Monday, April 30, 2007

Meet John Doe

photo: T. Charles Erickson

I liked the musical version of Frank Capra's Meet John Doe - currently playing Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. - more than most of the musicals that opened on Broadway this year. Endearingly square and loyal to the spirit (if not the letter) of the 1941 film, the musical Depression-era drama has been crafted with integrity and solid storytelling skill; as long as you can buy the melodramatic conventions of the source material, and you don't object (if you've seen the film) to the simplifications of Capra's themes about political corruption and capitalism, the show is a double pleasure - an intimate romantic musical framed by overarching social comment, and a love letter to the morally uncomplicated, high-style cinema of yesteryear. As an ambitious fast-talking gal reporter who fabricates a phoney suicide note for her column, Heidi Blickenstaff is vibrant, exciting, immediate. Despite the title, it's her show (the musical's one major, fixable weakness is that it takes too long to define the other main character, John Doe) and she soars with it: this is a perfect match of performer to role, a genuine star performance.



TONY AWARD COMMITTEE (or whatever wonderful and appropriate thing you call yourself): Please do not forget David Pittu as "Bertolt Brecht" (pictured) for Best Featured Actor in a Musical®. There was an enormous, nuanced character presented there and every time he sang it sounded as though one of those old scratchy vintage records from the 30's had come to life. Bravo David Pittu whoever you are! Sweet Donna and sweet Michael should be nommed as well for their beautiful, heartfelt work soaked with elbow-grease but I trust you guys already know that. Beyond that I wasn't too crazy about this musical about Kurt Weill's relationship with Lotte Lenya that never really took flight beyond a few bright moments offered up by the aforementioned stars. This production seemed more like a screenplay than a Broadway musical and I never quite felt like I was allowed to feel the raw, in-your-face theatricality that the original Weil/Brecht would have wanted us to feel in a piece such as this. P.S. Judith Blazer has such big beautiful eyes!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Saving Aimee

photo: Scott Suchman

Short of throwing nearly the whole thing out and starting over again, I don't think Saving Aimee is saveable. No doubt a good musical could be made about Aimee Semple McPherson, the evangelist-faith healer-entertainer whose wild popularity in the first quarter of the last century was halted by scandal, but this isn't it. Dully chronological, and lacking a strong point of view and a tangible dramatic conflict, the musical mostly eschews the most compelling themes one might imagine for a musicalization of McPherson's life (religion as entertainment, for instance) and instead depicts its heroine as - stop the presses! - a pioneering career woman. The conflict remains internal and it rings false at every turn - the character's well-documented frauds, hypocrisies and lofty ambitions are glossed over to emphasize her religious fervor and her success. The opportunity for an era-appopriate score is squandered in favor of would-be Wildhorn that ranges from bland to unacceptable. E. Faye Butler does wonders with a generic "oldest profession" number, and Ed Dixon (in a wig that brings Jerry Falwell to mind) gives the evening some much-needed levity. Otherwise, the show's biggest asset is Carolee Carmello in the title role: she's convincing even in the scenes when the character is seventeen, and she gives the adult Aimee the inner light of a driven, visionary woman compelled by a higher calling. She's sensational - blazingly sensual, fiercely unbending; if someone revives Carrie anytime soon, here's a perfect Margreat White.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

American Fiesta


This was an earnest one man autobiographical play about a gay man, his lover, his conservative parents, and his growing vintage Fiesta pottery collection. Though excellent director, Mark Brokaw, has attempted to make this production as theatrical as possible with projections, rolling tables, and handsome lights/scenery, better-writer-than-actor, Steven Tomlinson's many characters sounded too similar to one another and his delivery sounded more like a lecture than a performance.

BE by Mayumana

Union Square Theatre

This bucket-pounding prototypical "special theatrical event!" throbbed with energy, sweat and impeccable timing. Unfortunately if you're looking for personality you're not gonna find it here. Generically international (South American? European? Middle Eastern? Sure. What's the diff?), this was a progression of scenes where sexy people make fast, fun, noises with different objects. If you're into that, as much of audience seemed to be-especially the kiddos, they're quite wonderful at it, but for anyone looking for a message beyond "We're exotic and we want to make fun rhythms for you!", then this is not your show.

Accomplice: New York

Gilligan's got nothing on this three-hour tour. Accomplice: New York destroys the fourth wall as it makes Manhattan the stage, those crazy people on the street its players, and you -- well, you're the starring role. No pressure, it's not a competition, though there are some Amazing Race-type detours and some slight mental ambidexterity is required. But at the same time, you're not alone: you'll most likely be traveling with seven new accomplices as you learn that theater has the ability to not just move you (emotionally), but to quite literally take you for a ride the old fashioned way. Crime has never paid off so well before, and considering that your ticket comes with a few drinks and a nice antipasto along the way, not to mention a newfound respect for the south side of Manhattan and the improvisational talents of its actors . . . it's a price worth paying.

[Read on]


photo: Kah Leong Poon

Ted Hughes' adaptation of Euripides' Alcestis, currently being New York-premiered by Handcart Ensemble, is easily accessible even for audiences unacquainted with the genre of Greek tragedy. Hughes' version, published posthumously in 1999, tends to modern-day language and emphasizes the hopefulness in the ancient story, while still rendering its darkness of seemingly inconsolable grief. Handcart's solid, thoughtful production succeeds far more often than it fails: there are simple and effective directorial choices, such as using a hanging panel of sheer red fabric to depict the Underworld, and having the chorus create a dramatic soundscape (that functions something like underscoring) when appropriate. Regretably, the ensemble is not entirely of a piece, with some of the actors lacking the needed weight. One scene which should be especially grave - the confrontation between King Admetos and his father, who refused to die in his son's place to satisfy the gods - completely misses the mark but I'm mystified as to why. The minor lapse is easily forgotten by the time we reach the play's emotionally powerful final scenes, with Ron Bopst rendering the King's sorrow, honor, and finally joy with striking simplicity, and David D'Agostini making a strong, memorably warm Heracles.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers

Papermill Playhouse

So my plan was to do the lotto for A Chorus Line and if that didn't work out then I already had tix for Boys Just Wanna Have Fun at Actor's Playhouse. But quite randomly at the last minute, as often is the case when one is a ticket-sniffing truffle-hog, I found myself on a train to Milburn, NJ to check out Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. Though I feel an ideal production of this inherently erotic musical (young, handsome, horny mountain men woo snowbound girls they've kidnapped (hot!)) would be a lot more sexy and lusty than presented here, a hokey naive charm abounded and kept a stupid smile on my face from start to finish. Comic bits were executed with all the subtlety of a children's show but this over-the-top energy fueled the insanely energetic songs and dances. With all these movies turned musicals with musical numbers jammed into scenes where they often don't fit, it was nice to see a show where the book relied on the songs and dances so joyously presented here. (YES, 7 for 7 was a movie first too but at least was a musical in its original cinematic incarnation). I left humming a number of catchy tunes and was armed with catalogue of reasons as to why I should donate money to the Papermill Playhouse fund offered up to us by pre AND post curtain speeches- the best reason was what happened in between them.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Legally Blonde

photo: Joan Marcus

The musical version of Legally Blonde is like one of those top-heavy cupcakes at Junior's: half a pound of frosting on three ounces of cake. Unlike the movie (which I found barely tolerable) it should come with a health warning: unfit for consumption by heterosexual males. This girliest tourist attraction ever to open on Broadway (if you don't count the show at American Girl Place) peaks with its opening number - there isn't a single decent song in the score after that - but the show is so relentlessly energetic and skillfully staged that it never lags, and that (and its girl-power message) is enough to make it a smash with the tween girls who've outgrown the Disney shows and are so over Wicked by now. For the rest of us, the supporting cast is an embarrassment of riches: Christian Borle, Kate Shindle, Michael Rupert, Orfeh, Andy Karl, and - stealing all focus whenever she's on stage as one-third of the main character's Greek Chorus - the superfabulous Leslie Kritzer.

Radio Golf

photo: Carol Rosegg

What a surprise: the late August Wilson's last play is also one of his most accessible and brisk, a sharply observed, entertaining drama that pointedly questions the price of African-American success by assimilation. Its story, of a mayoral candidate who becomes increasingly uneasy with what it takes to push through a neigborhood redevelopment plan, is set ten years ago, but its themes and its keen social observations are immediate and relevant: the audience I saw it with was very much engaged and vocal, clearly taking sides in the play's climactic showdown. The play is slick and focused in a way that other Wilson plays are not (I could easily see this play reaching an audience that hasn't warmed before to his plays) and it's less prosey and dense, but that is unquestionably by design and part of the point considering the themes. It isn't quintessential Wilson, but it's a tight, swiftly intelligent play (directed here with snap and punch by Kenny Leon) that bears his unmistakable mark nonetheless. Four of the five in the cast are excellent at this point (a week into previews) and the one tentative performance is likely to fit right in once the play officially opens. It's hard for me to imagine that this will not be among the four nominees for Best Play at this year's Tonys.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Guy Adrift In The Universe

photo: Evan Purcell

This clever high-concept comedy (by Larry Kunofsky, a writer new to me) tracks the full life cycle of A Guy from birth to 90 minutes. He springs from the womb fully articulate - think Stuey from Family Guy - and at revolving-door speed is mothered, fathered, befriended, schooled, dated, employed, and so on. The humor is in the shorthand: an entire relationship might be nutshelled into one precise, philosophically astute exchange that captures something deeply truthful and funny. It's a very delicate conceit that requires a distinct performance style to keep it moving, and luckily this dynamic four-person cast (Cory Grant as A Guy, with a couple of dozen other roles divided among Sutton Crawford, Corey Patrick, and Zarah Kravitz) is tuned right in to the play's vibe. Together, they sound all the play's high and low notes and keep A Guy Adrift... confidently on course.

Also blogged by: [Aaron]

WildBard: Twelfe Night

After seeing this rowdy and energetic production of Twelfe Night, the question I have is: are modern audiences ready for truly classic Shakespeare? We see heavily studied and processed performances, the result of careful studies of the text and based on years of experience and formal training. What WildBard does is to go back to the way Shakespeare's troupe was forced to act: ten different shows a week. According to WildBard, there wasn't enough time to learn lines, so they relied on miniature cue-cards and a stage prompter to get through the show. Of course, in Shakespeare's time, the language didn't need study -- as performed today, WildBard brings us full-body Shakespeare, played like an Olympic sport and filled with abrupt interpretations and unique line readings, fresh every night (just like the rotating cast).

[Read on]

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Il Trittico

photo: Ken Howard

Jack O'Brien, one of theatre's most versatile directors, was an inspired choice to helm the Met Opera's new production of Il Trittico, Puccini's disparate trio of one-act operas. Each of the three requires a different skillset - the first is a lurid melodrama of sexual jealousy, the next is a somber spirituality-based tale of a cloistered nun, the third is a farcical comedy in which a disinherited family fights at their relative's deathbed - and O'Brien delivers each with exceptional clarity and theatrical know-how. Except for re-setting all three in the 1950's, he doesn't do anything high-concept to unduly unify them: he simply realizes each opera fully, distinctly. Il Tabarro burns at a temperature that is just right for passionate, fevered melodrama. Gianni Schicchi is appropriately colorful and comic, with a sometimes dizzying amount of stage action and business. However, the production's crowning achievement is the nun's story Suor Angelica, which O'Brien builds slowly and carefully to a visually stunning, transcendent climax. Operagoers are hereby warned: this is going to be one of the toughest tickets of the season.


I held off on posting anything about this Friday evening performance of Alcestis until almost a week after watching it because I couldn't find much to say about it positively. I'm hoping the Chorus has since pulled together their synchronization and that the entire cast has solidified their grasp of the text: this is a fine translation by Ted Hughes, even if the play's second half derails into a subplot about Heracles (and then into a subplot about Prometheus). Sandwiched between serious Greek drama, the Heracles segment is pure comedy, and David D'Agostini, when he isn't overplaying the role, conveys an earnest authenticity to it. Unfortunately, J. Scott Reynolds, directs the play without an ounce of subtlety -- Kevin Lapin's Vulture chews the scenery more than Prometheus's liver -- and D'Agostini's set, a pallid display of gauzy curtains, really is just a flimsy background, and doesn't help to convey the complexity of the show at all.

Reynolds also seems unwilling to commit fully to any one decision: Alcestis is a drama queen in this performance (matched only by Admetos, who acts like a real queen), but that's at odds with how she returns at the end of the play, all smiles and roses. Using the chorus to make ambient sounds is a nice flourish, and could be very creepy in the long stretches of weepy monologues, but half-assed, it's just a distracting and awkward sound effect. As for the blocking, there seems to be little rhyme or reason to it: the chorus is constantly reshuffled to new positions, rarely in Greek movement, almost as if they are looking for feng shui and failing. As Hughes writes, "Abuse is the echo of abuse." This production, malnourished from the start, is the echo of itself.

110 In The Shade

photo: Joan Marcus

Okay, maybe Audra McDonald isn't the absolute worst choice to star as this musical's plain Jane prairie girl heroine...but c'mon, good-looking she of the highfalutin warble is certainly *one* of the worst. Her acting in the book scenes is fine, if you don't mind that her Lizzie is a dishrag and that she lays on the wallflower pathos so thick that she seems to have wandered on stage ready to play The Heiress, but the minute she sings it's all over and we're at arm's length. John Cullum escapes unscathed - at this point he can do plain-speaking homespun wisdom in his sleep - and Bobby Steggert lands his one-liners as Jimmy. Otherwise, the production is one mistake after another, beginning with the oddly Asian feel of the set, and culminating with the uncomfortably over-sexual direction of the (usually showstopping) second act comic number "Little Red Hat." Folks who have never seen this musical before would be forgiven for thinking that the material is third-rate. It isn't, and if time travel were possible, I'd prove it with City Opera's thoroughly delightful production years ago with Karen Ziemba. You'll have to take my word for it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Dixie's Tupperware Party

Ars Nova

"I'm so excited I could vomit blood!" announces Dixie Longate, Tupperware's dirty little secret. I assume this burpable container corporation never expected a foul mouthed homosexual in a dress would hock their wares but with this sassy, catty, trashy one man show, Dixie has officially become their #1 top selling sales representative. How funny is that?? I am a sucker for a good drag queen (they're clowns but instead of their core audience being children theirs is drunk gay guys) and this is a damn hilarious one with a hysterical gimmick. With every audience member receiving a catalogue you can order whatever item Dixie presents to us in between candid asides about her sordid personal life. She is quick to point out that that cupcake holder also doubles as a jello shot tray. I highly recommend this show.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


It annoyed me that the Public's recent King Lear wasn't cast multi-racially; the only role played by an actor of color was Oswald, the servant. (How un-Public Theatre is that?) I therefore made a point of seeing that production's Oswald, Timothy D. Stickney, sink his teeth into the role of Hamlet in this off-off production cast only with black and Latino performers. It's a shoestring production, which never locks down a time in which it is set, and although it can claim convincing swordplay and an emphasis on humor as two of its distinctions, the direction is mostly pedestrian. There are, however, some very good performances: among them, Stickney is exceedingly comfortable speaking Shakespeare and makes an always engaging, immediate Hamlet; Arthur French is a stand-out in the role of Polonius; and Seth Duerr makes a lively, crafty King Claudius.


Photo/Brian Michael Thomas

It feels like Nick Flint is sleepwalking his way through Bed, a well-written, small-scale tragicomedy by Brendan Cowell. The five intimate others Nick encounters in his cyclical bedroom scenes are all there, emotionally willing and ready, but Flint's passion is caught up in the facade that his character, Phil, tries so hard to maintain. Something of his character's arrogance must be backing him up, or perhaps he's afraid of such unbridled (and unexplained) bitterness; whatever the reason, the play is too short for the main character to give anything less than everything, and as a result, after fifty minutes of warm-up, the play ends before giving any real resolution to this man's life.

[Read on]



How do I put this delicately? Okay, here goes... I was actually quite charmed by these two very big actresses (Marian Seldes and Angela Landsbury) in this little play. After Chris's review I was expecting a theatrical implosion of black hole proportions where not even Armageddon can escape. At the performance I attended this did not happen. Yes, this is less of a play and more of a 100 minute polite conversation. Yes, there were some memorization problems, though from what I hear it's becoming less and less of an issue. If the only merit of this production is the novelty of seeing these two legends onstage together then it's a pretty substantial novelty. Both of these handsome, elegant women's personalities shone through and I was very glad I got to spend some time with them. They received a (partial though substantial) standing ovation at curtain call and I felt like they deserved it.
Also blogged by [Patrick]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Conventional wisdom says that Deuce exempted itself this season from any awards consideration to avoid the embarrassment of not being nominated. But what of its legendary actresses, Marian Seldes and Angela Lansbury, who have to embarrass themselves on stage eight times a week regardless? Lansbury doesn't know her lines, loses her place, and gets a look on her face that anyone in the audience will recognize as momentary desperation. Seldes, hypervigilant and visibly in compassionate-actor mode, spends a lot of time cleaning up the mess: she narrows her eyes on her co-star as if to telepathically will her to remember her lines. If this isn't sad enough, the play they are struggling to remember is entirely forgettable, a mild piffle about two aged tennis star legends who while away 105 minutes with superficial rememberances of the "things ain't what they used to be" variety. Audience walkouts began at the half hour mark; I counted a total of twelve downstairs by the end. At one point in the play another character, an adoring tennis fan, addresses the audience and tells us to look at these two women, because we'll never see their kind again. The audience responds not to the underwritten, unconvincing characters but to the theatre royalty on stage before us. It's true, we will never see their kind again, but if this crass, squirm-inducing embarrassment is the best we can do in the way of homage, then we probably don't deserve to.

Also blogged by: [David]

Monday, April 16, 2007

Essential Self-Defense

photo: Richard Termine

After most of the critics dismissed it, I wanted to have another look at Adam Rapp's Essential Self-Defense: had I been too generous in my enthusiasm when I initially praised it in previews? Nope; I think "wildly surprising" "wonderfully offbeat" and "genuinely contemporary" just about covered it.

110 in the Shade

It's never a good sign when you leave a musical without the scantest trace of a tune in your head. The Rainmaker worked best as a straight show, adding the townspeople and showing us Jim's little-red-hatted love, Snookie, only dilutes N. Richard Nash's sweet little story. As for Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, their score here is far from Fantastick, and everything from Santo Loquasto's minimal staging to Lonny Price's formulaic direction calls for a smaller stage. The script is all intimacy, and no spectacle (which is why the sun is bigger than anything else in the show), so what were the producers thinking to stage this at Studio 54? So far as dramatic acting goes, Audra McDonald's Lizzie is the center of this show, and her interactions with Bobby Steggert's brilliantly daft Jim and John Cullum's steadfast H.C. go over pretty well. But Steve Kazee's Starbuck is an energy-draining disappointment (as is Christopher Innvar's bland File), and the romance of this play winds up being an old maid, no matter what angle you look at it from. "Raunchy" is the only number with enough life in it for McDonald to sing through; the rest of her songs are breathy, overly vibrating numbers in search of some heart. It's not that I don't believe McDonald in "Old Maid"; it's that I believe her more when she's straight. The music is suffering a mighty heavy drought, and I don't think this cast has enough magic to make it rain.

Also blogged by: [Christopher]

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The View From K Street Steak

Yowsa. A lot of the political satire went over my head, and I only caught brief glimpses of story in the references to the "Inner Loop," but the attitude of the show, written by Walt Stepp, is the type of nightclub amateur hour that's too irrepressible to hate. John and Al, a ventriloquist act (played by Brad Thomason and the perky, hyperactive Samantha Wynn) serve as the interlocutors for the evening, in etween old-school Jerry Lewis humor, they pull open the curtain onto exaggerated "insider" scenes at a bipartisan retreat. The vignettes are all short and rough, but a few make valid, coherent points: "Mimeo" deals with getting a senator out of the closet in private so that it doesn't hurt the party in public, "Snake" says the things about the God Lobby that everyone else is too terrified to mention, and "Take a Number" looks at the real story of competitive bidding. Politics is an act, and K Street does well to dress it up as such, but Tom Herman needs to tighten the technical cues, the cast's tendency for killing the jokes with their own exuberance, and the slipshod feel of it all if he wants this production to really stand up and be something more than a repetitious diversion.


CAP21 productions, cast with second year music-theatre students at NYU, are a good place to see raw young talent in an intimate setting. Although often entertaining and smartly staged on a shoestring, these threadbare productions are more about giving the students a chance to put their training to use than about production value; they aren't open for review and I'm going to honor that. Still, I have to say that braving the rainstorm to drop in on the promising young people in Pippin was a pleasure and that one Larkin Bogan, who confidently fleshed out every moment as Pippin, is on my "To Watch For" list.

Essential Self-Defense

Am I just not hip enough for Essential Self-Defense? Dysfunctional humor is all too easy to write: just introduce characters who constantly say the unexpected (e.g., "Dolphins don't talk to terrorists") and you've got yourself a script. But awkward, funny lines do not a show make: this is Jack Goes Boating off the deep end, the Duranged end, and all you really need to do is replace the summer house of Betty's Summer Vacation with Kip's Karaoke Bar to see the same. I'm more impressed with the musical talents of Adam Rapp and his cohorts, Ray Rizzo and Lucas Papaelias than with the show itself (though Paul Sparks and Heather Goldenhersh lead an excellently absurd cast). This is the same way I would describe the surreal early Sam Shepard, but I sincerely hope that Rapp grows up and does more with his talent than these shallow amusements. Sweet as the roller-skate scene is, perverse as Klieg the Butcher is, ridiculous as Yul and Sadie are about grammar, is this the best we can expect of modern comedy? The trappings of form without the substance of soul?

Also blogged by: [David] [Patrick]

A Guy Adrift in the Universe

A Guy Adrift in the Universe is a playfully straightforward show that gets pretty close to summing up the meaning of life (if not the universe, and everything) in eighty rip-roaring minutes. The subtle direction by Jacob Krueger and the half-tender, half-boisterous cast (led by Cory Grant of Fringe 2006's Broken Hands) makes Larry Kunofsky's script more substantial than its curse-heavy dialog and relentlessly innocent jokes, but it's nice to see such a full-bodied comedy be so honest.

[Read on]


Photo/Carol Rosegg

Here we go, folks! Aaron's first unmissable show of 2007. I raved about Lear deBessonet's work last year in Bone Portraits, and I'm more than happy to do it again here. She's a theatrical DJ, sampling texts and themes from all over the place to make them stronger individually and overwhelming together (and that's no small feat when you're borrowing from Chuck Mee, Henrik Ibsen, and Joan of Arc). Hyperreligious delusions make for good theater, especially when you're a director who is unafraid of putting your actors "stage up" and "stage down," and when you've got a flair for the malleability of string, paper, and people. Wonderful lighting, beautiful choreography, and above all: passion. It's not a traditional plot, though there is a central story, but it evokes one heck of a powerful ambiance, and as a writer, mood makes the story, any day of the week.

[Read on]

Saturday, April 14, 2007


The second preview of this new Hal Prince-directed musical, which travels the arc of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya's relationship using his songs, nearly hit the three hour mark. That's at least an hour too long for what it is, which is slight and dramatically static: we clearly see what's the matter with their love in the first fifteen minutes (she won't acknowledge that she loves him, and in sadness he returns the favor) and, although this or that event comes along to keep things lively, nothing tangible happens until the last fifteen minutes to raise the stakes. This is not a plot so much as it's a situation. I'm going to go back next week to see the show in tighter shape - I have to believe there will be cuts - and until then I only want to add that Michael Cerveris is all aching and longing as Weill; he delivers his intimate solo numbers ("That's Him" and "It Never Was You" in particular) with beautifully restrained emotion.

Neal Medlyn's Coming In The Air Tonight


You're not going to find shit like this anywhere else. This impassioned tribute to the music of Phil Collins has downtown comic personality Neal Medlyn once again stripped down to his underwear and covered in blood (this happens to him a lot). Lovingly screaming out the lyrics he and his best friend, Carmine Covelli (intermittently confined to a wheelchair) provide their own unique take on the songbook via erratic vaguely choreographed movement about the space. There are no traditional punchlines in this show. The comedy lies in the reckless earnestness of his delivery or the desperate fumbling to locate a prop. At one point he invited an audience member to join him saying "Will you come up onstage and pretend to care about me?". They did and they did.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Photo/G. Roeker

I have no idea how the three one-acts in Committed are supposed to connect with each other. Every play is about relationships, but then again . . . every play is about relationships. That's what people go to the theater for. Living Image Arts (LIA) has missed their mark with this production: it's nice to foster diverse and distinctive voices, it's no good if they've got nothing to say (that is, if it's not "compelling and innovative" or "living and relevant"). To be fair, I don't see how you can do either of those quotable things in a stylized comedy like "Off the Cuff" or how you make something as cute and bland as "Men Are Pigs" anything more than the short and sweet joke it is. "Boxes," which is a sharp, smart, poignant piece by Robert Askins, is put off by a lulling monotony between the two actors (who are all brogue and no brash), so even the success of the night comes with a grain of salt. But hey, writing theater's hard: you have to be committed, in both meanings of the word, to really make it work.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Moon For The Misbegotten

Brooks Atkinson

Having never seen or read Moon... before, I did not have the same vantage point as many of the prominent, NY critics, many of whom had issues with this revival. I fell in love with this on-the-verge-of-imploding wasteland of a play and thought the production was pretty darned top notch. The nuanced, sarcastic, carefully-sloppy performance given by Kevin Spacey as the legendary, comfortably drunk son of the Tyrones from Long Days Journey... often made me shudder and hide my eyes in shame and sympathy. The superb Eve Best, playing the original Pirate Queen, passionately and violently stomped down the clay-floor of this dirty-brown set making a bed for the poor alcoholic whom she desperately wanted to mother. I LOVED this play. They just don't make `em like used to.

Also blogged by: [Patrick] [Christopher]

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Topsy Turvy Mouse

Topsy Turvy Mouse is a show in development through the Cherry Lane Mentor Project, which I greatly admire and respect, so please take the following with a grain of industrial salt. Peter Gil-Sheridan's script, which has apparently won a few awards that I've never heard of, appears to have been selected because of its political edge: the play fast-forwards fifteen years into the future so that we can see what has happened to the two smiling soldiers of the now infamous Abu Ghraib pictures. However, that idea has no teeth, and the problem with the play is that there isn't a single thing in it that's topsy, or turvy. It's just quiet, like a mouse.

[Read on]

A Moon For The Misbegotten

photo: Alastair Muir

In this engrossing but less than ideal production (transferred from the Old Vic) of O'Neill's three-hour drama, Kevin Spacey plays James Tyrone as an explosive drunk rather than a corrosive one: he's never far from a sudden rageful eruption. It's a new and interesting approach to the role - its freshness is entertaining, it adds some oomph to the ocassional comic moments, and it gets points for not being stamped by Jason Robards - but often it's too vital for the "walking corpse" that O'Neill describes. Eve Best isn't maternal in the way that previous actresses have been as Josie, nor is she a "big cow" of a woman. But if you can accept that, she's captivating: she renders the entire range from hard-boozin' coarseness to soul-bared tenderness in vivid detail. Colm Meaney is exactly right as Josie's father - gruff, mischievious, proud - but essentially this Moon rises or falls on the star performances of Spacey and Best. It just barely clears the horizon line.

Also blogged by: [David]

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

you have only three weeks left to see DYING CITY...

...before it ends its run at Lincoln Center on April 29th. David and I both thumbs-upped this play when we saw it in previews but you don't have to look hard for other strongly positive responses: in his review for the Observer, John Halipern called it "the finest new American play I've seen in a long while", and Mark Armstrong at Mr. Excitement hails it as a "victory for the timeslessness of great drama". Even the Times raved and said you should see it. What are you waiting for, a discount code?

Go to broadwayoffers and use code DC45LCT for $45 tickets. Don't wait, because as this gripping (Andy Propst, American Theater Web) and excellent (LudlowLad, Off-Off Blogway) new play of substance finishes out its limited run, you won't be the only one who's suddenly scrambling to see it.

With a student I.D., you can get up to two tickets for $10 each. You can even do it right now, online. At broadwayoffers use code DC4TONY for advance student tickets and just bring the I.D. with you when you collect the tickets at the box office.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Ringling Bros And Barnum & Bailey Circus

Yes, this is theater. It counts. First and foremost: Do you realize that cotton candy now costs $12 dollars?? Their justification is that they're now presenting the cotton candy in a wearable top hat. The sweatshop penny hat was made of this weird, unsettling amalgam of polyester and cardboard and the cotton candy tasted like cheap pancake syrup. Humbug! As for the circus, it was pretty much the same thing I remembered the last time I went which was about 20 years ago. The tightrope, trapeze, sweaty clowns, sway poles, animal acts weren't very interesting to me but the kids in the vicinity were foaming at the mouth with glee which I spoze is what it's all about. So the animals: I'm reasonably sure that they are treated humanely and lead generally comfortable lives but having a tiger sit! stay! roll over! like a dog or having horses running dizzily around in circles for 10 minutes straight greatly diminishes the majesty of these animals and I hope that we as a culture are moving beyond being captivated by that.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Picasso At The Lapin Agile

photo: Rod Goodman

Steve Martin's absurdist comedy, which imagines a night early in the twentieth century when Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso cross paths in a Parisian bar, is a lively mix of high wit and low humour: the two men might be off and running with musings on the nature of genius one minute, and the next they're locked in a Wild West-style showdown with their pencils instead of guns. (That ends in a draw, naturally). Despite some of the witty intellectual sparring the play isn't (and doesn't want to go) much deeper than a tickle, but at least it's a smart, invigorating one. This production, at T. Schreiber Studio, is too leisurely-paced to bring off the play's zaniest flights of fancy, but that's really the harshest thing I can say against it: it's otherwise a pleasure: effectively staged, beautifully designed (George Alison deserves special mention for his evocative and detailed set of the turn of the century bar room) and winningly performed.

Also blogged by: [Aaron] and [David]

The Number 14

I don't want to be a meanie, but The Number 14 is about as sturdy as the flimsy backdrop of its set (a cross-sectioned, old-school public bus). I'm the wrong audience (it's aimed at children), but I found only a few exceptional bits, like when the bus is used as a jungle gym by a rather flexible "grandmother" who is being whipped around by a high-speed bus (what's the lesson we're teaching kids?), or when two strangers hold glossy headshots to cover their faces while using flip-book pictures to act out a sweet little romance. The rest of the show is all over the place, making exaggerated light of slow, elderly people; awkward and frantic adults; and hyperactive youngsters. There's little thought of an overall statement or overarching idea: thugs are prone to dance while spraying graffiti, one actor suddenly breaks into a rap, the cast into a fragmented version of "Don't Worry, Be Happy." The mask-work is creative, and I wouldn't mind the stereotypes if they tied together. The climax, which recycles all the characters from the previous vignettes in one sweeping series of on-and-off exits is a good example of direction, but it's not enough. I left the theater still waiting for something else to happen.

Also blogged by: [Patrick]

Picasso at the Lapin Agile

I had a bit of an icebox moment with the T. Schreiber Studio production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile. At the theater, I wasn't really laughing, and I found the pacing to be a little lethargic (which was odd since the actors seemed totally sober). But walking home, I found myself chuckling more and more over the animosity between Picasso and Einstein, and I was in especial appreciation of Cat Parker's brilliant direction: she punctuated every pun and superbly set up every joke. (Steve Martin's script is smart, but not always smooth on the page, or the stage.) So not every actor took their cue on time, and some of the jokes seemed more executed than flawlessly executed, but some of those at-the-time one-liners have grown on me (like Sagot's remark about art dealers being notorious for their sense of humor, or Freddy's test of Einstein's mathematical skill), and I have to say I rather enjoyed myself.

[Read on]

Also blogged by: [Patrick] and [David]

Picasso At The Lapin Agile

T Schreiber Studio

Comedians who find new and innovative ways to be funny are my favorite people in the world. And so, obviously, Steve Martin ("It's these cans! HE HATES THESE CANS!") is one of my heroes. In his play, Picasso At Lapin Agile, you can single out his absurd, slightly self-deprecating, brilliant fool's voice at every turn. Unfortunately I could not hear it in this constrained, polite TS Studio production as it feels like it's been directed and acted as though it were a drama. They all seemed to be completely unaware of Martin's style of comedy as his hysterically stupid zingers wandered by without even inducing a chuckle. Only Michael Black (pictured. in the hat) who bounds into this play like a lovable jerk, truly GOT the joke and had the audience in stitches whenever he was onstage.
Also blogged by [Aaron] and [Patrick]

Matthew Passion

Chernuchin Theatre

When the playwright himself stands before the audience just prior to the start of the show and delivers a homily which concludes with "The theme of this play is...." and then proceeds to tell you the theme, you should be afraid. This actually happened. Did he not trust us to get it? Or did he not trust his own production's ability to deliver his message? I find it difficult to pan this musical because it's filled with nothing but naive good intentions but attempting to compare the crucifixion of (a buff, chest-waxed) Jesus to the murder of Matthew Sheperd I feel is baffling, misguided, and offensive to Christianity (and I'm not even a religious person) and the memory of Sheperd.

Also blogged by [Patrick]

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Suburban Peepshow

Over-the-top satire such as Suburban Peepshow is more about form than substance, so it's okay to have cross-dressing ninjas and it's fine that the actors break character to complain to the playwright about their "part" in the script. On the whole, the show is lively underground theater, and the only real issue with James Comtois's play is that it doesn't go even further in breaking down both the traditional family and the theater's common depiction of them. The jiggling dance of "Chubby Guy" (Comtois himself) really is the image that sticks with us the most, and the banal observations ("You know what was a good movie? Major League. Yeah. That was a good movie.") make for all-too-familiar small talk. Brilliant? No. Entertaining? Yes.

[Read on]

Matthew Passion

photo: David Morgan

Nothing can grow in bad soil, and the idea of linking Christ's suffering on the cross to Matthew Shepard's death at the hands of gaybashers is about as fertile as cement. The play's brand of offensiveness is not the rock-your-world and challenge-your-beliefs kind, it's of the gleefully naive variety. There's an almost grade school level of innocent badness here, as we watch a completely oblivious Jesus visiting a gay bar, or as we see Matthew Shepard's two gaybashers dance a homoerotic dream ballet in their underwear around his dying body. The playwright (who also wrote the songs - yes, this is a musical) seems to be writing with commendable spirituality-affirming, gay-validating good intentions, but the road to hell, as they say...

Also blogged by: [David]

Five in the Morning

Last week, Rotozaza's Doublethink showed us what happens when guest performers attempt to follow directions; this week's Five in the Morning shows us what happens when real actors attempt to be guest performers attempting to follow directions. Ant Hampton's direction is just as clever here as it was last week, and the stark white floor and curtains of the stage provide a blank slate for the character-building thrust of the show. As the three "hapless" visitors to Aquaworld, Silvia Mercuriali, Greg McLaren, and Melanie Wilson are doing great theatrical work, and while their results aren't as surprising (or thereby engrossing) as Doublethink, it's curious to observe how the same struggles ("Build a human tower") and directions ("Chew your lip" or "Die") are handled by "professionals" (who are in turn pretending to be amateurs). The neat effect is that each actor is assigned a specific voice (their own, I believe, though it's distorted at first): they only do something when they are told to do it. A scene is created by various commands overlapping, and the beauty is in watching the chaos of individual actors coalesce into the kind of structure formed by going so far past disorganization that the randomness comes full circle and is specific again.

Prometheus Bound

Photo/Richard Termine

Not only wasn't I blown away by this show, but I wasn't blown away by David Oyelowo's Prometheus either. I found the chains to be more impressive than him (to some degree the point, since they hold him firm), but honestly, beyond that imposing effect, the play has little weight, substance, or steel. It doesn't help, either, that the show is plagued with repetitious rhetoric: whether it's a Greek chorus of birds come to visit, or the maddened Io, or even the friendly Oceanus, Prometheus speaks the same to them all, with very little variation in his tactics (which got him chained to a rock in the first place). Stubborness may be an honest appraisal of Prometheus, but it's hard to watch for 90 minutes. I don't fault James Kerr's direction or translation of the show, but he ought to have noticed that the script was a little lacking: it's notable that the best moments of Prometheus Bound come when there is no text, simply the silent struggle between man and chain. Fiddle with the lighting all you want, add wave-crashing music in the background, and that's still going to be the most important part of the play: what the Greeks lack in character, they make up for in suffering.

Also blogged by: [Patrick] [David]

Friday, April 06, 2007

Losing Something

Losing Something is dressed up in so much fancy technology and highbrow text that confusion is beside the point. Everything is subsumed by the philosophy, which in turn is simply a metaphor for the play's title and the unnamed protagonist's struggle. However, Kevin Cunningham's play isn't meant to be a passionate journey of self-realization or triumph, nor does performer Aldo Perez mean for his actions to be heroic. The show operates as a sexed-up fugue, an anti-passion play, and while I love the visual aspect (the projected images are elegiac), I hate settling on the thought that the entire work is simply a metaphor for the diassocative but consensual reality discussed so heavy-handedly in the play.

[Read on]

Oliver Twist

John Jay College

So far this is my favorite scenic design of the year. This hollow, dirty, smoke-filled box was the perfect picture frame for this fascinating Brechtian re-telling of the classic Dickens novel. This tightly directed, rhythmic version almost felt like a musical and I wouldn't have been phased at all had Nancy busted out with "As Long As He Needs Me". Perfomed by an excellent troupe of soot-smeared actors, this production was slick, energetic, very memorable and I highly recommend checking it out.

Also blogged by: [Patrick] [Christopher]

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Orestes 2.0

I don't much care for the original Orestes, and this sexed up reboot hasn't really been given the upgrade it needs by Charles L. Mee. This is the type of scattered theater that confuses the mainstream audience about off-Broadway, and although Jose Zayas has found some nice ways of modernizing classical movements (much more violent and visceral here, which makes sense for the Immediate Theater Company), the technical production is still sloppy. Bad night or no, I found much of this show to be a temper tantrum thrown by a confused and confusing cast. The multiple levels never gelled for me, and if that was the point, I can only ask why that was the point. Still: the trial scene is an interesting bit of staging, and the table-spinning, chest-thumping climax has a wicked momentum (set to techno music) that does wonders to liven otherwise dead text, so if you're head over heels for hodgepodge, Orestes 2.0 might be for you.

[Read on]

Go see Neal Medlyn

Something out of control and completely effed up is about to happen and I want you to know about it!

according to his website it features "Phil Collins music and tons of blood!"

Having seen a number of Mr. Medlyn's previous violent comedic outbursts (including Neal Medlyn Will Drink Poison Until He Dies!) I can honestly say that I have never seen a performer who is quite so messy, feral and unbelievably hysterical.

This is really something you should check out if you need a break from well behaved, polite theater.

It's Fridays in April, 7:30pm at Galapagos in Brooklyn (tix). I will be attending on April 13th because his guest star will be the Varsity Interpretive Dance Squad, another comic phenomenon I am currently obsessed with.



A post yesterday over at Culturebot references a letter, sent out by Carolyn Cantor of Edge Theatre in promotion of Essential Self-Defense, which uses pullquotes from three reviews by bloggers. As David and I are two of the three, and the Culturebot post might lead you to think we were plied with liquor and free shrimp, I wanted to set the record straight.

I was approached with the offer of complimentary tickets during the first week of previews, in exchange for posting a discount code in advance of seeing the show and for writing about it after I had here, on my own blog, and at New Theater Corps. Although it is always a tacit understanding when approached with comps that I was free to write what I pleased, in this case I was assured, plainly and in writing, that I could write either positively or negatively. I was the only person approached here; David went and got a ticket on his own and wasn't part of any blog promotion.

The Culturebot post is primarily concerned with what it thinks is an unconvincing argument in Cantor's letter which depicts the Times as out of step with the general opinion on the show; I can not speak to any of that. But I am uncomfortable with what seems to be an implication that there's something underhanded that bloggers like myself were invited and that our positive reviews were quoted; should the quotes from the traditional critics also have come with the disclosure that they were comped? The Culturebot post seems to say that the disclosure of blogger comps would have put our opinions in perspective. It's distressing to see a prominent, trusted blog such as Culturebot take a position such as this, that implicitly depicts bloggers as easily dazzled and swayed by freebies. If "the blogosphere needs to make further inroads into theatre" as the post says, the implication that we can be had for cheap ain't nothing but a dead end.

A Lie of the Mind

A strong ensemble cast makes this revival of A Lie of the Mind into an enthralling evening of theater ... but also a maddening midnight. By hour three, the background bluegrass is annoying, the limited staging grows stifling, and we're dying for a climax. Buried Child is more efficient, but Shepard's writing here, particularly when focused on Beth (and the excellent Laura Schwenninger, who plays her), makes one want to linger languorously in the language. I just wish the third act weren't so reliant on theatrical metaphor: Daryl Boling doesn't even fully render the transitions between the two tragic lovers; the leap into "stage-time" is awkward and the lies of the mind don't have enough life to them. I recommend it anyway, for the outstanding performances and the intimate theater, but watch your blood sugar levels for Act 3.

[Read on]


photo: Alastair Muir

Peter Morgan's play, concerning some of the machinations that led to Richard Nixon's confession of guilt while interviewed on television by David Frost, is mostly a comedy about the media and politics. The play is a lot of fun as far as it goes, briskly entertaining and engrossing even at two hours with no intermission, but it's facile, especially to those of us who have serious objections to seeing Richard Nixon depicted as something of an endearing, doddering old man without any trace of craftiness. Nixon's not far from being a Neil Simon character here: funny-thorny but finally tame. (Please understand that it isn't that I object to a sympathetic depiction of Nixon - I hold Secret Honor in a high place, for instance - it's that there's something that feels dishonest here. This Dick as written isn't the least bit Tricky). The play's strongest political statement is less about Nixon and more about the illegalities that are possible in an abuse of Presidential power - several moments in the play can easily be analogized to Bush, and the audience picks up on them hungrily. The play has been directed with savvy and economy and the acting is phenomenal - Michael Sheen doesn't shy away from playing some of Frost's less attractive qualities but manages to keep him likeable in the gladhanding sense of the word, and Frank Langella, given the confines of what the role in this play will and will not allow, is astounding: he seems to have found an emotional reason for every one of Nixon's mannerisms. Our greatest living American stage actor? Very possibly.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


photo: Leon Joosen

If I had only one word to describe Martin Casella's play, about a man who copes with the death of his lover by not getting out of bed, it would be "heartfelt". While the play strikes a few false notes and could stand to be streamlined, overall it has the cherishable feeling of something lived-through that's been tenderly delivered to us. Although most everyone who has experienced a profound loss will be able to identify with Stewart (Chad Hoeppner - a sensitive, finely modulated performance) and his need to immobilize, the play is accessible to anyone who has had to draw strength from the loving support of friends and family. Two stand-out performances in the supporting cast: Laurence Lau and Stefanie Zadravec, who bring an abundance of warmth and humor to the proceedings as married friends of Stewart's. Extra fun the night I went: Conan O'Brien, in the audience.

Also blogged by: [David]

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Dark at the Top of the Stairs

The dramaturg for The Dark at the Top of the Stairs wants to know why William Inge has been overshadowed by Miller, O'Neill, and Williams . . . well, it's not that Inge can't write, it's that his particular brand of heartland tragedy has been overshadowed by more theatric and less natural works, specifically those of Sam Shepard. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs is very much inside-the-box, and the big topics that Inge broaches--wife-beating, suicide, and late-stage depression--were perhaps the darknesses he couldn't surpass. After much dithering in the first act, we get to a strong, sturdy second act that uses Inge's awkward grace and comedy to illustrate life in 1923, insecurities and all. But then the play settles into an irresolute third act that explains everything from arm's length before dropping it all. From the actors to the directors to the playwright, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs is a play that's stuck at the bottom of the stairs, afraid to take any risks: it's a first step, but nothing more.

[Read on]

Monday, April 02, 2007


Ensemble Studio Theater

Who does playwright David Zellnik think he is writing about scientific researchers studying monkeys in some far east land? Wait... it says here in the program that he actually WENT to Sri Lanka and worked among macaque researchers. Oh! Well then! Carry on! This comedy about documentary filmmakers stirring up a community of scientists and macaques was lively, smart and highly theatrical. With the scientists manipulating puppets of their macaque counterparts, the similarities between man and monkey were addressed in a very fun and unique way. Everything from the sound design, to the (Gilligan's Island-esqe) scenery, to the acting/writing/direction tended to suggest that this production deserved an official Playbill® and not the xeroxed, folded-over white paper program we received as our ticket.
Also blogged by [Aaron]

King Hedley II

photo: Carol Rosegg

I have to say it straight out: despite the obvious artistry of August Wilson's dialogue, the original 2001 Broadway production left me cold and unmoved. King Deadly I dubbed it. But what was broad in that production is now intimate and affecting for the revival at the Signature; what was stilted and false now flows like jagged, vital poetry, the kind that Wilson writes that turns monologues into theatrical arias. Could this play have receieved more care and could it have been better performed than it is here? I doubt it.


TBG Arts Center

(pronounced sit-you-wit -as in the sea town in Massachusetts) The stakes could not be any higher as playwright, Martin Casella, has chosen to begin Act 1, Scene 1 on the eve of the death of a man's lover. Stewart Lombardi, so distraught that he doesn't know what to do with himself, takes to his bed and will not get up. (I know this person very well.) This wonderfully acted play carefully takes you to that place where you are reminded of people you have lost in your life and allows you to muse over what that person meant to you- which can be difficult and wonderful at the same time. It also reaffirms that it's okay to be a self-indulgent mess... at least for a while. Though Scituate does invite you to believe in the supernatural, which I think somewhat betrays the realistic quality the play establishes, there is an honesty here that makes this a special night (or afternoon) at the theater.

Also blogged by: [Patrick]

Gutenberg! The Musical!

Actor's Playhouse

Fun! The conceit is that of a book writer and composer presenting to a house full of Broadway producers their new musical about the inventor of the printing press. The music was atrocious and the lyrics were abominable just as they should have been. The beauty of this show lied in the charm of these two passionate "non-actors" presenting with farcical archery their precious (dead) baby. The whole show had the needy salesman-like sensibility of an infomercial. Favorite line: Bud: "This cupcake is poisoned!" Doug: "I can't stop killing!". I guess you had to be there. So go.


Gino DiIorio's play, Apostasy, left me confused about a lot of things, but the one that stayed with me--and this is a bad sign--is wondering why it was such a surprise for a self-defined agnostic to convert to Christianity rather than defaulting to the lackadasical and irrelevant Judaisim (a dead horse in this play, if ever there were one). Frances Hill does some nice work staging the play (a dead horse itself, for the most part), and I enjoyed the sterile, state-of-the-art feel of Roman Tatarowicz's "come-die-here" cancer ward (a private Westchester hospice). When the actors weren't over-the-top, the dialog spun nicely, but it didn't go anywhere, and there was very little substance to this play: it might just as well have been called Entropy. There's medicinal pot, an abortion-clinic manager, and a televangelist . . . in the same room . . . and I'm still not laughing.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Oliver Twist

photo: Michael J. Lutch

This highly stylized production, a new adaptation of the Dickens novel, presents the story with menacing penny-dreadul imagery and Brechtian theatrical devices. Its vision is consistent and vivid and the stagecraft is impressive; you haven't seen an Oliver Twist like this before, and yet it's often more remarkably attuned to the authoral voice in the novel than any other version I've seen on stage. However, it is slow-going for the first half of the first act - with everyone forced into heightened posturing, it gets a little ponderous watching the initial parade of gleefully awful grotesques, and some of the devices (such as having the ensemble address the audience in grim musical speak-song) take some getting used to. Once little orphan Oliver is curled up at Fagin's den of thievery and the plot is relentlessly in motion, the show starts to have urgency and feeling and its distinctive style begins to seem shrewd, a way to wring more out of Oliver Twist than just melodrama.

Also blogged by: [David]

Number 14

photo: David Cooper

Back in town almost ten years after its first Drama-Desk nominated run, the Axis Theatre's Number 14 is a wonderful physical comedy (with masks! Lots of borderline-creepy cool masks!) that parents will be more than happy to sit through for the sake of their six to ten year olds. All of the skits involve strangers interacting on a city bus and almost all are winners: the buck-toothed neatfreak who has to share his seat with a slob who's hacking up a lung, the two hipsters who negotiate a date by holding up different pictures from the magazines they're reading, the line of suit and tie corporates who move as if one. Sure, the show is slapdash and isn't held together by anything more than the sentiment in one of its song lyrics ("Everyone is human on the Number 14"), and the show veers off course once or twice with (benign) social commentary, but with a runtime of just over an hour and so much giggle-inducing slapstick and jokery, the grin doesn't have time to leave your face.



Never underestimate the power of a good title. I was curtly chided for showing up a few minutes after 7:30 to collect my ticket and was put on stand-by status as the house was completely sold out. Happily, there was one seat left for me and happily this collection of 8 lusty short plays by 8 lusty playwrights was as slutty and fun as its title. Ranging from naughty to downright crass, every one of these plays was actually very well written and very well performed. My favorite was "The Impotence Of Being Ernest" which featured the stiff (in more ways than one) husband of Gwendolyn (from the Wilde play it spoofs) recounting to his best friend a failed attempt at "coital relations" with his new wife. Such frank language over a spot of tea indeed! And the final play's dialogue was so hysterically raunchy ("...she shit in my mouth!... about two shot glasses full") that I would like to ask the playwright's hand in marriage. The "lights up!"/crew exposed/"cue the bed!" cacophony in between the scenes made us feel like we were on the set of a porn shoot. Great idea!

Face The Music

photo: Joan Marcus

I was delighted by the opening number, a witty ditty that depicts the Astor and Rockefeller-type Manhattan bluebloods so pinched by the Depression that they've taken to dining and schmoozing at the Automat. By the second number, a dynamite little "forget your troubles" tapdance that showcased wonderful Jeffry Denman and Meredith Patterson all but gliding on air, I was almost giddy with pleasure. I fell positively and officially in love with this show by the third number, a mock-patriotic spoof that promotes thrift in tough times (Why give three cheers when two will do?/Let's cheer the red and the white but not the blue!) Where in the world has this spiffy, clever, tuneful little Irving Berlin backstage musical been hiding? And how has Encores! managed to do it so wonderfully right, from the flawless casting to the spare but stylishly evocative sets to the pulse-quickening orchestrations? Judy Kaye, Walter Bobbie, Mylinda Hull, Eddie Korbich, Felicia Finley, and so on: there isn't a bum performance in the bunch, and every performer is on the same page of era-specificity and accuracy. If the stated mission of Encores! - to mount concert productions of little-known musicals which respect the material - is the kind of thing you like, then Face The Music is the kind of thing you will love. The time machine has coughed up a diamond.