” plays Mondays and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 7pm at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, west of Seventh Avenue South, between West 11th and Perry Streets. Individual tickets to “How to Make Friends and then Kill Them” may be purchased at www.rattlestick.org or by calling OvationTix at 866.811.4111. Individual tickets are $55, Student tickets are $10, and under-30 tickets are $15. For more information about “How to Make Friends and then Kill Them” and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, visit www.rattlestick.org. The running time is 90 minutes without an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Friday, November 15, 2013

“Disaster!” at the St. Luke’s Theatre (Open Run)

“Disaster!” at the St. Luke’s Theatre (Open Run)
Written by Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick
Directed by Jack Plotnick
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

As parodies go, Seth Rudetsky’s “Disaster!” is among the best. Eschewing lampooning just one disaster-genre movie, Mr. Rudetsky and Mr. Plotnick successfully spoof several of the catalog of doomsday films of the 1970s that feature the disfigurement, death, and discord that results from some combination of electrical or natural gas disturbances; earthquakes; floods; tsunami; sinking ships; plagues; or infestations. There is even a nod to the volcano disaster films. But no spoilers will be proffered here. Audience members will have to find their own way through the morass of movie mayhem. Suffice it to say that in “Disaster!” floating casino guest Shirley (Mary Testa) chooses tap dancing over swimming to save the day for fellow casino guests and staff.

The musical, on the move from an earlier weekly run at the Triad Theatre, is replete with similar outrageously humorous allusions which keep the audience not only responding with laughter but with anticipation of the next brilliant moment of parody. But it is not parody alone that makes this jukebox musical a success and a candidate for an extended life Off-Broadway for years to come. “Disaster!” has well developed characters with believable conflicts other than their pending demise. These conflicts drive oddly heartwarming (as well as typically outrageous) plots. The musical also sports over thirty-five hits from the 1970s which is “hot stuff” indeed.

The main story line is simple: tycoon Tony (John Treacy Eagan) is anxious to get New York City’s first floating casino open and lucrative. Unfortunately, he has sidestepped as many city inspections as the number of permits he applied for. But not only is his casino unsafe, but also the dock it is moored to has been drilled into a dangerous and unstable fault line. Geologist Ted (Seth Rudetsky) is aware of the impending disaster and attempts to warn the passengers of the danger they are in.

Several sub-plots pepper the musical with interesting conflicts and cleverly crafted characters. Casino waiters Chad (Matt Farcher) and Scott (Robb Sapp) are hoping to find prospective dates among the guests on the boat; however, Chad runs into reporter Marianne (Haven Burton) who is the woman who left him standing at the altar years earlier. A Roman Catholic Sister (Jennifer Simard) does her best to warn entering gamblers they are on the fast-track to Hades but is forced to confront her own recovering gambler demons when she finds a quarter on the floor of the casino. Chanteuse Jackie (Michele Ragusa) is looking for a career comeback and a father for her eleven year old twins Ben and Lisa (Jonah Verdon). Perhaps past her prime disco star Levora (Charity Dawson) attempts to get as much as she can without spending a dime. And outer-borough couple Shirley and Maury (Mary Testa and Tom Riis Farrell) hope to rekindle love’s flame as Shirley’s sentience begins to succumb to cancer.

The cast is rounded out by stock characters played by Saum Eskandani, Sherz Aletaha, and Maggie McDowell. All performances, under Jack Plotnick’s thoughtful direction, are exhilarating and engaging. It is remarkable how connected the audience becomes to characters that, in the hands of less skilled performers, could be nothing more than cartoons.

Highlights among the performances delivered by the distinguished ensemble cast are Sister’s plaintive “The Lord’s Prayer” (Albert Hal Malotte); Chad and Scott’s “Saturday Night” (Bill Martin and Phil Coulter); Marianne’s “Feelings” (Morris Albert and Louis Gaste); and Chad’s ode to Marianne “Three Times a Lady” (Eddie Floyd/Steve Cropper).

The two hours and five minutes of “Disaster!” move by quickly convincing the audience that it is “All Right Now” (Andy Fraser and Paul Rogers) to sit back and enjoy rehearsing the disaster movies of the 1970s and the tops hits of the same remarkable decade.

DISASTER

The cast of “Disaster!” includes Sherz Aletaha, Haven Burton, Paul Castree, Charity Dawson, John Treacy Egan, Saum Eskandani, Matt Farcher, Tom Riis Farrell, Drew Geraci, Ashanti J’Aria, Maggie McDowell, Michele Ragusa, Seth Rudetsky, Robb Sapp, Jennifer Simard, Mary Testa, and Jonah Verdon.

Presented by Mary J. Davis, “Disaster!” has set and lighting design by Josh Iacovelli; costume design by Brian Hemesath, and sound design by Brett Rothstein. Larry Pressgrove is the Music Director, and Steve Marzullo is the Music Supervisor. Drew Geraci is the associate director and choreographer. Jeff Davolt is the Production Stage Manager, and Tom Kosis is the ASM.

“Disaster!” will be performed Off-Broadway at the St. Luke’s Theatre (308 W. 46th Street) beginning Monday October 14th. The schedule is Mondays at 7:30 PM, Tuesdays at 7:30 PM, Wednesdays at 2:30 PM, and Fridays at 8:00 PM. Opening night is Monday, November 4th. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes including and intermission.

Tickets for Disaster!" priced from $39.50 – $69.50 are on sale now via Telecharge. Call 212-239-6200 (800-447-7400 outside of NYC) or visit disastermusical.com to purchase tickets online.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, November 07, 2013

The 25th Annual Festival of New Musicals

The 25th Annual Festival of New Musicals
October 17 – 18, 2013 at New World Stages
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Anyone with fears that there is a dearth of new musicals on the horizon can stop worrying: the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) has been hard at work since 1989 introducing writers and their new musicals to significant theatre industry leaders. The nine new musicals introduced at this year’s Festival garnered overwhelming support from those leaders who packed Stages 2 and 4 at New World Stages in New York City to develop a working relationship with the new musicals and their writers.

The nine musicals that were seen in 45-minute stage readings were Analog & Vinyl (Book, Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon), The Boy Who Danced on Air (Book and Lyrics by Charlie Sohne/Music by Tim Rosser), Come From Away (Book, Music and Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein), Eastland (Book and Lyrics by Andrew White/Music by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman), My Heart is the Drum (Book by Jennie Redling/Music and Concept by Phillip Palmer/Lyrics by Stacey Luftig), The Astonishing Return of…The Protagonists! (Book and Lyrics by Kevin Del Aguila/Music by Michael Shaieb), The Sandman (Book and Lyrics by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker), Single Girls Guide (Book by Gordon Greenberg/Music and Lyrics by Tommy Newman), and The Three Little Pigs (Book and Lyrics by Anthony Drewe/Music by George Stiles).

Industry leaders introduced each team of writers who then introduced their new musical and how they chose to present their work: some used the 45-minute segments to run through an entire act while others used the time to showcase songs from the entire musical with a narrator filling in important details of exposition, setting, and story line. Each of the nine presentations featured outstanding casts of Broadway and Off-Broadway actors and musicians.

The energy was high at the Festival as industry leaders and NAMT members lined up for each musical either anticipating what they were about to see or commenting on what they had previously seen. There was no doubt that the new musicals would garner support from not only New York producers but from the Regional Theatres in the United States and professional theatres from around the world.

The Festival also featured a “Songwriters Showcase” on the second day with seasoned writers and newcomers sharing their thoughts (talk show style) on their most recent projects in progress.

For further information on the National Alliance of Musical Theatre and its important work, please visit http://www.namt.org/

THE 25TH ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF NEW MUSICALS

Since 1989, NAMT has introduced 490 writers and 270 new musicals to theatre industry leaders. These musicals have had thousands of subsequent productions worldwide, and over 75% of the writers have seen further development for their musicals, have found agents, licensing agreements, or commissions as a direct result of the Festival. Past highlights include Broadway’s The Drowsy Chaperone, winner of five 2006 Tony Awards and Thoroughly Modern Millie, 2002 Tony Winner for Best Musical. Off-Broadway successes are I Love You Because, Ordinary Days, See Rock City & Other Destinations, Striking 12, Songs for a New World, and Vanities. Regional hits include Ace, Children of Eden, Emma, Honk!, Kingdom, Meet John Doe, and Winesburg, Ohio.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Saturday, November 02, 2013

“Romeo and Juliet” at Classic Stage Company (through November 10, 2013)

Elizabeth Olsen and Julian Cihi as Juliet and Romeo/Photo by Joan Marcus
“Romeo and Juliet” at Classic Stage Company (through November 10, 2013)
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Tea Alagic
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Anyone attempting to assist students (high school or college) grapple with the multi-layered meanings in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” ought to be banging down the door of Classic Stage Company’s box office to schedule a performance for their classes before this scintillating and often disturbing production of the Bard’s classic closes on Sunday November 10, 2013. The rest of the population – groundlings though we be – should be clamoring to get to the box office before the faculty does.

Wizard Tea Alagic performs pure thaumaturgy in her direction of this forward-thinking production. Although this “Romeo and Juliet” is staged intentionally to demonstrate the permanence of Shakespeare’s text in the literary canon, Ms. Alagic’s visionary direction also brilliantly overlays the text with exquisite and disciplined acting by an ensemble cast whose craft handily counterpoints the text. Marsha Ginsberg’s minimal set, Jason Lyons’ hypnagogic lighting, and Clint Ramos’ contemporary costumes further distinguish this offering as an exemplary success for minimalist theatre.

Eschewing the reading of the Prologue and a substantial number of lines at the end of Shakespeare’s text of “Romeo and Juliet,” director Alagic chooses to focus her attention on characterization and conflict development, particularly the conflicts which drive the rich plots surrounding the protagonists’ almost urgent attempts to find and celebrate authentic love. All of this dramaturgy is accomplished because of the resplendent performances of Julian Cihi (Romeo), Elizabeth Olsen (Juliet), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Nurse), and Daniel Davis (Friar Laurence).

Although the performances of these four actors cannot be fully appreciated without considering the stellar practice of the remaining cast, their rich understanding of their characters and their disparate conflicts drive the action of this production forward with almost dizzying velocity. Mr. Cihi’s Romeo captures both the innocence of adolescent love and the angst of a generation struggling for effectual separation and individuation. Ms. Olsen manages to capture the spirit of a young woman physically and emotionally abused by an overbearing and disturbed father (David Garrison) and a teenager desperate to find unconditional and nonjudgmental love.

Romeo and Juliet’s “star-crossed” love is privy to and nourished by their mutual spiritual advisor and by Juliet’s long-suffering nurse. Daniel Davis’s transcendent performance as Verona’s Friar exposes the conflicted soul of a cleric who knows his role is more than confessor. Daphne Rubin-Vega conjures up a Nurse unlike any other on any other stage ever. Her performance is pure and raw genius. After her delivery of the Nurse’s response to Lady Capulet’s attestation of Juliet’s age in Act I, Scene III, the audience might wonder if Capulet was really the biological father of Juliet (compare Hamlet’s problem with his progenitor).

It is difficult to single out the remarkable performances delivered by the remainder of the cast although special mention goes to Harry Ford, T.R. Knight, McKinley Belcher III, and Dion Mucciacito who manage to capture the tortured lives of peers who are divided by ancient and loathsome family altercations.

In some way, it is somewhat unfortunate that the Prince’s (Anthony Michael Martinez) ultimate monologue is not included in this production: “A glooming peace this morning with it brings; /The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:/Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things; /Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:/For never was a story of more woe/Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Perhaps the world outside Classic Stage Company’s space needs “more talk” about the consequences of scorning the familial, governmental, and corporate factionalism that continues to oppress daily headlines.

Readers have only a few days left to be transported to theatrical excellence. Please do not miss this opportunity.

ROMEO AND JULIET

“Romeo and Juliet” is presented by Classic Stage Company (Brian Kulick, Artistic Director and Greg Reiner, Executive Director. The director is Tea Alagic.

The cast of “Romeo and Juliet” includes McKinley Belcher III (Benvolio), Julian Cihi (Romeo), Daniel Davis (Chorus/Frian Laurence), Stan Demidoff (Sampson/Paris), Harry Ford (Gregory/Friar John/Watchman), David Garrison (Capulet), T. R. Knight (Mercutio), Anthony Michael Martinez (Prince), Kathryn Meisle (Lady Capulet), Dion Mucciacito (Tybalt), Elizabeth Olsen (Juliet), John Rothman (Montague/Apothecary) and Daphne Rubin-Vega (Nurse).

The creative team includes sets by Marsha Ginsberg; costumes by Clint Ramos; lighting by Jason Lyons; music and sound by Ryan Rumery; dramaturge, Megan E. Carter; managing director, Jeff Griffin; production stage manager, Raynelle Wright; production manager, Adrian White; and production supervisor, Production Core. The company photographer is Joan Marcus.

“Romeo and Juliet runs at Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street through Nov. 10 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets start at $60.00. For tickets, call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.classicstage.org. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with a fifteen-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Monday, October 28, 2013

“Apartment 3A” at J CITY Theatre at St, Michael’s Church (Jersey City, NJ) through October 26th

“Apartment 3A” at J CITY Theatre at St, Michael’s Church (Jersey City, NJ) through October 26th
Written by Jeff Daniels
Directed by Sandy Cockrell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

J CITY Theatre handily brings Jeff Daniels modern day ghost story to sparkling reality in its current production of “Apartment 3A.” Public television executive Annie Wilson (Sandy Cockrell) moves into a new apartment after walking out on her cheating husband. Although the apartment looks out onto what Annie describes as a slum, it is her only choice and it fits her budget.

Annie’s life is angst-ridden: not only is she furious with her low-life husband but her rage over his indiscretions spills over into her workplace. In a live plea for funding for the PBS station she works for, Annie tells her (mostly pre-adolescent) viewers That Big Bird would most likely die if substantial pledges did not start lighting up the call center’s phone bank. Additionally, she is trying (with little success) to dodge the affections of co-worker Elliot (Stephen Hope) and her uber-nosey and oddly ever-present neighbor Donald (Clay Cockrell) who lives right across from apartment 3A.

Although Mr. Daniels’ script is quite transparent, it does provide a sweet and touching story about the power of unconditional and non-judgmental love and the importance of having some degree of faith – in something. The ensemble cast is quite endearing and uses its collected craft to make all the conflicts and plots come together in a charming albeit predictable resolution. Donald is visiting the apartment he once occupied before his death and has returned to assist Annie in her own transition into selfhood.

Sandy Cockrell also directs “Apartment 3A” with attentive precision and infectious grace. Randall Marquez brings the roles of building superintendent Dal and station manager Tony to appropriate believability.

APARTMENT 3A

J CITY Theater the professional theater company located in downtown Jersey City is proving that they’re “Jersey strong” by staging their comeback production on October 11, 2013. The show runs for three weeks with a scheduled closing of October 26th.

“Apartment 3A” will star Sandy Cockrell, Stephen Hope, Randall Marquez and Clay Cockrell. The Stage Manager is Jack Vandewark and Tech Director is Nick Probst. Jacquelyn Bird is the choreographer and Katie Brennan is the production’s acting assistant.

APARTMENT 3A runs from October 11th through October 26th at The Underground Theater at St. Michaels Church – Hamilton Park 252 Ninth Street, Jersey City, NJ 07302 on the following performance schedule: Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased through www.brownpapertickets.com or www.jcity.org or calling 800-838-3006.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, October 24, 2013

“The Downtown Loop” at 3LD Art and Technology Center through November 16, 2013

L-R: Sarah Mollo-Christensen and Greg Carere in THE DOWNTOWN LOOP at 3LD Art & Technology Center. Photo by Todd Carroll
“The Downtown Loop” at 3LD Art and Technology Center through November 16, 2013
By Ben Gassman
Directed by Meghan Finn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Downtown Loop” often takes the same “swimming” break (euphemism for a nap) its unnamed tour guide (Greg Carere) indulges in during its often exciting but sometimes boring journey through downtown Manhattan. With his trainee (Sam Soghor), the energetic but somehow jaded tour guide talks his passengers through the streets and canyons of the “demon god” of the city that never sleeps. His tour, interrupted by the coming and going of tour participants and a variety of street vendors and characters from the guide’s life, includes fact and fiction and far too often veers off course.

David Ogle’s mind-stretching set with sound design by Jon Bernstein and lighting design by Sarah Johnston are nothing short of brilliant but simply cannot overcome the deficits in playwright Ben Gassman’s checkered script. Sam Soghor, who greets the audience as they are seated on “the bus,” brings needed energy and believability to the action but even his charming interventions cannot overcome the dreary back stories involving street vendors, a Basque woman, a Finnish woman, and “her.”

The experience is not without a payoff although the audience waits almost the full seventy minutes for their reward. Mr. Gassman’s emotional story about George Washington’s walk from his home under the Brooklyn Bridge (now the site of the Jehovah Witnesses prime DUMBO real estate) to his workplace a half mile away and the equally haunting story of the Lenape nation’s real estate deal with the Dutch West India Company are any tour guides dream narratives. As heartwarming as these stories are, they are not enough to rescue “The Downtown Loop” from the bumpy ride it is.

THE DOWNTOWN LOOP

“The Downtown Loop” is presented by 3-Legged Dog and Teeth of Tooth Atelier and is directed by Meghan Finn.

The cast includes Greg Carere, Keelie Sheridan, Sarah Mollo-Christensen, Mia Jessup, Robert Metz, Sam Soghor, and Anthony Polat.

The production team includes Jared Mezzocchi (video design), Dave Ogle (set design); Sarah Johnston
(lighting design); Emily Blumenauer (costume design); Jon Bernstein (sound design); and Allison Lyman
(dramaturg).

“The Downtown Loop” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday, November 16. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 3:00 PM & 8:00 PM. Performances are at 3LD Art and Technology Center (80 Greenwich Street, at Rector, in downtown Manhattan). Tickets are $25.00 and available by calling Ovationtix at 866-811-4111. For more information, visit www.3ldnyc.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Thursday, October 24, 2013

“The Landing” at the Vineyard Theatre

Julia Murney, David Hyde Pierce, and Frankie Seratch in "The Brick"/Photo by Carol Rosegg
“The Landing” at the Vineyard Theatre
Book and Lyrics by Greg Pierce
Music by John Kander
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“There’s a big boat with a long rope and the tide has turned/pull the long rope to stop the big boat/and all that happens is your hands get burned.” - Collin

“The Landing” is a smart new musical that frames three short tales. Each – “Andra,” “The Brick,” and “The Landing” – has unique characters with unique conflicts; however, the three are cleverly connected thematically. They are also consociated by the powerful image introduced by Collin (Frankie Seratch) in the final tale of the three-part musical: the “big boat with a long rope” serves as a scintillating extended metaphor for the difficulty one encounters when passion runs amok and the best laid plans of women, men, and harbingers of doom “gang agley” (as they often do). Desire, love, and loss connect each tale with a sometimes humorous, sometimes chilling result.

In the first tale, “Andra,” eleven-year-old Noah (Frankie Seratch) allows himself to develop trust in Ben (Paul Anthony Stewart) the 40-something carpenter building cabinets in his family’s New England country home. Ben woos Noah’s fragile trust by opening the abused boy’s heart with stories about Andromeda – the myth and the galaxy. The burns on the back of Noah’s neck, inflicted upon him by bullies at school, begin to fade as his relationship with father-substitute Ben solidifies. Unfortunately, other wounds open when Noah’s desire for a caring father and the love he offers Ben becomes conflicted when he discovers that his Mom (Julia Murney) also desires love and has been having an affair with Ben. Frankie Seratch captures Noah’s innocence and his abrupt coming-of-age with an almost disarming aplomb. Paul Anthony Stewart skillfully traverses the fine line between love motivated by honest feelings and love motivated by deception and rapacity and Julia Murney’s Mom manages to profoundly occupy the vortex where all loss convenes. David Hyde Pierce narrates this tale with grace.

Least satisfying is the second tale “The Brick” in which the boy Darius (Frankie Seratch) visits his aunt Charl (Julia Murney) and is consumed by her passion for the genre of mob movies which satisfy her legitimate need for excitement and control in a marriage bereft of both. Charl, tired of waiting for Uncle Cliff (Paul Anthony Stewart) to extricate himself from his culinary craft, decides to succumb to the infomercial pitch and buys “an actual brick from the wall of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” which promises to “bring the murder and mayhem right into your very own living room.” The ensemble cast does its best to make this dream-like tale (yes, there is a fantasy dance) work and often seems in the throes of discomfit as it navigates “The Brick’s” mortar. It is interesting that Kander’s music is most derivative (of his own work) in this tale of fantasy meets desperate housewife.

The final tale bears the name of the new musical’s imaginative title and is unquestionably the most powerful of the three. Jake (David Hyde Pierce) and Denny (Paul Anthony Stewart) are celebrating the arrival of their foster child Collin (Frankie Seratch) who turns out to be much more than a precocious twelve-year-old. Jake suspects Collin’s claims to be world-traveled at twelve and, in a conversation with the astute pre-adolescent, discovers that Collin has landed in their lives to escort Denny to his premature death through myocardial infarction on the landing Collin has invited Denny to visit with him. The couple’s desire to solidify their relationship with an adopted child briefly strains their bonds of love and intensifies the experience of loss. This tale is in no way maudlin but it manages to be empowering in its depiction of human weakness. The work of the ensemble cast, the book, lyrics, music, lighting (Ken Billington), set (John Lee Beatty), and direction coalesce in this tale with a spirit-filled synergy that defies precise description: prepare to be shaken to the core of being. Julia Murney as Jake’s younger sister empathically narrates this tale.

Walter Bobbie directs “The Landing” with calculated but ever so successful risks. Greg Pierce’s book and lyrics are fresh and vary appropriately between the disparateness of the tales. As always, John Kander’s music is both mesmerizing and salvific. The musicians (Paul Masse, Vincent DellaRocca, Vivian Israel, and Greg Landes) enmesh themselves in the matrix of John Kander’s music with flawless proficiency.

The three tales serve as fables, parables really, for humanity’s reach for meaning and longevity. Human beings are pretty predictable when it comes to crimes of the heart. Hoping for redemption and release, humanity has consistently challenged the direction of the “long boats” that have been launched. Longing for love, ropes have been grasped hoping to change the fickle direction of fate. Despite consistent hand burns, women and men continue to leverage the ravages of loss. “The Landing” navigates this journey with astonishing benevolence.

THE LANDING

“The Landing” is presented by the Vineyard Theatre (Douglas Aibel, Artictic Director; Sarah Stern, Co-Artistic Director; and Jennifer Garvey-Blackwel, Executive Producer). The choreography is by Josh Rhodes and it is directed by Walter Bobbie.

Featured in the cast of “The Landing” are David Hyde Pierce, Julia Murney, Paul Anthony Stewart, and Frankie Seratch.

THE LANDING has set design by John Lee Beatty, lighting design by Ken Billington, costume design by Michael Krass, and sound design by Nevin Steinberg. David Loud is music director, orchestrations are by Larry Hochman and Paul Masse is conductor. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Scheduled through November 24, “The Landing” will perform Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. at The Vineyard Theatre (108 East 15th Street). Tickets are $80.00 and can be purchased by calling the Vineyard box office at 212 353 0303 or online at www.vineyardtheatre.org. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Wednesday, October 23, 2013

“Juno and the Paycock” at the Irish Repertory Theatre

Ciarán O’Reilly as "Captain" Jack Boyl/Photo by James Higgins
“Juno and the Paycock” at the Irish Repertory Theatre through December 8, 2013
By Sean O’Casey
Directed by Charlotte Moore
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The Boyle family is a wounded family whose vitality has been disarmed by struggles within the family system and a myriad of conflicts without the confines of that system. Perhaps the Boyles’ most significant problem is economic: “Captain” Jack Boyle (Ciarán O’Reilly) abhors work and the mere suggestion of responding to an offer of work sends sharp pains up and down one leg and then the other. His wife Juno (J. Smith-Cameron) and daughter Mary (Mary Mallen) do their best to keep the family tenement supplied with life’s necessities. Adding to the family’s difficulties is son Johnny (Ed Malone) who lost his arm in Ireland’s War of Independence.

The action of Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock” takes place in 1922 Dublin, Ireland just one year after the conclusion of the Irish Revolution and in the midst of the subsequent Irish Civil War and Johnny is the trope, here an extended metaphor, for the myriad of conflicts extant outwith the Boyle family’s inner sanctum. Johnny’s mantra “I’ve done enough for Ireland” is the mantra of many of those wounded by the vicissitudes of war and it is his angst that provides the conflict that drives “Juno and the Paycock’s” scrumptious plot.

On the brink of poverty, Mary decides to accept the good graces of grifter Charlie Bentham (James Russell) and this contract with the diabolical and foppish solicitor want-to-be brings the family to financial and systemic ruin. Johnny is killed by Free State supporters and Juno and Mary decide to leave the “Captain” behind and raise Mary’s baby on their own. “It’ll have what’s far better- it’ll have two mothers," Juno assures Mary in a statement far ahead of its time. Neither woman needs Jerry Devine’s misogynist refusal to marry a woman carrying the child of another man. They, like Ireland, are ready for a new future.

The ensemble cast under Charlotte Moore’s punctilious direction breathes honesty and authenticity into O’Casey’s script honoring the playwright’s flair for local color and tradition and making his work powerfully relevant to the contemporary political and social landscape. Each remarkable actor digs into his or her character and mines extraordinary treasure for the audience to not only examine but preserve for future generations to enjoy. Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock” is timeless. There will always be Junos who struggle with the strutting peacocks of disinterest and disingenuous affirmations of conscientiousness.

In the midst of conflicts over principles, loyalty, humanity, feminism (the New Woman), and the strife with nature, the Boyle family and their antagonists (the IRA) hold fast to the principles that guide their actions, hoping these principles will somehow rescue them from hopelessness. Mary pleads with her mother to accept her belief that "It doesn't matter what you say, ma - a principle's a principle."

Although O’Casey’s play centers on conflicts and issues specific to the beginning of the twentieth century in Ireland, its important themes are relevant to the present century in United States and the global community - all wounded families whose vitality has been disarmed by struggles within and without. “Captain” Boyle could not have been more veracious: “"Th' whole worl's in a terrible state o' chassis" (Act III). There is hope in this turbulent world and the play it engenders. In the tenement flat stripped of furniture and family, “Captain” Boyle affirms to Joxter (John Keating) “The counthty’ll have to settle itself … it’s goin’ to hell.” The question is whether the countries we pledge allegiance to can settle themselves before even more hell breaks loose.

JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK

“Juno and the Paycock” is presented by the Irish Repertory Theatre (Charlotte Moore, Artistic Director and Ciarán O’Reilly, Producing Director) and is directed by Charlotte Moore.

The cast of “Juno and the Paycock” features J. Smith-Cameron as Juno Boyle, Ciarán O’Reilly as "Captain" Jack Boyle, Ed Malone as Johnny Boyle, Mary Mallen as Mary Boyle, John Keating as Joxer Daly, as well as Ciarán Byrne, Terry Donnelly, Laurence Lowry, Kern McFadden, David O’Hara, James Russell, and Fiana Toibin.

“Juno and the Paycock” has set design by James Noone, costume design by David Toser, lighting design by Brian Nason, and sound design by M. Florian Staab. The Production Stage Manager is Pamela Brusoski and the Assistant Stage Manager is Rebecca C. Monroe. Production photos by James Higgins.

“Juno and the Paycock” will be performed October 9 – December 8 on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage of the Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street). “Juno and the Paycock” performs Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “Juno and the Paycock,” priced $55.00 -$65.00, are available by calling the Irish Rep box office at 212-727-2737 or by visiting www.irishrep.org. The running time is two hours with one ten-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Sunday, October 20, 2013

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