Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Day By the Sea

Perhaps it's time for me to make a template for my reviews of Mint Theater Company productions:
Thanks once again to the invaluable Mint for reintroducing the world to yet another fabulous play, __________, which was beautifully directed by __________, with excellent acting by the whole cast (particularly _________, _________, and _________), and gorgeous scenery (by _________) and costumes (by ___________). 
But, no, each of the Mint's gems deserves its own accolades, and anyway, it's a pleasure to write a glowing review. (I know that some reviewers have more fun writing pans; I don't.)

Julian Elfer, Katie Firth
Photo: Richard Termine
N.C. Hunter's rich and moving play, A Day by the Sea, is a Chekovian exploration of people dealing with stormy emotional crossroads on a mild summer day. It starts slowly and quietly, and it took a while for my 21st century brain to gear down to mid-20th century pacing.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Real Actors of NYC

Who are the real actors of NYC? After watching the lightly entertaining, largely painless new musical, The Real Actors of NYC, I'd have to say that the answer is: Klea Blackhurst and Lorinda Lisitza. Composer/lyricist/book writer Karlan Judd has given his cast little to work with, but these two women bring their characters to vivid life. It's not that they make them three-dimensional and real: it's not that sort of show. But they make them hilarious and full-blooded and a hell of a lot of fun to be with. They're terrific.

But let me backtrack. What is The Real Actors of NYC? It is the story of young performers, walking off their tired feet, pounding Forty-Second Street, to be in a show. Along the way, they get their hearts broken and their hopes dashed while auditioning for such horrors as Valley Girls The Musical and The One-Armed Surfer Girl. Finally, it seems that they have their big break within reach, when.... well, that's the play, and Judd wouldn't want me to give it away. Suffice to say that The Real Actors of NYC is a tongue-in-cheek satire of/salute to musical theatre and show business.

However, the satire isn't clever, and the characters are generic. The shows aims for madcap, but doesn't get there, and odd mistakes are made. For example, the song "Actor Combat," a big number, is sloppy, with the title phrase, repeated over and over, not sitting quite right on the music. Another big number, "Keep on Going Along," is shockingly bad; was there no one to advise Judd that it was time to go back to the drawing board? A third big number, "Goodnight My Pretties," adds nothing to the overlong show (however, Blackhurst gives it the same respect and power she might give "Rose's Turn," so at least it's a pleasure to sit through). The scenery is underutilized, with little effort to distinguish locations. A few members of the cast lack the vocal presence and personality to shine in a musical, and director Max Friedman seems to have provided little help. The show pummels itself with ineffective shtick.

A good pruning could improve it significantly.

Part of me feels that I'm being harsh. A lot of hard work went into this show, and parts were fun. On the other hand, at least 20 people walked out during intermission. On the other other hand, I loathed Something Rotten, so perhaps I'm not the right audience here. On the fourth hand, I adore Forbidden Broadway in all of its brilliant incarnations.

If you think this might be your cup of tea, please don't let me stop you from giving it a try. Even if you end up hating the show, you still get to see Blackhurst and Lisitza, which is certainly a good thing.

Wendy Caster
(7th row, press ticket)

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

What Did You Expect?

In Richard Nelson's Hungry, which ran at the Public last spring, the Gabriel family of Rhinebeck, New York, had just finished scattering the ashes of their brother / husband / ex-husband / son / brother-in-law Thomas on the shores of the Hudson River. Six months have passed between then and now, and here the Gabriels are, again sprawled around the same table in the family homestead where Thomas lived until his death with his third wife, Mary, who continues to hold down the fort. This time preoccupied with prepping both dinner and a picnic planned for tomorrow, the Gabriels chop and mix and stir while chatting about a wide range of subjects, ranging from old family stories to whether the potato salad needs more mustard to national politics to financial concerns to whether or not they should open another bottle of wine. In short, What Did You Expect? finds the Gabriels more or less the same as we left them at the end of Hungry, if perhaps more tired, more anxious, a little sadder.

Can you blame them, really, given the state of the world right now? What did you expect, indeed?

Joan Marcus
I'll admit it: As moved and impressed as I was by Hungry, and as eager as I was to get tickets to the second and third installments of Nelson's sold-out cycle about the Gabriel family, I found that I wasn't particularly eager to see What Did You Expect? once showtime came around. Lord knows we've all had a long, unpleasant, exceedingly rocky six months of news that's ranged from bad to worse to hide-under-the-bed-and-hyperventilate awful; by showtime, the prospect of sitting and watching a middle-class American family sitting and talking--about politics, no less!--came to seem more psychically exhausting than I felt I could handle. I was wrong, of course, just as I was wrong in assuming, prior to seeing Hungry, that watching people talk and make dinner would put me to sleep.

Nelson's process, which you can learn more about here, makes for remarkably up-to-date theater; in rehearsals and being frantically rewritten up until opening night, What Did You Expect? was frozen on September 16th, and takes place just prior to the first presidential debate. But the Gabriels' conversation goes no deeper into politics than your average American family's does, and this turns out to be both curiously reassuring and precisely the point. The Gabriels are certainly concerned about the upcoming election, but they're also preoccupied by a multitude of other matters, all of which are discussed at length, if never neatly, stagily, artificially resolved.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

IT Award Nominees and Winners 2016

On Monday, September 26, 2016, The New York Innovative Theatre Foundation presented their IT Awards. Winners are marked with asterisks.

** The Golfer, Gemini CollisionWorks: Fred Backus, Broderick Ballantyne, Rebecca Gray Davis, Lex Friedman, Ian W. Hill, Bob Laine, Matthew Napoli, Timothy McCown Reynolds, Alyssa Simon, Anna Stefanic
Connected, Project Y Theatre Company: Gus Birney, Joachim Boyle, Robby Clater, Ella Dershowitz, Midori Francis, Dana Jacks, Thomas Muccioli, Aria Shahghasemi
Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey, Life Jacket Theatre Company: Andrew Dawson, Phil Gillen, Aidan Sank
Street Theater, TOSOS: Tim Abrams, Chris Andersson, Christopher Borg, Éilis Cahill, Jonathan Cedano, Desmond Dutcher, Russell Jordan, Josh Kenney, Jeremy Lawrence, Michael Lynch, Joe MacDougall, Rebecca Nyahay, Patrick Porter, & Ben Strothmann
The Further Adventures Of..., TOSOS: Tim Burke, Mark Finley, & Jamie Heinlein
Unity (1918), Project: Theater: Wendy Bagger, Alicia Dawn Bullen, Jessi Blue Gormezano, Doug Harris, Beth Ann Hopkins, Joshua Everett Johnson, Joe Jung, Alexandra Perlwitz, Melanie Rey

**Siobhan O'Loughlin: Broken Bone Bathtub, Elephant Run District
David Carl: David Carl's Celebrity One Man Hamlet, Project Y Theatre, PM2 Entertainment and Richard Jordan Productions in associate with Underbelly
Laura Hooper: Crumble, MORA Theater
Peter Michael Marino: Late With Lance!, PM2 Entertainment
Colin Summers: Steve: A Docu-Musical, New York Neo-Futurists
Yolanda K. Wilkinson: Bible Study for Heathens, New York Neo-Futurists

Friday, September 23, 2016

Love, Love, Love

This is not a review. I saw the first preview of Love, Love, Love, and a review wouldn't be appropriate. However, the show is already in excellent shape, and quite interesting, and completely worth writing about. Take my random natterings with a extra-large grain of salt, and beware: there will be spoilers.

Love, Love, Love is by Mike Bartlett, whose King Charles III was downright thrilling. It follows a couple of remarkably self-centered people from their meet-not-so-cute in the 1960s  (Act I) through their marriage and life with teenaged children (Act II) to their retirement years (Act III). If drama is about people learning or growing or changing, this is not a drama, although parts are quite moving. If comedy is about laughing at people who neither learn nor grow nor change, it's definitely a comedy. And parts are quite funny.

Monday, September 12, 2016


James Blossom is a hero--over and over again. He defuses a Nazi nuke miles under the sea and "is given a ticker tape parade and his face on the five dollar bill." He saves the life of the Secretary of Agriculture by performing emergency surgery. He escapes from a "prison above the sea."

James Blossom has Alzheimer's disease. He is growing unable to tell fantasy from reality. He regularly thinks his daughter is his wife. And he has become potentially dangerous to himself and others, so his daughter moves him into a nursing home--a nice nursing home, but a nursing home. He is not happy, but he is also not ready to roll over and die. Little by little, he adapts. Blossom is an engaging character, and as we get to know him better, we like him all the more.

This is James Blossom:

James Blossom
Designed by Spencer Lott
Photo: Maria Baranova

Blossom, running at Dixon Place through September 24, was written and directed by Spencer Lott, who has an extra creativity gene (or 12!), a big heart, a huge desire to entertain, and a similarly huge desire to tell a real, believable, and heart-breaking story. He mostly succeeds--and succeeds big--but the show's flaws keep Lott from hitting the grand slam that he surely can.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Small Mouth Sounds

Six people assemble for a spiritual retreat with varying levels of comfort and enthusiasm: an ultra-limber, ultra-sexy yoga instructor; a lesbian couple, affectionate but annoyed with each other; a quietly friendly older man; a sad-sack white guy whose multi-colored skullcap seems to be covering a secret; and a blonde who is far more interested in texting her recently ex-boyfriend than achieving spiritual growth. They are spoken to by a loopy, self-important, unseen guru, who explains the rules of the retreat (many of which will be broken), talks about the philosophy of their time together, and announces that there will be no talking.

Zoë Winters, Max Baker, Quincy Tyler Bernstine,
Babak Tafti, Brad Heberlee, and Marcia DeBonis
Photo: Ben Arons Photography

By largely eliminating dialogue from the play, author Bess Wohl and director Rachel Chavkin have set themselves a fascinating challenge, one that they meet with intelligence, compassion, and humor. They give us three-dimensional people full of foibles and strengths and a gentle sorta-plot that fills the two hours beautifully. The cast is strong--Marcia DeBonis, Brad Heberlee, Babak Tafti, Max Baker, Quincy Tyler Bernstine--and the projections (Andrew Schneider) and soundscape (Stowe Nelson) effectively and attractively conjure up the idea of being in the woods.

I don't want to say more, since the delight of the play is watching it unfold in small, wonderful moments. It's running until October 9. I highly recommend it. (My colleague Elizabeth Wollman was somewhat less enthused.)

PS. It has the funniest nude scene I've ever witnessed.

Wendy Caster
(second row, tdf tickets)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Same RIver Twice: Art Times Essay

My latest Art Times essay is up:
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus believed that you can never step into the same river twice because the water is ever-flowing—and also you have changed. Nor can great plays be held in place. The recent Young Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn underlined this fascinating fact. (By the way, this essay assumes a familiarity with Streetcar and therefore contains spoilers.)
read more 
Rosemary Harris as Blanche