Friday, October 19, 2018


A woman becomes aware of her surroundings. She is standing on a table and holding a gun. Behind her is a man who looks like he has been tortured, or maybe hit by a car, his injured arm secured to his chest with duct tape. In front of her lays a man who she seems to have just shot. She doesn't remember who she is, and she has no idea what's going on. The injured man starts explaining, but should she believe him? It's a fabulous premise.

Photo: Carol Rosegg

Unfortunately, Goodbody, written by J.C. Ernst and directed by Melissa Firlit, loses steam as the evening progresses. Ernst attempts the violent insanity of a Martin McDonagh or Quentin Tarantino, but the humor isn't funny enough, the suspense isn't suspenseful enough, and the insanity isn't insane enough. Also, Goodbody is in a tiny theatre, and while the intimacy heightens the atmosphere, it also exposes the climactic violence as not-particularly-well-choreographed staged fighting.

Goodbody is not without its positives. There are genuinely funny moments (loved the Twinkie story), and some of the suspense works well. Amanda Sykes does a great job as the woman who doesn't know whether she's a nice person or really horrible. Raife Baker, as the injured man whose only weapon is words, provides a nice balance of eloquence, desperation, and suicidal ego. The set (by Matthew D. McCarren) is attractive and makes good use of the small space. Most importantly, Goodbody is never boring. But it just doesn't have the build and tension it needs to fulfill the promise of its premise.

Wendy Caster
(press ticket; 2nd row)
Show-Score: 70

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Ordinary Days

You know that old writing rule, "Show, don't tell"? It makes a lot of sense, particularly in theatre, where we watch characters live their lives right in front of us. Of course, there's also "Rules are made to be broken," to which I would add, "but only if what you're doing is rises above the rules."

Kyle Sherman, Sarah Lynn Marion
Photo: Carol Rosegg

Ordinary Days, music and lyrics by Adam Gwon, does a tremendous amount of telling. It's a 99% sung-through musical, and the four characters spend a lot of time explaining themselves. 

Monday, October 15, 2018


Salome dances for the tetrarch. Laura Butler Rivera  (Salome);  Background:  Anthony  Simone  (Tigellin),   Ross  Cowan  (Soldier),  Marty  Keiser  (Herod  Antipas),  Lisa  Tharps (Herodias), Patrick Cann (Soldier),
 Jing Xu (Page of Herodias).
 Photo credit: Eileen Meny/Eileen Meny Photography

While watching Oscar Wilde's Salome, you understand why it's rarely performed. That doesn't mean M-34's world premiere of director James Rutherford's (founding artistic director) new English translation is without merit. Initially written in French and translated poorly by Wilde's lover Bosie, the play was dismissed as odd and prurient — after all, Salome does perform the dance of the seven veils.

The story follows Herod Antipas (Marty Keiser), the Tetrarch of Judea, and his inappropriate attraction to his wife’s daughter, Salome (Laura Butler Rivera). This is not new territory for the Tetrarch who came to power after marrying Herodias (Lisa Tharps), his older brother’s wife. Salome has an unhealthy attraction of her own — to Iokanaan (Feathers Wise), a prophet her step-father is holding captive in the same damp well that once imprisoned her father. Wise, a transwoman, offers an ethereal presence with his porcelain skin, high cheekbones and earthy, silky voice. It is easy to believe he is a god’s vessel.

This world does not offer love, but alienation. Passion leads to ruin, destruction and death. A young Syrian, Narraboth, looks at Salome longingly. His companion tells him, “You are looking at her. You look at her too much. You shouldn’t look at people like that. Something bad will happen.”

Her words are prophetic, for it is his desire to please the princess that propels the plot forward as he gives the spoiled Salome access to the prophet. “Your mouth is like a branch of coral found by fishermen in the twilight sea,” Salome says to him longingly. “Like vermilion from the mines of Moab. Like the bow of the Persian King, painted with vermilion and set with horns of coral. There is nothing in the world so red as your mouth. Let me kiss your mouth.” But the prophet spurns her, cursing her as a “daughter of Babylon” and a “child of adultery.”

Lara de Bruijn (Costume Design), Oona Curley (Scenic Design), Kate McGee  (Lighting Design), Mike Costagliola (Sound Design) provide a simple set, with white drapes in place of the well that imprisons the prophet. The sheerness allows the audience to view the soothsayer in shadow before his form is revealed.

The play explores the baseness of humanity, showcasing its fear of the unfamiliar. The persecution of Iokanaan is cruel, but no meaner than the callousness displayed by how the royals treat their slaves. When a soldier kills himself, the Tetrarch is only concerned about his feast saying, “What is this corpse doing here? Do you think I am like the king of Egypt who never holds a feast without showing his guests a corpse? Come on! Who is this? I don’t want to look at him.” For the remainder of the party, he and his guests sit amidst the floor’s bloodstains. When Herodias asks her slave for her fan, she hits her and says, “You have a dreamer’s look. You shouldn’t dream. Dreamers are sick.” In this world where dreams are discarded and suicide is ridiculed, the people that inhabit it are monstrous, unable to see beyond their own desires and belief systems.

At times, the action intoxicates even as it horrifies. Several scenes are too long — Salome’s dance, a titillating and disturbing series of undulations as the room darkens and her image is reflected on her veil, is initially discomforting and intimate, though the moment’s power fades the longer it lingers (Choreography by Jess Goldschmidt and Projection Design by Wladimiro Woyno). The Tetrarch, whose vocal inflections sometimes sound like Donald Trump speaking at a rally, also has a speech that lasts past its effectiveness. Overall, though, Salome acts as a cautionary tale about the ruthlessness of people and the easy acceptance of horrific acts by those that surround them.

Salome is performed at the Irondale (85 South Oxford St.) in Brooklyn. Running time: 95 minutes. Through Oct. 27th. For more info visit

(Press seats)

Sunday, October 07, 2018

The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America (book review)

It's difficult this week to agree with the title The World Only Spins Forward. But in the story of Angels in America, the world did spin forward, as shown by this fascinating, informative, and even exciting oral history.

Assembled by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois, The World Only Spins Forward is clearly the result of thousands of hours of interviewing people, editing the interviews, finding a structure, reading old articles and reviews, and stitching everything together into a truly impressive quilt. The book is largely chronological but some chapters focus on particular characters. Also, the occasional sidebar delves into other aspects of Angels' life; in one, people discuss the challenge of teaching Angels in college. (One professor says that her students don't always get references to The Wizard of Oz. That makes me sad.)

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties

Don't worry: the five prototypical women in Jen Silverman's absurdist comedy aren't going to yell at you over the course of the 90 swift minutes that they're onstage at the Lortel Theater. They're too busy trying to figure out who they are and what skins they're most comfortable inhabiting once they throw off all the societal bullshit and cultural expectations they've been saddled with all their damn lives. This ultimately results in a lot less demonstrative rage than the title might imply, which I suppose is very much in keeping with the contemporary woman: were any one of us--no matter what sort of woman we are or will become--to let out all the rage we carry around with us, the world might very well fold in on itself.  

Joan Marcus

Speaking of folds, Collective Rage is structured in a way that's kind of Shakespearean, kind of postmodern, and--given the frequency with which the word "pussy" is used, probably not at remotely accidentally--kind of vaginal: it's basically a play within a play, even if the narratives of both aren't especially linear or totally cohesive. Both Collective Rage and the play within--a completely half-assed, barely rehearsed, disastrously amusing non-staging of the Pyramus and Thisbe story--allow the characters to try on various personae in their search for comfort and meaning in strange, alienating times. Sometimes, the trying on of personae is literal: at various points, every one of the Bettys slips new costumes on or items of old ones off.  At other times, the show is less straightforward, if consistently enjoyable. The cast--Dana Delany, Ana Villafañe, Lea DeLaria, Adina Verson, and Chaunté Wayans--is strong to a woman, though Verson, as the most spiritually lost and longing of Bettys, is especially impressive in a role that's admittedly somewhat weightier than the rest.
I'm not convinced that this is the deepest, most profound play about contemporary women I've ever seen in my life, but it's great fun and, for all the havoc, curiously reassuring, which goes a very long way lately. See it if you can before it closes up shop this weekend.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Holy Ghosts

Nancy Shedman sits reading in a large-ish, empty, nondescript room. Her husband, Coleman, comes storming in, full of accusations and anger. Little by little the room fills, and Coleman realizes that they are about to have a Pentecostal service, complete with snake-handling. He ends up fighting with many of the people in the room, who are now his wife's friends. He won't leave because he wants his wife to return all the things she "stole" from him when she left him or perhaps even to come back to him. The congregants speak to him with surprising (but not unlimited!) patience, telling him stories from their lives. It's mostly a device to allow the writer, Romulus Linney, to help us understand why people might choose to express their spirituality in extreme ways. The show is about 80% exposition/story-telling, but it works, beautifully. (In terms of structure, it reminded me a bit of the first season of Lost, where we meet the characters one by one.)

Oliver Palmer and Lizzy Jarrett
Photo: James M. Wilson

I worked on the last New York production of Holy Ghosts, 40 years ago (I was show electrician). I was quite impressed with the show, but I thought it had a major flaw. It turns out that play holds up very well--and this production actually fixes the flaw!

A Chorus Line

It takes a lot of ambition to decide to do A Chorus Line at a small Off-Off-Broadway theatre. And it takes a lot of skill to pull it off. Luckily, the Gallery Players in Brooklyn have tons of both, and their production of A Chorus Line is fabulous.

Photo: Steven Pisano Photography

Directed by Tom Rowan, author of the book A Chorus Line FAQ, and choreographed by Eddie Gutierrez, who played Paul in national tours, the production hews faithfully and elegantly to the template set long ago by the brilliant director/choreographer Michael Bennett. The familiar ensemble dance numbers and solos are all there, at a remarkably high level. A Chorus Line requires performers who can dance, sing, and act, and most of the cast at the Gallery Players can do all three, in some cases superbly.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The True

Is it ungrateful of me to wish that Sharr White's play, The True, presented by The New Group, had more to offer? Perhaps. After all, there is already much to like here: solid writing, smooth direction, and an amazing cast. But for all those strengths, I just didn't care.

John Pankow, Edie Falco
Photo: Monique Carboni

In all fairness, I mostly wasn't bored. I mean, look at this cast: Edie Falco. Michael McKean. John Pankow. Peter Scolari. Each and every one of them is a pleasure to watch, always. Falco, unsurprisingly, gives an excellent performance, and you can't keep your eyes off her as she talks, and talks, and talks, and talks. And curses and curses and curses.

Why is Falco's character such a gabber? Dorothea Noonan, known as Polly, is an essential component of the Democratic machine in 1970s Albany, and has been for years. She thinks she knows everything--she certainly does know a lot--and it takes many, many words for her to tell everyone around her how to live their lives, professionally and otherwise.

Noonan is a close friend and adviser to the mayor (McKean), but at the start of the play he has decided that he needs distance from her. This separation does not stop her from fighting for him behind the scenes, and she meets with the various men who will help decide whether he gets another term as mayor. (One theme of the play is how she is treated differently because she's female, but to me everyone was pretty obnoxious and she fit right in.)

Ironically enough, the most emotionally successful moment in the play is silent. (It would be a spoiler to say more.)

Some of the political machinations of The True are interesting. Some of the relationships look like they would be fruitful to explore. But as it stands, there is little reason to care about these characters, and the play ends up being about ploys rather than people.

Wendy Caster
(press ticket, row E)
Show-Score: 80