Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Black Eyed

photo: Joan Marcus

In Betty Shamieh's provocative, stunningly lyrical and sometimes darkly funny The Black Eyed - currently being New York premiered in a brilliant production at NYTW and easily one of the most exciting new plays I've seen so far this year - four Palestinian women from different historical periods congregate outside a mysterious door in the afterlife, unsure if they are in heaven, hell, or some terrible limbo. Each of their lives was deeply altered by violence: they spend the play trying to make sense of and peace with it, sometimes with profound humour and sometimes with passionate urgency. The play is bold and thematically ambitious - the characters' reach through the ages (for instance Delilah, from Biblical times, is right alongside a modern-day secular architect) widens the playwrights' questions about oppression and violence beyond the context of modern-day conflicts. That's one of the play's strongest qualities: it pushes buttons about terrorism, religious divisiveness, and warfare, but none of them activate hate. The play has a humanity-affirming bird's eye view and it challenges us to take one too.

Also blogged by: [Aaron] [David]

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Hand and the Hen

I don't think there's a problem in Woken'glacier's translation of Chilean playwright Fernando Josseau's plays: it's more a problem with transitions from director Oscar A. Mendoza, and enunciations from actress Coco Silvera. The plays themselves are giddily tragic one-acts, brief but memorable for their eccentric poise (like something out of Borges). In the first, The Hand, an inspector investigates the mysterious severance of a middle-aged man's hand. The amputee (Jeffery Steven Allen) is reasonably panicked and perturbed, whereas the detective (Paul Daily) is surprised and a little irritated by the interruption of his routine: a missing hand isn't so bad as a corpse.

The lively exchanges of desperation and exasperation work well, but the momentum is constantly interrupted by lengthly blackouts. The music that plays through them, composed by Spiros Exaras, is just as rhythmic as the language, but it clashes with the text: it has its own story, and the two don't work well in tandem. As for the second play, The Hen, let's just say that it takes a certain sort of talent to turn a tale of rape, cuckoldry, and chickens into comedy. The alienating blocking puts Him (Allen) and Her (Silvera) at odds before the show even begins; the comedy is that we root for the self-assured rapist (Daily), but it's less funny when we root for him because of his victim's poor acting.


Photo/Ari Mintz

After hearing all the praise for Gypsy, I was expecting to drop dead of excitement watching LuPone channel all of her estimable skill into the role of Rose. Maybe I suffered from a case of overexpectations. Maybe there were too many fawning fans in the audience--a celebratory praise party--for me to enjoy the oft-interrupted performance. Maybe I was sitting too far away from the stage to appreciate the phenomenon happening on it. But I don't like to make excuses: maybe the show just wasn't as good as it was hyped up to be.

[Read on] [Also blogged by: David | Patrick]

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Black Eyed

Photo Credit/Joan Marcus

New York Theater Workshop is on a roll this season: Horizon was a Beckett-like allegory on religion and faith, and The Black Eyed is a Callaghan-like parable on what will happen to our faiths if we cannot learn to understand one another. Betty Shamieh's play is controversial--it features an unrepentant suicide bomber in the afterlife and has harsh words for martyrdom--but it is written beautifully, with shades of slam poetry and Greek choruses. Though the polemic is passive, the performances are passionate, and Sam Gold's direction serves as supportive punctuation for the finely crafted message already laid bare on stage.

[Read on]

[Also blogged by: Patrick | David]
Tickets only $35.00 with code BEBLG28

MITF: "The Broken Jump"

OK, so these days, vaudeville really isn't that funny. However, watching actors like Jack Boice ham it up in a flattering homage of the old days; that's comedy. The Broken Jump isn't just a comedy, though, and that's what makes it pretty good, too. King Talent's script tells the story of an elder performer, Julius McGowen (whom he also sagaciously plays) coming to terms with the life he left when he fled the ill-repute of his ex-prostitute lover, Natalie (played by Melissa Jo Talent) to pursue an eventual Broadway act. Fifteen years later, and McGowen's a dying breed who finds a breath of fresh air in Natalie's precocious daughter, Christina Bell (Caitlin Mehner). Unfortunately, his partnership with young Milton Kean (Tony King) is threatened by his big plans for Christina, and by the aggressive politics of conservative Senator Irving Drew (Greg Homison), who'd like to ban children from the inappropriately lascivious messages of "the theater." The show bustles along, building relationships and lovingly embracing the history of vaudeville, and it's not until the abrupt, mood-changing finale that The Broken Jump appears to be broken.

The Black Eyed

photo: Joan Marcus


I generally agree with Patrick's ("stunningly lyrical") and Aaron's ("finely crafted") Showdown reviews for The Black Eyed. To my recollection, I have never even seen a play solely about Palestinians, female or otherwise, and that reason alone makes this production pretty darn unique. Four Palestinian women, each with their own story loaded with struggle, pain and strife, gather in the afterlife searching for answers (it sort of reminded me of the harrowing 9 Parts Of Desire, the one woman play about Iraqi women from a couple of years ago (jeez can't those poor middle eastern women catch a break??)). My one quib, which is admittedly a shallow one, is that shortly into the play it became obvious that each woman was going to have her 2o minute platform to tell her story and the predictability of this structure was noticeably taxing on a few of the matinee subscribers as well as my ADHD self.

The Day Before Spring

I'm fairly sure I am not the target audience for the popular Musicals In Mufti series at the York. While I don't mind watching an open-book, minimally staged reading of a dated, antique musical, I need the compensatory pleasures of a great score. (That a score is merely obscure or recently rescued - as this one was, per the Times article a couple of days ago - is not enough to ring my bell, although there is obviously an appreciative audience that goes ding-dong-ding for this.) While it was fun to see Hunter Bell steal a scene or two, and the cast was thick with good singers, I decided to make my exit at intermission: none of the Lerner and Loewe songs in the first act, excepting the lilting title song, did anything for me. Also, the show's story crawled so slowly that my mind wandered from the stage to the fancy people in the audience: How does Barrett Foa get his teeth so white? Is Jeff Bowen wearing the same sandals as in this iconic pic? Where can I get the shampoo and conditioner that Susan Blackwell uses?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Day Before Spring

Left at intermish.

This was a minimally staged, script-in-hand performance of a previously "lost" musical written very early in Lerner and Lowe's careers. This was perfect for those hardcore Lerner and Loewe fans who have a special interest in mapping the artistic evolution of these old school collaborators. Unfortunately, I am not one of those types of fans and I think perhaps Mufti may have reached too deep into that old dusty trunk as they retrieved a forgettably forgettable score. Sometimes musicals are lost for a reason.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee



The unfortunate inevitability of most long-runs on Broadway is that with new actors migrating in and out it becomes a crap shoot from role to role as to whether or not we're going to get a character as three dimensional and unique as we did with the carefully selected original cast. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't and this production of Spelling Bee, now it its 3rd year, is no different. The good news is that here it just didn't seem to matter as much. This book and score are just so unabashedly charming and joyful that in spite of the forgivable loss of a little bit of nuance and clarity of character, I still found myself laughing hysterically at, and emotionally investing in, the aspirations of these needy little spellers. I always cry like a stupid fucking baby during "The I Love You Song" and at this performance I reacted no different. Take your mom to this show, she'll love it.


If you've been reading this blog you probably know by now that the Summer Play Festival puts on works in development, and that the productions are not open for formal review. Fair enough, I say, since tickets are only ten bucks. However, I don't see a reason not to say that in this one, Peter Strauss is giving a rich and altogether remarkable performance that achieves its power with restraint and understatement. The play has other merits, but even if it didn't, his performance (as a professor of architecture who lets down his emotional guard with a female student who idolizes him) would still make it well worth seeing.

EAST TO EDINBURGH: The Nina Variations

I love Steven Dietz's concept of trimming Chekhov's The Seagull so that the only story is that of Konstantin Gavrilovich Treplev's love for Nina, and I like Douglas Rome's staging of the work, with a computer counting up through the 42 different scenes they've created as the ensemble (11 Ninas and 4 Treplevs) either sit facing the back wall, or glide in and out of center stage. I don't think it's fair to criticize high school students, but the performance of the piece itself is where The Nina Variations falters most. Chekhov is extremely difficult, and as a result, the show is at best a marvelous invitation to watch an ensemble doing a very specific set of scene-study exercises. However, because all the actors end up resembling each other very much, and because the scenes aren't variations so much as different scenes, there's a lack of risk in the 42 "moments" that become stifling and, to be honest, boring: it is, as Nina says, "Words alone," and the few finely accented moments (#7 delves into subtext, #40 is an freshly minted monologue by Kostya after his suicide). There's no doubt that all involved have a love for Chekhov, but they ought to listen to what they're actually saying: "Form is not the important thing . . . Soul is."

Commedia Dell' Artemisia

Photo/Joseph Belschner

That rape could be funny, not tragic, who knew? The producers and writers of Stolen Chair, that's who. With swagger and grace and a man who's ribald, the show woos us and flatters us, we're never appalled. Commedia Dell' Artemisia, what a wonderful name; if only bringing back classical comedy alone brought one fame. But I'll drop the old rhymes now (they're far better than me), as I must stress the point that this show's a must see. (Besides, it's not as easy to rhyme David Bengali's name as you'd think, nor Cameron J. Oro's, Layna Fisher's, or Liza Wade White's, all of whom are well worth mentioning.)

The only sad part about Commedia Dell' Artemisia is that it's condensed to stay under an hour, which means there's no romance and no real comeuppance. The climax simply dissolves into a bawdy song with a hasty conclusion: I say, if you've got it, flaunt it, and there's no reason the Stolen Chair Theatre Company can't turn this one-act into an even bigger crowd pleaser.

[Read more]

Friday, July 27, 2007

33 To Nothing

The Wild Project

The conundrum of this play with rock music is do you cast musicians who can act? Or actors who can play instruments? Those who are equally adept at both crafts would be ideal however in this production it seems clear that we have amazing musicians who can pretty much act (some better than others). Taking place in a rehearsal studio we follow the story of an over-the-hill rock band falling apart. During the stretches of dialogue, most of the band members politely stood and waited for their line, delivered it, and then returned to politely waiting for their next line. During the musical numbers this production was jolted alive and SOARED. I LOVED the songs and the vocals and guitar-work were KICK ASS. For that reason I am very happy I went to this production.
P.S. I've never been to The Wild Project in the East Village. Very cool, well designed space!

Also blogged by [Patrick] and [Aaron]

The Quantum Eye

Mentalism is the least impressive form of magic out there: it lacks the glitz of illusion, the energy of performance art, and the risk of escapism. If you're going to make a career out of reading people, you'd either better be infallible, unique, or extremely charismatic. Sam Eaton is, unfortunately, none of these things. He plays the mild-mannered card so much that the stage (not to mention the audience) often overshadows him. The line I heard most during his act, The Quantum Eye, was whether or not his volunteer wanted to bring reading glasses on stage. After a while, it hardly mattered that Eaton was able to act as a human lie detector; predict the times, numbers, and names people were thinking of (not really "show-stopping" secrets); or manage to get people to think they'd picked what he'd already preset before the show. Furthermore, his inability to perform "Transmission" (one out of eight acts), didn't impress me. During "Mnemonics," he seemed to be using physical cues from his volunteers' anticipation rather than the memorization technique he was distracting us with, and while that's probably exactly what he was doing, I'd be disappointed to think that I was bored into figuring it out. The subtitle to his show is "Magic Deceptions"; take the magic out of it, and it's just a series of transparent deceptions.


Girl power, perhaps, but Tender was way too soft a play for me. Shapour Benard has crafted four interesting, different young women, but she's left them stranded in limbo, and neither her plot nor dialog give us any conflict, just a lot of consolation and solidarity. The lead character, named Soledad, is anything but solid (whereas Kellie E. McCants is too firm in the role). Her temporary job as a bartender (hence the title's double-meaning) has gone on for eight years, and while that's fine for Sam (Kelly B. Dwyer), her trust-funded punk-loving roommate, she's embarrassed by the recent success of her close friend Anna (Andrea Dionne), a kitschy, semi-conservative music critic who seems overly excited by everything. She turns to an older friend, Julie (Amber Gray), who grew distant after breaking up with Sam (after six years) in order to marry into security, and with whom she shares a dark secret. But that's where it ends: with a weakly argued showdown that doesn't dredge up the past so much as gently trip over it. Benard's energies are well intentioned, but without true conflict -- nobody in the play seems to want anything, except Soledad -- the play is stuck in a mire that can sometimes be amusing (Dwyer is a highlight), but is all too often morose.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


So much more than any of the other shows currently running at the "East to Edinburgh" festival, La Femme Est Morte captures what it means to be a fringe show. A lighter adaptation of the classic Greek myth of Phaedra, La Femme Est Morte balances between the bloody conclusion of Sarah Kane's Phaedra's Love and the rock band nature of Chuck Mee's First Love by gyrating through the seven levels of pop circle hell. Assembler and director Shoshona Currier has the chorus sing "Date Rape" one moment, and has Theseus quoting Patton the next; Phaedra seduces her stepson, Hippolytus, to the chorus's rendition of "My Hump," and not to be outdone, there's ample samples of the Spice Girls ("2 Become 1"), too. It's like an avant garde take on Moulin Rouge: for all the derivations, the energy and creativity manage to sell the show. The show stands out, however, because of the exceptional choreography from Isis Masoud and Marc Santa Maria (bodies crucified and spun in mid-air), and from the multifaceted performance of Joey Williamson, who plays the effeminate leader of the paparazzi chorus with such exuberance that the story itself makes perfect sense. Great fun!

Minor Gods

Summer Play Festival at Theater Row

As this is a festival production it'd be kinda douchey of me if I were to write a review of something that is (hopefully) still in development. I can proudly announce, though, that the committee did get a Hot Guy Alert out of it! Always worth the price of admission.

Alice In War

Shows at the Summer Play Festival aren't open for review, but I want to say a few things about this one anyway because it's a brand of ambitious and interesting that fans of the offbeat might want to check out this weekend. First, let me tell you that there were at least a dozen walkouts at intermission: this appropriation of Alice In Wonderland, which imagines a modern-day, curious little girl stepping into a topsy-turvy war zone beyond a hole in her wall, is not for everyone and it only sporadically delivers on its strong promise. But when it does deliver it's both smart and engaging for freshness-seeking playgoers. I had to chuckle when Alice, trapped inside a huge rabbit mask that she couldn't pry loose from her head, concluded that "two heads are not always better than one". I loved when she intruded on the historian/philosopher/gardener to ask for water. Annoyed to be distracted from his busy and important work of contemplating the random patterns of warfare, he reluctantly gives her his attention and eventually this great wisdom: she needs water. The scene in the second act, when Alice confronts the war machine, nails the kind of wry satire that I wish the play strived more for overall. Still, remembering that the shows at SPF are usually works-in-progress, this flawed one has enough bright flashes of wit and absurdity to make me hope it is further developed. Also in this production's favor: good low-budget visual design work, and a strong, alarmingly dead-on performance by Lisa Joyce as Alice.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

33 To Nothing

Photo/Jaisen Crockett

Good news? 33 To Nothing is a solid, live show. Bad news? There's a play that comes with it, and much as that play fuels the music, it doesn't do much for what increasingly becomes dead time between the musical's eight numbers. It's also almost too realistic for the stage: without any theatricality, musicals often get a little odd: at least this one, which takes place in a rehearsal space, during a rehearsal, can get away with spontaneously bursting into song. Here, it's a way for the alcoholic front man to deal with his emotions: when pressed to talk about them, he sags back behind the safety of his keyboard and starts to play. If only the rest of the band had as much to do as he did, and if only they were all as good theatrically as they are musically. If I only I could just forget the "if" and just rock.

[Read on] [Also blogged by: Patrick] [David]

minor gods

I'm told that the first sold-out run at this year's Summer Play Festival was this two-hander, in which a genetic research scientist holes up in a hotel room with a rentboy (ker ching!) to discuss genetic predisposition and engineering. (Refund!)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Magic of Mrs. Crowling

Over-the-top and waxing fantastical, Brian Silliman's parody of Pottermania is rough, riotous, and constantly funny. Abe Goldfarb's quick cuts between scenes keep the energy up, and the very different personalities of the deadpan Ramsey (Silliman); his son, the exuberantly dying Kicken (Paul Wyatt); and the doped-up writer, A. R. Crowling (Shelly Smith), are what make this show more than a series of (funny) one-liners from the peanut gallery of wizards (and critics): Dazzelin, Valiaare, and Charcana Charcane (Patrick Shearer, Dennis Hurley, and Ronica V. Reddick). Like the Harry Potter franchise, it's overlong and gets stuck in exposition a few too many times for its own good, but the good intentions and underlying charm make this show a successful send-up and a heartfelt homage to the imagination.

[Read on]

33 To Nothing

photo: Dale May

This downtown self-billed "play with music" centers on the self-absorbed front man in a failed aging rock band who is still holding on to the dream. Almost all his bandmates have to put it to rest already. He's either lashing out, or turning inward with unspoken desperation, or drinking away the pain. As portrayed with jagged anxietous energy by Grant James Varjas (also the playwright and co-songwriter) he's an often compelling character, in some respects not so far from the self-disgust of the protagonist in Talk Radio, but he's in search of a play. The other four characters in this one - including the most prominent, the guitarist ex-boyfriend - aren't written with the same depth and don't raise the dramatic stakes high enough. The passing moments of intervening challenge they provide to the main character's freefall aren't enough to keep the play (which takes place in real time at a band rehearsal) from feeling underdramatized. Whatever the structural weaknesses in his script, Varjas at least keeps things moving and knows when some levity is needed: some of the play's best moments are the band's idle conversations about other musicians. (Memorable quote: "Bowie's an ex-gay. He reneged on us!") And there is the band's music, most of it very good and all of it authentic. Perhaps the best way to enjoy 33 To Nothing is to see it as a concert crossed with a character study that hasn't quite found its groove as a play.

Also blogged by: [Aaron] [David]

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bloody Lies

Wrong title: Bloody Lies is Bloody Camp. I expected as much from a show billed as "Dracula Meets Monty Python," but was hoping that the release's reference to Joss Whedon would give Greg Machlin's script a little more substance than this. No; there's a great turn from Gabe Belyeu as the manic servant, Reinfield, and a nice, deeply enunciated, performance from his classically evil master, Count VonRichtenstein VII (Thomas Lash) but the emphasis of this show is on the twinned love stories of the "straight" guy Clem (Michael Buckley) and vampire Nina VonRichtensten (Elaine Matthews) and of Clem's mother, Elsie (Antonia Marrero), and her evil landlady Doris (Larry George). And I guess also on the bondage-based zombification of Clem's one-worded friend, Barney (Brian DeCaluwe) by the French Goth maid, Simparticus (Carrie Cimma), with a little bit of magic thrown in there by the phallic LSD (Liquid Sky Degenerator). When the plot finds time to focus, there are some comedic moments, but the whole thing is so overacted that it's little more than a series of shrill jokes and intermittent sound effects. To her credit, Samantha Shechtman does a fine job directing it, using repetitive, roundabout blocking to "stake" out familiar areas on the Workshop Theater's black-box stage.

EAST TO EDINBURGH: Inside Private Lives

I see a lot of potential in Kristin Stone's distillation of character acting; she's transformed the act of monologuing into a rare chance for intimate communion with the audience. However, her show, Inside Private Lives, depends entirely upon whether or not the audience takes the cast up on this challenge, which in turn depends on whether or not the audience has heard of such infamous (but dated) characters as Christine Jorgensen, Bobby Sands, Tokyo Rose, Elia Kazan, and Wallis Simpson. Those are just the five from the matinée I attended; there's another five in repertoire for the rest of this run. What I'm missing from the show is the drama: while they need something from the audience, they aren't often given a hard time getting it, which leads to little more than a recounting of facts. The passion is there, but it's a tiny, flickering flame, one that needs sparks and support from the audience, like no show ever before.

[Read on]

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Surface To Air

photo: Ric Kallaher

A family awaits the cremated remains of the eldest son, who died over thirty years ago in the Vietnam War. The standard issue arguments are trotted out, with each cardboard character too neatly assigned a set of beliefs: dad still believes that we were fighting the good fight in Vietnam (if he didn't, then his son's death was for nothing) and mom is still living in the past (so that she doesn't have to face the present). This play is the opposite of revelatory - it feels derived from a hundred plays and movies we've already seen - and the writing is so formulaic that I didn't believe a single minute of it. That's saying a lot, considering that the cast is headed up by the likes of Lois Smith and Larry Bryggman, two indisputable treasures of the stage who can usually make me believe anything.

Also blogged by: [Aaron]

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Vrooommm! A NASComedy

Another not-to-be-reviewed new play at SPF.

EAST TO EDINBURGH: "An Age of Angels"

Before he heads to Edinburgh, Mark Soper needs to learn to sell himself a little better. His play, An Age of Angels is populated with so many eccentrics (child-watching perverts, pant-shitting nerds, alien-obsessed loners) that it's hard to get past the foulness to enjoy his characters. The thin, multi-threaded plot doesn't help either: the show begins with the sounds of children playing, then sirens, then bullets, but it isn't until the fifth character (an ignorant urban hick) talks about trying to get a "goddamn soccer ball" that we understand what's going on. The point of the play is to show how the little things add up, but the lack of self-contained arcs for the narrators makes them less than tangential: they're phantasmal.

Soper's other issue is his language: would even the smartest dweeb at an elementary school use the phrase "perfect Pynchonesque parabola" to describe the arc of a soccer ball he's reflexively kicked? His dumb characters work because they leave off with the staccato rhythms and beat-poetry descriptions of minutia, but the show all too often seems like a continuation of more of the same. It's also, quite frankly, terrible for a few of the segments: Soper looks and sounds like a combination of Robin Williams and Lee Tergesen, but without the energy or sincerity of either. As a director and producer, Ines Wurth should've given her star a transfusion of coffee: this would've cleaned up the stalling costume-changing transitions. Still, I give Soper credit for memorizing such technically roundabout dialog, and, to the eight people who left the performance after ten minutes, you should know the show improved. (Not enough for me to recommend it, however.)


Summer Play Festival. Can't review it. Can count it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Surface to Air

I'm hesitant to say bad things about Surface to Air: it's the first theatrical production to grace the renovated Symphony Space. However, if their future selections are as bad as David Epstein's charmless family drama, there's little to be lost in this warning. Surface and air is all you'll find in this shamelessly exploitative play about Vietnam (i.e., letting go of the past). The plot idles as often as the ghost of the play, Rob (Mark J. Sullivan), a sullen monologist who orates every so often from a dim spotlight cast over the stage left patio. The rest of the time, he just stands there, nodding off, although who could blame him, considering how blandly James Naughton directs the rest of the cast.

Princess (Lois Smith) is a germaphobe whose spirit died when Rob crashed and went missing, thirty years ago. So it makes perfect sense for her to smear herself in Rob's ashes: well, perfect sense considering all the hard work Epstein and Naughton go through to establish her fear of people and things. After all, she sprays not just the table, but the rag she wipes it with, and then the trashcan she throws it into. It's all so artfully done. Of course Hank, Princess's husband, has it out with his children, Terri and Eddie, over the meaning of honor: why else would you reunite them? Marisa Echeverria, who plays Eddie's new, Hispanic wife, is the only spot of color here, and the play she's in has nothing to do with Vietnam. There are a few good spots between Cady Huffman (as a bossy studio executive) and Bruce Altman (as a docile documentarian), but these scenes only re-enforce how unnecessary the intrusion of Vietnam is into this play. Politics may be dramatic, but just talking about politics, without any stakes or emotional investment at all? That's worthless.

[Also blogged by: Patrick]


photo: Joan Marcus

There's a new Seussical in town that aims to please the peek-a-boo set, and it does: unlike the original Broadway flop of seven years ago, this production (from TheatreWorksUSA) makes a fair amount of demands on a kid's imagination. An open box is a bathtub, a blue blanket is the bathwater overflowing, and so on. Using a revised book that cuts a handful of musical numbers and trims away a subplot or two, this production clocks in at an intermissionless eighty minutes, which is just about right to hold the attention of New York's littlest theatregoers. Anyone older than that will notice that the musical doesn't have much distinctively Seussian flavor - it's especially disappointing that the songs rarely approximate the wonderfully catchy rhythms of the books. (It needs to be said, also, that this production uses pre-recorded music) Still, the cast (of twelve, ambitious by TheatreWorksUSA standards) is eager to please and succeeds at performing for children without condascending to them, and the production is energetic and imaginative enough to ensure that kids will have a good time. Parents do have at least one reason to be happy: all tickets are free of charge, distributed at the box office one hour prior to each performance.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

GYPSY- Showshowdown Rave #3!

City Center

GO! SEE! THIS! Encores has delivered us another mouth-foamer in this production starring Patti Lupone and directed by the book writer, Arthur Laurents. Laurents here has inserted so many fresh moments and bits that caught we the audience (aka congregation) off-guard and sent us into fits of crazy monkey laughter. Our dear St. Patti, belting to the rafters, nailed all of the rage, ambition, and humor that every good Mama Rose has sweating out of her pores. As for the rest of the cast- not one weak link. The children were perfect as were their adult counterparts. Literally from start to finish I could not wipe the goddamn smile off of my face. Thank you, Encores for giving us a full onstage orchestra, a dream cast, and a near flawless production. You wanna make out?
Also blogged by [Patrick] and [Aaron]

Sunday, July 15, 2007

High School Musical

photo: Joan Marcus

Big sound system problems brought the curtain down and the house lights up about forty five minutes into the first act. I hear that they were able to get things together almost an hour later, but by then we were already over it and determined to get out of Philly on schedule. Is it fair or unfair to comment on what I did see of this touring stage adaptation of Disney Channel's extraoridnarily popular tv movie musical? I don't know, but I will say that it didn't reach me at all, even in the third row: it felt like an expensive version of one of those shows you file into at a theme park to get a break from the rides. Big, broad, bland.

The People vs. Mona

Photo/Randy Morrison

The People vs. Mona is about as plausible as an episode of Perry Mason, but (a) that's what it was styled after and (b) this one's an endearing, bluesy musical. If you're watching a musical, your belief is already pretty well suspended, so settle back in your seat and enjoy the lively tunes and livelier characters that Jim Wann and Patricia Miller are interrogating for tonight's entertainment. The plot's more elaborate than the set or costume changes, all of which happen in the middle of the action, so your focus is never distracted from the ensemble: there's the operatic Officer Bell (David Jon Wilson) and the sultry Tish Thomas (Marcie Henderson); over there's our cheerful Indian motel owner, Patel (Omri Schein), and in another corner, our take-no-sass judge, Ella Jordan (Natalie Douglas). The three leads, our defense, prosecutor, and defendant (Richard Binder, Karen Culp, and Mariand Torres) are also great singers, but they're actually a bit too normal in the context of this self-satirizing show. But that's no reason to dismiss this case: The People vs. Mona is a grand ole time.

[Read on]

Lower Ninth

One of the four offerings during the Summer Play Festival's first week, Lower Ninth crackles with good dialogue as it depicts two men waiting on a rooftop to be rescued from a devastating flood. The dead body of a friend, pulled from the polluted water, lies at their feet: a reminder that rescue may come too late. Since SPF plays are not meant to be open for review, I'm only going to say that the writing here shows promise, and that after another pass to strengthen the play's thematic content, I could see that this play would merit a subsequent production.

Friday, July 13, 2007

What Do Men Want?

Two one-acts at the Fresh Fruits Festival. The first is a monologue callled Lay Me Down And Love Me Again and the less I say about it the better; I confess that I had no idea what brand of humor it was aiming for. The second, a cute forty five minute satirical chuckle called The Naked Dead Elephant In The Middle Of The Room, lightheartedly spoofs the typical gay play. The conceit is vaguely [title of show]ish, as a playwright at a laptop sweats out the play that we are watching, leading here to a lot of fun, if usually predictable, play-within-a-play business (I laughed the hardest at the successive, increasingly silly on-the-spot revisions of the obligatory sex scene). An especially cranky and verbose theatre critic character is the one-act's crowdpleasing running gag - he periodically pops in to complain about the play thus far - and there's even a small bit when an audience member is cajoled to make a cameo. Unfortunately I lost the insert in my program and can't single out any of the actors, but all four are fun and bring the right spirit to the material.

Universal Robots

Mac Rogers has upgraded Karel Capek's R.U.R. by installing Capek himself into the new show, appropriately titled Universal Robots. The strong storytelling and superb acting (especially from the ridiculously robotic Jason Howard) make the play at least as good as Capek's original, but it's the freshly updated emotional core that makes this a much-needed overhaul. The two plays are really only the same at face-value: both are about robot drudges who eventually evolve beyond humans ("You say unnecessary things") only to find that in replacing them, they become them. However, Rogers' script has added drama from the brother-sister relationship between Karel and Jo, and also between the eccentric Rossum and her sheltered and lovestruck daughter, Helena. Also, by adding a narrator, Rogers is able to play tricks with the progression of scenes, not to mention the insertion of monologued asides that flesh out the world and show off the ensemble.

[Read on]

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Forbidden Broadway: The Roast Of Utopia

photo: Carol Rosegg

This "special summer edition" of the long running, ever-changing spoof revue is hit and miss, as it usually is, but at least the show feels fresher than usual at the moment with an especially appealing current cast and several new skits in the mix. The Company send-up is easily the best of the what's fresh - "No strings/No bass/No drums/Unaccompanied!" - and features James Donegan doing a dead-on Raul Esparza "Being Alive" parody (now called "Being Intense"). There's a decent Grey Gardens number and a Mary Poppins bit that mocks, what else, the Disneyfication of Broadway. The revised Hairspray skit picks up near its finish when John Travolta is lambasted - that's getting a welcome jump on things, as the movie isn't out until late next week. Another big plus is that the terrificly funny Les Miserables parodies are back, thanks to the currently-running revival: those spoofs are among the all-time best of Forbidden Broadway's twenty four years. The bad news is that a couple of new skits I was eagerly looking forward to are duds - the Drowsy Chaperone number just, um, sits there witlessly, and while the Spring Awakening spoof looks great, it doesn't have any bite: it seems more like an advertisement than a skewering. And I wonder....why is there still no Spelling Bee?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


URGENT: Music theatre fans should get tickets for the Encores production of Gypsy. Immediately. Don't even read the rest of this review, because there is nothing I could say that you aren't going to hear again and again over the course of the three week run, and beyond. You're going to hear that Patti Lupone is a sensation, the vital bulldozing force of nature that many of us have been waiting for in a Mama Rose. You'll hear that from the first moments of the overture, the score is brought to glorious goosebump-raising life by the full orchestra. You'll hear that this is, at last, a Gypsy in which everyone is bringing their best game and every moment works, even the ones you might think you are tired of. There'll be richly deserved praise for Boyd Gaines, the most substantive Herbie since Jonathan Hadary, and for Laura Benanti, the most convincing Louise I have ever seen. But praise is deserved top to bottom here: this is a dream Gypsy, in which great care and wisdom have been spent on putting across both the music and the story; I haven't seen the dynamics of the central characters' relationships made as clear ever before. A better Gypsy than this I don't expect to see in my lifetime. And yes, I know, that's a lot of praise for anything to live up to, but since you are buying tickets instead of reading this, you can find it all out for yourself.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Witches Of Eastwick

photo: Joan Marcus

The musical of John Updike's The Witches Of Eastwick - revamped for its American premiere at the Signature in Virginia - is the kind of not-so-guilty pleasure that can turn grown-up music theatre lovers into happy grinning idiots: it's bawdy, silly, bump and grind fun. Subtle and nuanced it ain't, as three New England divorcees unwittingly conjure up a horny devil as their dream man who turns out to be the Devil himself, but who's looking for subtlety from a ribald R-rated lampoon like this? Like Bye Bye Birdie, this show is all about the pelvis. The show's occassional breaks in the rhythm - a blandly overearnest subplot, just one or two songs that don't fly as well as the rest of the score - can't stop the undulating, irresistible beat. As the horndog Devil, Marc Kudisch's hip-thrusting, lip-licking, sex-on-legs performance manages to be as blatantly cocky and raunchy as it is funny and winning: the audience falls in love with him on sight. And the three actresses who play the witches of the title - Emily Skinner, Christiane Noll, and Jacquelyn Piro Donavan - are a formidable dream team: individually each is perfectly cast, and collectively the three have completely believable best friends chemistry and a heavenly blend of singing voices in their trio numbers (one of which ends with them flying up and out over the audience - sure beats Elphaba hoisted up behind a giant poncho, folks)

Saturday, July 07, 2007


photo: Carol Rosegg

A modern-dress production in which the Danish prince snacks on a bag of movie popcorn and Ophelia wears an ipod, Shakespeare Theatre Company's Hamlet has the interesting idea of emphasing the youth of the title character: it's Hamlet as tossle-haired, shirttail-showing, backpack-wearing adolescent. It has its moments, but in all it sounds a lot more fun on paper than it has turned out on stage, mainly because Jeffrey Carlson is asked to rage through the title role at fever pitch and there's not a lot of variety in or relief from what amounts to a three hour fifteen minute sobbing tantrum. I've liked Carlson in just about everything I have seen him in but I don't think he's right for this: he's too extreme to communicate an adolescent rebelliousness that we can relate to. Additionally, it's never clear in this production how the character's "mad" behavior differs from his norm: if that's part of the point, that adolescence is a kind of madness in itself, then it's ill-defined and doesn't come across the footlights. Good performances are turned in elsewhere: Robert Cuccioli and Janet Zarish, as Claudius and Gertrude respectively, are vibrant and strike some notes of newlywed carnality; Michelle Beck is a memorably emotional Ophelia and Kenajuan Bentley a credibly honor-driven Laertes, Ted van Griethuysen brings a welcome, comforting old-school polish as the Gravedigger. Even with so little to do as Horiatio, Pedro Pascal is natural and easy on the ears: he knows how to make Shakespeare sound effortless in his mouth.

Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays

The question presented by Ateh Theater Group's futurist performance of Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays is: Are you hip enough to head out to a theater at 10:30 on a Friday night and guide two characters through a sinister yet farcical house in what can only be called a Choose Your Own Play? No longer filled with just the saccharine of the children's play Alan Ayckbourn wrote in 1988, director Carlton Ward has intensified the edges and made this show into the type of cloying, high-fructose corn syrup that can blow a somewhat sober crowd away. A rowdy, emotive production, led by an impeccably over-the-top ensemble, Mr. A's Amazing Maze Plays is an inventive eighty minute adventure. Just don't lead them up the wooden ladder.

[Read on]

Friday, July 06, 2007

I Google Myself

photo: Max Ruby

An entertainingly pulped-up 70 minute black comedy, which begins as a needy masochist latches on to a gay porn star who happens to share his name, I Google Myself makes a lot of delicious (and sometimes lurid) fun out of our human need for recognition and connection in the information-soaked culture we live in. Playwright Jason Schafer overboils the plot devices and turns of events to Jerry Springer Show temperatures but that's part of the point: these characters (including a third, a seemingly normative mellow stoner who blogs his poetry) are probably the psychos we are afraid might be lurking behind anonymous screen names on the Internet, but underneath the sensational and ridiculous they are all too recognizably human and familiar. The fast-paced show intends to be more fun than deep and it is, but if it's a bit of a cartoon at least it's a smart one, and this production (from Theatre Askew, devoted to new "queer" plays) is put over very well by its cast: all three men are perfect and perfectly in sync. As the porn star, Nathan Blew lets you glimpse something behind the smug, hypermasculine mask; he reminded me of Marc Kudisch doing arrogant. As the stoner, John Gardner is believably laid back and does slow-synapsed amusingly. And best of all, as the stalkerish masochist who is the play's center, Tim Cusack is simultaneously able to be funny and to render harrowingly needy. And he has a quality that is essential for this play to work: you just like him, no matter what.

Washing Machine

Photo/Ben Kato

Washing Machine is a spin cycle of sorrow, going from the curious beginnings to the tragic, asphyxiating finale. This aesthetic foray into minimalism allows actress Dana Berger to maximize her connections with the various characters she plays, and with the audience itself. Writer Jason Stuart and director Michael Chamberlin don't presume to know what led to the drowning of a five-year-old girl in a washing machine, so they focus instead on the emotional reverberations of this single ripple in the pool of life. The pivots from character to character are harsh, but their stories are soft (not wrinkle free). Doing the laundry is a perfunctory task; seeing Washing Machine is more like watching perfection.

[Read on]

Goodbye April, Hello May

Goodbye April, Hello May is like the quiet kid on the debate team: he makes good observations, but they go unheard in a sea of more aggressively pitched ideas. What's worse for Ethan Lipton's piece is that it's meant to be comic, something that's hard to do when you're this passive. Shows that succeed in this vein, like the recently alienating God's Ear and The Internationalist, do so on the strength of a consistent tone and a few overblown characters. You'd think that having Gibson Frazier (who was in both of those shows) would help, but unless he's given something outrageous to do (as in the opening, where he describes shooting a seven-year-old), he's just shooting the breeze with the rest of the cast. Those few slivers of Lipton gold are good, but they're drowned out by the bland narrative, unnecessary intermission, and overwrought staging.

[Read on]

Thursday, July 05, 2007



If the comic sensibility of this production is a little less unified and focused as it was in its first year, the replacement actors do bring fresh perspectives to the table that turn out to be quite fun. Shannon Durig, the prettiest Tracy Turnblad to date, owns her fat and imbues her role with a sexy confidence that makes the Tracy/Link romance all the more believable. More man-playing-man-in-dress rather than man-playing-woman, Paul Vogt's intermittent booming bass line deliveries as Momma Turnblad were hysterical and he sang the role better than I've ever heard it sung. And Jerry Mathers (The Beaver) as Daddy Turnblad comes off pretty clueless to everything around him which actually works in that same odd cult-ish way that Pia Zadora's or Patty Hearst's performances did in Waters' movies. After 5 years, that can-do moxie that gives Hairspray that triple espresso jolt of energy is definitely still there and if the Broadway production gets a nice box office boost after the release of the film then yay for Hairspray and yay for the fans who flock to it!

Monday, July 02, 2007

AntiGravity 2007

Admittedly, I'm still a young'un, but watching the deft and fearless performers of AntiGravity soar, glide, slide, and hang from various contraptions in the air made me feel like a kid again. It's the giddy feeling of vicarious vertigo, the velocity of the vertiginous feats, and the rush of fresh air through the massive Hammerstein Ballroom as a performer does a mini-bungee onto a platform mere yards behind you, and then dances himself defiantly up into the air--the most graceful set of jerky movements you've ever seen.

[Read on]

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Dark Of The Moon

photo: Ian Crawford

Dark Of The Moon is famously hard to pull off convincingly and to proper chilling effect, but the young company Thirsty Turtle has done it. Their storefront theatre, seventeen cast-membered production of the folkloric play, which tells of the tragic, doomed union between boy witch John (played with wirey-weird sweetness and sincerity by Noah J. Dunhan) and his human lover Barbra Allen (a radiant, believably tender Sarah Hayes Donnell) somewhere deep in the hooch-guzzling, revival hymn-singing Appalachian Mountains, is shrewdly and inventively directed, effectively designed on an indie budget, and played with straight conviction as it absolutely must be. The young lovers face obstacles from his supernatural world and from her earthly one: the play's lingering punch is landed from the fact that the more horrific affronts to the couple's union come not from the petty scheming of the witches, but from the religious intolerance and pack mentality of the humans. Director Ian Crawford makes many bold choices that are always in service of telling the story; he resists grafting an authoral modern irony onto it, and (aided by Emily French's thrifty but evocative bi-level set and Duncan Cutler's atmospheric sound design) makes memorable, resourceful use of the problematic space. The excellent and dramatic seven-foot mesh and wire puppets in the witch world, designed by Dakotah West, would be scene-stealers if there weren't so many good young actors in the ensemble: standouts include a flirty, laugh-getting Jessica Howell, and Brendan Norton, whose depiction of Barbra's baby brother has just the right amount of boyish pout.