Friday, October 09, 2015

Fool For Love

Sam Shepard's Fool For Love is a strange, searing play. Although it takes place in real time, in the stark and unforgiving Western landscape the author so often favors, one cannot shake the feeling that the play is part dream, part nightmare. Does the dusty motel room occupied by May (Nina Arianda) truly exist? Is her long-lost cowboy lover, Eddie (Sam Rockwell), recently returned from a long absence, a figment of her imagination? And who, exactly, is the old man (Gordon Joseph Weiss) who haunts the periphery?

The weirdness that can make this work thrilling also renders its execution beastly. The two central actors need to be in perfect syncopation; the play's single act (70 minutes) must unfurl at a breathless clip. The director must strike a delicate balance between realism and fantasy. Robert Altman took too heavy a hand in the 1985 film version, starring Shepard and Kim Basinger. When watched today, it comes across as an unintentional comedy. A 2006 London production starring Juliette Lewis drew poor reviews. What, then, would be the fate of its long-awaited Broadway debut, at Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, under the direction of Daniel Aukin?

Wednesday, October 07, 2015


Barbecue, Robert O'Hara's twisty, turny play at the Public, is a show I don't want to write extensively about for fear of giving any of the many Big Reveals away. So I won't say much of anything at all, except that the show makes me even sorrier than I was before to have missed Bootycandy last year. And that with Barbecue, O'Hara says a number of clever, layered things about race, class, representation, and the media. And that the play is very, very funny. And that the cast is, to a one, committed, appealing, and probably all loading up big-time on vitamin B and throat lozenges, what with all the wackiness and antics and herbal cigarettes and shouting (not to mention the occasional tasing). And that there is nothing more wonderful--or, goddamn it, more rare--than watching a play that treats all of its characters pretty equally--even if that means with equal amounts of snark--while sitting amid a truly diverse audience, the members of which seemed to take as much pleasure in the play as I did. Why is that so fucking hard?

Joan Marcus
I have a few--um--bones to pick about Barbecue: even with some of the Big Reveals in mind, the first act felt a little shrill, and in general, making the poor and uneducated the butt of extended jokes--however equally applied thouse jokes are--seems pretty cheap. But the ensemble work here is excellent--so is the direction and the set, which I dismissed as fairly dull at first and then somehow fell for midway through. And for my quibbles, the play's a genuine hoot. So if I happen to land on the most brilliant, deep, moving, and paradigm-shifting show at some point during my theatergoing adventures, I'll be sure to let you know. Meanwhile, Barbecue will do just fine.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

The Christians

Lucas Hnath's The Christians, which has recently been extended through mid-October at Playwrights Horizons, is a compelling play about contemporary evangelical Christianity. It asks a number of interesting and complicated questions about religion as a means to unite and to divide, to connect and to alienate, to sustain and to harm. It also touches on the need for religions to grow and change in order to adapt to the contemporary world, and on altogether more earthly matters: building maintenance, membership numbers, mortgages, money. It is not a perfect play, but it is a very good one, which is worth seeing for the questions it raises, its conception and direction, its strong and committed cast, and its totally excellent megachurchy set.

Joan Marcus
At the start of the play, which begins with a few energetic (if seriously underharmonized) numbers by the church choir, Pastor Paul (an appropriately soothing Andrew Garman) delivers a sermon in celebration of his huge church's final mortgage payment. Professing a spiritual crisis that began when he learned of a boy who gave up his own life to save his sister from a burning building, he announces to his congregants that such a boy should not be damned to Hell because he was not a Christian. Even further, he informs them, he no longer believes in the concept of Hell and feels that no one in his congregation should, either.

Thursday, October 01, 2015


The intimate atmosphere of the Minetta Lane Theater -- a venue that seats just under 400 -- provides a perfect place for Company XIV's 2015-2016 season. With their signature slinky and sexy dances, the venue heightens the voyeuristic nature of the Company's burlesque-infused take on classics such as Cinderella, their first offering, running from September 22-November 15th.

From the moment the audience enters the space, spectacle begins with scantily clad chorus girls and boys erasing the fourth wall, a trait you see often in Company XIV productions, as they peer into mirrors and recline on chairs before the "performance." This re-imagined version of Charles Perrault's Cinderella also showcases artistic director/founder Austin McCormick's knack for offering familiar narratives blended alluringly with opera, circus, vaudeville, cabaret and Baroque dance (Who else would feature the step-sisters singing Irving Berlin's "Sisters" in German while wearing a conjoined twins/sumo wrestler suit?).

                                          The cast of Cinderella/Photo credit: Phillip Van Nostrand

Like vaudeville, which challenged class and racial values with the diversity of its acts while still maintaining its audience's interest,  McCormick's choreography and direction explores sexuality in an open, ambitious way that might feel uncomfortable to mainstream folk even as they remain undeniably entertained. The cast contains an androgynous appearance featuring heavy makeup (by Sarah Cimino) that gives them a soft, other worldly look and costumes designed by Zane Pihlstrom and seemingly inspired by Las Vegas, Victoria Secrets and the Moulin Rouge (gilded thong, check; nipple glitter, check; garter belts, check; angel wings, check). Often, it is enough just to gape at the beauty of the actors and their lean, Grecian-statue-like bodies. McCormick exploits this by allowing performers to linger on stage, posing between scenes and acting as silent narrators as they hold chalkboards above their head, which contain scene details.

The cast is strong, especially Marcy Richardson (as the step-sister) who makes pole-dancing while singing opera more sexy than strange and Davon Rainey as the stepmother. He deliciously dominates the stage with his animalistic poses, lean look, over-the-top headresses and diva-like attitude (think Grace Jones in her heyday), making the most of the evil role while delivering some beautiful dancing that makes his ballet background apparent. Cinderella (Allison Ulrich) looks vulnerable in all she does, from becoming a table for her step family's use to meeting her fey prince (Steven Trumon Gray). This fragility offers a delicate version of the character, but also makes her appear wan in comparison to the more vivid personalities in the performance.

Cinderella also has vaudeville's pastiche quality: the audience always has something to look at. Here's another number. Another bit. During intermissions (and there are two), the show continues (so don't linger at the bar). Even the act of wiping down the stripper pole in preparation for the next scene becomes an exercise in expression. But that madcap variety doesn't always work. Some of the intermission pieces, especially a spirited mambo and a feisty, fun-filled cast dance party, captivate more than the main show -- which at two-and-a-half-hours and three acts is too long. The ball, for example features multiple dance numbers when one strong number would suffice.

Next up in the season is the revival of the holiday show Nutcracker Rouge (Nov. 24—Jan. 17, 2016), an erotic version of The Nutcracker, followed by the the world premiere of Snow White (Jan. 26—March 12, 2016).

(Press ticket, orchestra)

See Company XIV work, here:

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The New Morality

Harold Chapin's The New Morality, the slight but delightful piece from 1915 currently on view at The Mint, resembles an Oscar Wilde play if Wilde wrote about (almost) real people.

Brenda Meaney
Photo: Richard Termine
Betty Jones has taken to her bed and refused a meal to perform a level of repentance she doesn't feel. Her crime? She unloaded on Muriel, the woman with whom her husband has been flirting all summer. She acknowledges to her good friend Alice that some of her language would be better left to dog shows, and she admits that she was probably pretty loud. She thanks Alice for visiting at risk to her own reputation.

And then Muriel's husband Wallace shows up, demanding that Betty apologize.

Chapin uses this thin plot as a skeleton for discussions of sexual politics, society, and the meaning of fidelity. He fleshes it out with scores of very funny lines. His take on sexual politics is fascinating, since it exists in a world that probably never was: the gorgeous homes of independently wealthy people, taken care of by servants, where women rule the roost and men fecklessly try to figure them out. Chapin ignores the true power that men have and had, particularly 100 years ago, yet there is a level on which his sense of sexual politics is advanced and even vaguely feminist. (Chapin was killed in World War I, one of the millions of tragic casualties of that stupid and useless war, so there's no way of knowing how his work would have developed.)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Show Showdown Theatre Links Updated

In a long-needed piece of housekeeping, we have updated our list of Theatre Links in the right-hand column of this blog (scroll down). If you'd like us to add your theatre blog/website to our list, please put the info in the comment section of this post. Thanks.--Wendy Caster

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cameron Kelsall Joining Talkin' Broadway

I am pleased to announce that I will be joining Talkin' Broadway as a contributing critic. I will be covering theatrical productions in New Jersey and Philadelphia. Although I can't provide a firm date at this time, I expect to begin filing reviews sometime in the very near future. I will continue to serve in my capacity as a contributor for Show Showdown. -- Cameron Kelsall

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hollywood Arms

There are two ways of looking at the anniversary reading of Carrie Hamilton and Carol Burnett's Hollywood Arms at Merkin Hall last night. As an event, it was a huge success. Just getting to see Burnett on stage and express our love for her was a major treat. She received a wonderful, slowly-evolving ovation. People clapped and cheered, and one by one, began to stand as we realized that the applause and cheers weren't enough. It took a long standing O to acknowledge the tremendous joy that Burnett has brought into our lives.

Emily Skeggs, William Jackson Harper, Cotter Smith, Michele Pawk, Tyne Daly,
Sydney Lucas, Caleb McLaughlin, Anthony Edwards, Jenny Jules, Will Pullen
Photo: Paul Zimmerman/WireImage
And just seeing the cast--Tyne Daly, Michele Pawk, Emily Skeggs and Sydney Lucas of Fun Home (once again playing the same character), Cotter Smith, and Anthony Edwards--walk on stage was exciting.