Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Photo/Fuerzabruta Press

I went to Fuerzabruta expecting to be titillated, amazed, and yes, frightened: brute force, when exercised properly, does all that. Unfortunately, while the show (by Diqui James, a co-founder of De La Guarda) is wildly inventive, it's pretty tame, more a vivid expo (it's even set in a cavernous space, amidst a self-made mob of people) than a finished product. There are moments that will take your breath away, as when what is essentially an gigantic adult Slip 'n' Slide is lowered to just inches from the audience's heads, leaving them to gently brush against its playful dryads. Or when a giant kite with rock-climbing footholds is spun around violently by the fearless stagehands, making the two performers pinned to it seem trapped in a tornado. Or the appeal of watching two dancers cartwheel vertically across a shimmering plastic wall (which assumes both that you find that appealing and that you haven't seen that trick before). These events are loosely tied together by a lot of screaming, dancing, and raving, but these moments grow repetitious and far too forced and artificial. Nothing develops naturally because there isn't actually a story to tell: instead, there's just an increasingly desperate attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill (a really, really technically impressive molehill). While watching our nameless hero run yet again on a giant treadmill rolling its way into the middle of the audience, I found myself paying more attention to the young man next to me who, wide-eyed and gripping his girlfriend for balance, was quite obviously on something far more potent than I. For all that there were high powered fans spinning in my direction, I was far from blown away by anything other than the engaging use of the crowd itself to make a variety of pictures on the stage.

Hoodoo Love

Preview; Opens 11/1.
Photo/Jaisen Crockett - Art Meets Commerce

A big smile came to my face when grandmotherly Candy Lady turned out to be full of sugar, talking about how menstruating into a man's coffee is the best way to keep him from going anywhere. That kind of brash writing is not just clever, it's illuminating and sharp. But the downside to Katori Hall's evocative script is that the plot isn't at all provocative: the climaxes are telegraphed (one might even say that they're faked) and the story itself, despite dealing with hoodoo and being set in 1930's Memphis, isn't anything special. So far as presentation goes, Hall is at her best when building up to the storm, writing some terse moments into otherwise innocuous scenes, as when Ace of Spades, the blues singer bewitched by conjuror Candy Lady into falling in love with the not-so-innocent-just-naive Toulou, confronts Toulou's older brother, Jib, over a game of two-handed spades. The poison in the flask that they're wagering over is superfluous; what really matters is the way in which Ace of Spades becomes convinced that Toulou's baby is Jib's, not his. That's fine acting, and when it's unobstructed by the direction (which at times overextends) or by the script's hasty resolutions, Hoodoo Love works well. But right now, it's only as catchy as the occasional beats of the blues songs; to evoke is not enough: it needs to provoke as well.

[Read on] [Also blogged by: Patrick]

Monday, October 29, 2007

Milk 'n' Honey

Photo/Benjamin Heller

Like a chef's tasting menu, LightBox uses Milk 'n' Honey as a food-oriented pulpit to cram a lot of diverse theater down your throat. It's all quite agreeable, it's delectably plated (with a multimedia bent), and the servers are talented actors (as most waiters are, ha!), but the lack of a main course is ultimately a little unsatisfying. All of the different plots and characters on display made me feel engorged, and too much of the very real drama seemed mined for comedy (such as the excerpts from Michael Pollan's excellent The Omnivore's Dilemma). More digestible perhaps, and certainly more theatrical, but not very potent. Given all the loose ends, portions of the show seemed like fast food, but all the pieces together were a hearty meal that, while not wholly filling, were certainly interesting to try.

[Read on]


Although the show is not open for review (a policy I'm going to honor as I did last year at their Pippin) I dropped in on the NYU/CAP21 college production of Urinetown, one of my favorite musicals of recent years. What knocks me out when I see their musicals is the abundance of fresh, eager music theatre talent; some of these folks will doubtlessly go on to careers in musicals and I'll be able to say that I saw them when.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Speech and Debate

Photo/Joan Marcus

It's not debatable, though you're more than welcome to make a speech in the comments box below: Speech and Debate is the funniest topical drama of the year. Where else can you find the story of a queenie time-traveler accidentally getting Abel killed by outing him alongside the very real dramas of gender identity, sexual molestation, and the psychological damage of being closeted? It's all framed by the different topics of an actual Speech and Debate event, which allows young playwright Stephen Karam to give us extemporaneous thought in a video blog or to use cross examination as a narrative thrust. It also allows an easy transition from light and open-minded to critical and dramatic, something that's very well done by director Jason Moore, who knows a thing or two (from Avenue Q) about indulging quirks while still being truthful. The only thing that rings a bit false is the acting, which is so exaggerated at times by Sarah Steele's eyebrows of Jason Fuchs's face-pulling (he should be in 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) that it seems a little too self-aware and glib to stay serious. But they're so committed to it, so seriously "hopeless" that even these meta-moments become endearing, and only serve to further connect us (already pretty close, given the intimacy of the Black Box Theater). Some nitpicking seems de rigueur for a show that boldly traverses comedy and drama so well, but I wouldn't want to risk discouraging anyone from seeing this delightful show. This is good, topical theater, done professionally, and ticketed cheaply ($20), so get going!

[Read on] [Also blogged by: David]

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Young Frankenstein

photo: Paul Kolnik

A staging of movie scenes faithful enough to make the audience laugh before the punchlines, Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein more resembles Spamalot than The Producers. But unlike the hit Monty Python show, the musical numbers in Brooks' show are mostly time-wasters, and not a single one of them builds to the delerious lunacy of the best numbers in Spamalot. While the show is diverting and colorful (and all design elements are top-notch: no one will ever accuse this team of doing the show on the cheap) its combination of Borscht Belt humor and ho-hum stagings make it generally unexciting. Andrea Martin is the cast standout, but there's nothing wrong with any of the performers that sharper material wouldn't cure.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Brothers Size

Tarell Alvin McCraney is the phenomenal backlash to the backlash: while MTV and BET are busy recontextualizing classics as "hip-hoperas" or thinly veiled Shakespeare revivals ("O"), he's taken the modern, urban story of two brothers -- think Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog -- and written it with tribal African rhythms. Jonathan M. Pratt, off-stage but visible, provides a percussive heartbeat to the already throbbing text; in the center, Oshoosi Size (Brian Tyree Henry) sleeps on a uncomfortable cairn, hiding in sleep from his do-good brother, Ogun (Gilbert Owuor). One of the possible subjects of his nightmares, the leonine Elegba (Elliot Villar), stomps around him, imprisoning him within a circle of white powder. Literal and metaphorical, immediate and foreboding, poetic and brash, this simple element of staging is all the show needs (and director Tea Alagic doesn't waste our time with anything else). The rest of the show is as graceful in movement as it is abrasive in tone, like watching animals in a sumo match. McCraney has a real voice, and for all the spiritual masks, the metadramatic slips into third-person stage directions, and the borrowed songs, it is unmistakably fresh. When these brothers call out or at one another, it is with a truth polished so razor sharp that it bleeds on their tongues.


photo: Paul Kolnik

I spent ninety minutes at Xanadu with a big goofy smile on my face; I'd be surprised if anything opens on Broadway this season that can match it for silly gleeful fun and campy laughs. I'm no fan of the movie on which the stage show is based - a loopy fantasy in which a muse springs from a chalk drawing to inspire our hero to open a roller disco, it may well be the most inept and insipid movie musical I have ever seen - and I haven't given dance-rock band ELO (who wrote the movie's songs) a second thought since high school. But the stage musical, which is less an adaptation of the screenplay and more a happy, party-vibed satire of it, is ridiculously entertaining: Douglas Carter Beane's book plays like the comic strip spoofs of movies you'd find in Mad magazine circa its salad days: smart, punchy, and sarcastic. I had seen an early preview of the show back in May, before Cheyenne Jackson took over the male lead and before the show opened to raves, and I'm happy to say that I enjoyed it even more this second time. Jackson has the deer-in-headlights dreamboat schtick down pat and is well-matched to leading lady Kerry Butler, whose contagiously fun, winning performance makes the hard job of comedy (on roller skates, no less) look effortless. Tony Roberts has comfortably settled into his straight-man duties, while Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa continue to clown around the proceedings likes deliciously seasoned vaudevillians. And Curtis Holbrook still delights doing that tap dance atop a desk. I don't know which pleased me more: watching his hot hoofing, or watching the lit-up faces of the two dozen on-stage audience members watching him do it.


Photo/Joan Marcus

David Grindley is following on the heels of Journey's End with another excellent revival, Pygmalion. And while the focus has changed from crass war to high etiquette, the shows have much in common: save for a wide-open scene that's inaudibly set in the middle of a rainstorm, Jonathan Fensom's sliding shoebox sets are as claustrophobic as ever and, thanks to Jason Taylor's lighting, either dimly lit (in Mr. Higgins's study) or blindingly bright (his mother's drawing room). Not to mention returning stars Jefferson Mays and Boyd Gaines, who play the intellectual naifs who tamper so unwittingly with a young woman's character and soul. Mays is the ideal choice to play this dialectic and didactic dialect coach, given his strong TONY winning performance in I Am My Own Wife, and Gaines (as in Gypsy, earlier this year) provides an upright balance for that petulant youth. Claire Daines is in tough company, but she acquits herself well -- I only wish that her accents didn't seem to stifle her physical freedom. The far better example of cockney transformation comes from Doolittle's moralizing father, played here by Jay O. Sanders (the exaggeratedly straight man, as he was in A Midsummer Night's Dream). The production really makes the most of Shaw's use of language, especially given such hummers of lines like "What is life but a series of inspired follies?" or "Do any of us understand what we're doing? If we did, would we do it?" Grindley's direction makes for a realized life that is inspired (but not folly), and one need only look closely at Mays's flash of realization at the close of the play to see how true it is that we never truly understand ourselves.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


A wife, recently dumped for someone younger with a boob job, seems to conjure up and romanticize a genuine Spanish conquistador in her suburban living room. The tales of his bloody exploits inspire her and she takes up his sword for her own act of violence...or does she? The play - which is meant to be zany and comic but isn't paced swiftly enough to hit those marks (at least not yet; I saw an early preview) - is the kind that keeps pulling the rug out from under us: something happens, then we find out it didn't, then we find out that something else happened, and so on. By the time we find out what *really* happened (at the very end of the play) I'd lost interest. The first few scenes are striking, however, and promise a more engaging and entertaining play than Spain turns out to ultimately be. As the conquistador, Michael Aronov is larger-than-life fun, and as our heroine's best friend, Veanne Cox gets a lot of mileage out of her distinctive line readings. In the central role, Annabella Sciorra gives a credible performance and radiates warmth as always, but I can't help but feel that a more comic-neurotic character actress would better serve this play.

David liked Spain more than I did and called it "recommendable", but we both applaud these discount ticket initiatives from MCC:
$20 UNDER 30!
$20 tickets are available to patrons under 30, beginning two hours before curtain.
One ticket per valid ID, cash only, subject to availability.
Additionally, MCC has a $15 STUDENT RUSH available 20 minutes before curtain.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Overwhelming

Photo/Joan Marcus

J. T. Rogers hasn't just written an excellent dramatic and political play about the swift, mass genocide in Rwanda, 1994, he's managed to match the calm-of-the-storm tone up to what he describe as Rwanda's "vertiginous dichotomy." By purposefully double casting Boris McGiver and Owiso Odera in opposing roles, the similarities between Hutu and Tutsi are even more emphatic, and the politics are even more facile. (McGiver plays a snooty French diplomat and a snubbed South African NGO worker, Odera represents both the impassive Rwandan police and the helpless UN major there to "maintain order"). Other actors are simply strong at coloring their parts: James Rebhorn is an excellent embassy official, as convincingly aloof and pension-oriented as he is genuinely disconcerted and frustrated later on, and Charles Parnell makes for an awfully charismatic government spokesperson . . . until his specific politics are made quite clear. Beyond the politics, there's also equal care and thought given to the personalities of the American family caught in the middle of this all, and their plight is what transforms the show from mouthpiece to actual drama. All these layers might sound confusing, but Rogers has an elegant, naturally ebullient way of telling the story, as easily eliding from one scene to the next as he switches from language to language. It's a subtle and smooth immersion, and unlike Hotel Rwanda, it does the whole thing without establishing any heroes. The only spot that troubled me was Max Stafford-Clark's direction, which seemed to keep overemphasizing scenes and themes (is a pile of skulls really necessary?) that had already been more efficiently thrust into the periphery.

[Read on]

Hoodoo Love

photo: Jaisen Crockett

We're in the dirt-poor backwaters of Memphis in the 1930's for this vibrantly written, instantly absorbing tale of a desperate young woman who casts a spell on her lover to keep him from straying. Whether or not more good than bad comes from that is ultimately up to us to decide. The four character play, written by a sensationally talented 26 year old playwright named Katori Hall, has a lively narrative and colorful, crisp (and often coarse) dialogue that practically sings when it's spoken: when each of the lovers actually sings the blues (their original songs are also by the playwright) it feels like the natural progression of what we've been hearing. As a slice-of-life drama, the play is superbly detailed and convincing: I got immediately caught up in the world of superstitions and beliefs that it depicts and (also thanks to a flawless cast) in each of the characters. I have to admit that I found the play's too-tidy epilogue dissatisfying, but that is the only complaint I can come up with for what is otherwise a transporting and highly engaging play. Recommended.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Photo/Paula Court

I loawethed Philoktetes, which is to say that John Jesurun's production, premiering at Soho Rep 14 years after it was written, sent me into a simultaneous spasm of awe and loathing. Awe because Jesurun simply writes engaging poetry: seething rants of verse-cum-curse that come in waves of a playful prosody that sustains long thoughts in short sentences bedazzled by common patois and modern jargon ("His head hit a bullet. Habeus corpus, a talking corpse.") Loathing because Jesurun's fanciful production seems as lost at sea as the roundabout, nothing-for-granted script: his twin screens project images above the center of the stage and on the floor itself, but this eerie superimposition of natural disasters (cyclones, thunderstorms) or calm visual "white noise" (rain-flecked water) doesn't connect with the rambling text. The quiet restraint that the actors achieve, flawlessly expressing such troubled thoughts even while tied to carefully choreographed movements (or stillnesses) on a flickering set, is a credit to them, particularly Louis Cancelmi (as Philoktetes). But the ultimate dissonance of each scene begs for this show to be explored at one's own leisure, not subjected to in this dizzying experience.

[Read on]

Monday, October 22, 2007

Moving Shortly

A workshop production from a young company called Common Thread (which includes a couple of friends), this one-act takes place in real time on a stalled subway car. This is the group's inaugaral production, not open for review, but I am going to say that I'm looking forward to their next: a bold revision of Hansel And Gretel which should be up in the Spring of next year.

Wake Up!

Lafayette Street Theater

Appearing more like a professor giving a lecture with her glasses, an elegant black dress and a smart, shiny jacket (she begun "class" by thanking a number of her students in the audience), the notoriously edgy Karen Finley presented two new works: "The Dreams Of Laura Bush" and "The Passion Of Terri Schaivo". Being a Finley virgin but at least culturally aware enough to have her on my radar, I was quite thrilled and just a little anxious to finally catch her live as she had been described to me by a friend as a "brilliant loose cannon". No naked ketchup smearing or anything like that here, however, this decidedly refined hunk of performance art still had a dangerous edge to it. In the chatty "...Laura Bush" where she played the first lady talking about her many dreams; some were frankly sexual (yay!) and others extremely politically controversial (fun!). Her stream of consciousness "Terri Schaivo" piece often got her so distraught that she began crying as she compared the comatose bulimic to Mother Theresa AND a terrorist. Both pieces at times were equal parts distressing, confusing, and interesting, and every once in a while she would make a very huge point where I was like- WOW, that's where she was going with this. During the performance she was very connected to her audience adopting a very conversational tone, at one point interviewing them on the volume of her voice, at another wandering through the audience hunting for a blinking light that was "bugging" her. I was wearing my Halliburton gas station shirt, a kitschy favorite that I'd found in a second hand store in years ago in Texas. Quite honestly, I was afraid that she would notice it and have words with me over it to the point that I was actually covering up the patches with my hands whenever she got too close to me. Next time, and there will be one, I think I'll just stick to basic black.


photo: Jennifer Maufrais Kelly

I fell in love with the musical Yank! at NYMF two years ago and ever since it's been high on my Deserves Another Production wishlist. Now it's back (at Gallery Players) with some judicious changes in a production that is even more effective and moving than the one I saw in 2005. The story, of the gay romance between two enlisted men during WW2, could not have been told in popular culture at the time it is set, and a good deal of the show's poignancy and power comes from telling it now in the style of old-fashioned music theatre. (There's even a second-act dream ballet, improved in this production and expressively danced by Jonathan Day). The score (by David and Joseph Zellnik) is dazzling: it has the feeling of the music of the era but it never sounds second-hand. (I especially loved the barbershop quartet-style harmonies for the men in the barracks, and the song that is essentially Yank!'s love theme, "Remembering You", has the kind of haunting melody that you can't get out of your head for days.) The show's book is also accomplished and impressive: it convincingly renders the dynamics between the lovers while also depicting the pervasiveness of homophobia and honoring the gravity of war that is the story's backdrop. This production, resourcefully and fluidly directed by Igor Goldin (who also directed the NYMF incarnation), also boasts excellent leading players: Bobby Steggert (a scene-stealer in the Roundabout's recent revival of 110 In The Shade) is a knockout, anchoring the show with an emotionally forceful performance, Maxime de Toledo brings just the right balance of swoonworthy charm and aloofness to his portrayal, Jeffry Denman (not only reprising his role from the NYMF production but also doing a bang-up job with the choreographic duties here) and Nancy Anderson (as every female in the show, and doing some dead-on superb vocalizing as the gals who are heard singing on the radio) are perfection.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


The Gallery Players

Give me a respectful, carefully paced, sensitively acted, gay romance with equal parts of unrequited love, shame and intermittent explosions of passion and you will have me bawling like a melting fagbeast... which is exactly what I was doing at David and Joe Zellnik's Yank!, currently in previews at The Gallery Players in Brooklyn. Led by a stunningly charming Bobby Steggert and swoontastic Maxime de Toledo, we have here a funny and heart-wrenching, old-school style, big musical about seldom explored stories of gays in the military during WW2. Thanks to Igor Goldin's tight, smart direction and a well cast company of actorsoldiers, this is one hell of a good production. Oh yes, and among this sweaty rabble of dogtagged mancastedness is a one Ms. Nancy Anderson, who, as listed in the program, plays "all females" and does so tremendously. She seems to be channeling every diva from Judy Garland to Bernadette Peters. How completely appropriate.


Honesty, via Denmark and The Flea. Via an old short story by Isak Dinesen -- an 1881 period piece, nonetheless -- and the modern retelling (with all its quirks and flairs) of it by the young repertory theater company, the Bats. Grab a seat: you're invited to dine on the politics and passion of these eight actors as they engage in a neo-futurist banquet (with shades of expressionist direction by Erik Pold). They'll play the violin for you, sing for you: if that's not enough, they'll rap for you. They'll invent whatever characters they need to make a point, or they'll just be themselves, stomping invisible buildings in a mock Godzilla-meets-Trump parody about his commercializing of the SoHo neighborhood. Or maybe they'll just lean across the table, make eye contact, and say hello. Whatever the case, you'll be feasting on some acting, and while their rants may be incomplete and disparate, their performance of seating ARRANGEMENTS is united.

[Read on]


Photo/Jennifer Maufrais Kelly

Yank! is a new musical, but this WWII-era score pays such respectful homage to the past that it almost feels like a revival. (A very topical revival, one that looks at gay life in the military long before Don't Ask Don't Tell.) David Zellnick's script is as smart as his brother's score is sweet: it parodies the classic camaraderie of, say, M*A*S*H, but doesn't get lost in caricature. As a result, the chorus supports the script with more than cheap laughs, and their songs all add to the mood, even if they don't always further the plot. As for the leads, Bobby Steggert (straight out of 110 in the Shade) has a quiet reservation that allows him to grow dramatically when placed in contrast with the strong, confident "Hollywood" Mitch (Maxime de Toledo), their neat little affair is well-balanced by the lively, gay-and-loving it Artie (Jeffry Denman, a scene stealer), and the whole play is given a nice slice of femininity (and occasional masculinity) by Nancy Anderson, who exhaustively plays all the female roles. Color me charmed.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Speech And Debate

Roundabout Underground
(now in previews)

What a fun, edgy, modern, youthful, messy play to inaugurate the new hush-hush! basement blackbox theater hidden at the Laura Pels behind an "employees only" type door and down an elevator shaft! Dedicated to cultivating new work from emerging playwrights, Roundabout has gathered some amazing talent to bring to blazing life Speech and Debate, a tale about 3 hyper-opinionated teenagers with like, super-serious omg! secrets. Jason Fuchs, Sarah Steele and Gideon Glick look like teenagers, act like teenagers but have all the talent of seasoned university trained, professional adult actors. Special shout out to Glick's take on a faggy, came out at 9, choreographically inclined, Internet cruising, barely legal gayboy. His delivery was- well I can't do it justice here, but it was SO OUT THERE and extreme and it like TOTALLY worked. And my secret straight crush on [title of show] alum, Susan Blackwell, who hilariously owns the room in her two scenes as the only adult presence, continues to ensizzle my great actress-loving heart. Playwright Stephen Karam, who co-authored 2006's columbinus (which I LOVED at NYTW), has given our actors so much to play, with his hip, realistic, wordy dialogue and his ever-present need to keep the audience fully engaged. It mostly works amazingly though this need sometimes plays against his work as there are times when we are in overkill mode (one can only be in a room with talkative teenagers so long before one wants to strangle and/or fuck them) and with its 4-ish endings is perhaps just a few minutes too long. It's not a perfect play, but I kinda think it's not supposed to be and I loved it and I can't wait to sneak back down to Roundabout's hideout to see which diamond in the rough they illuminate next.

Also blogged by: [Patrick]


The only thing I could say after seeing Spain, mouth agape with the time I'd just wasted was: "Really?" To which I could only answer, of course not; Spain is fantasy masquerading as allegory (except Jim Knable doesn't have anything to say, just plenty with which to play). One doesn't learn anything from Barbara (a gleefully unnerving Annabella Sciorra) conjuring a Conquistador (a mustache-twirling Michael Aronov) from her repressed Freudian psyche (the script has a more lavish description, but this is all I remember). Certainly nothing about how she feels for the husband who just left her (Erik Jensen), now just a punchline waiting to be run through with a sword, nor why she hangs with the dour, aptly named Diversion (Veanne Cox). Director Jeremy Dobrish has them run through a series of hoops, wasting Lisa Kron on a series of exaggerated one-liners (she plays a self-aware mystic), and even when the acting soars, the fantasy fails. The set hinges open to reveal the "golden heart" of Spain . . . and it's what looks like golden aluminum foil, wallpapered into some minimalist vista. At one point, Distraction reveals her own longing, then bites into a big, unpeeled orange, lets the juice drip down her face, and exits. (Sanity exits stage left.) Knable's thrilling comic momentum promises the exotic but quickly fizzles out into the mundane neurotic.

[Also blogged by: David]


(photo credit: buncha headshot photographers)

Edward Albee once stated that in terms of directing a production, casting is 90% of the job. He was right and one need look no further than Spain , a very funny yet somewhat flawed comedy, to see this notion in action. About a divorcee who seems to conjure up a real live Spanish conquistador in her living room, Jim Knable's script does certainly provide actors with rich, colorful characters and every one of this 5 person cast brings so much to the table. From Michael Aronov's hyper-virile Spaniard, to Annabella Sciorra's needful, heartbroken divorcee, to Erik Jensen's douchey ex-boyfriend, to Lisa Krohn's hysterical multi-roled chameleon-festival we have some of the best casting I have seen this year. And can we just talk about the gorgeous, statuesque Veanne Cox? Known for her quirky, offbeat style, as the worried best friend, she brings to this play an odd, charming, confused lilt that made it impossible for me to take my eyes off of her whenever she was onstage. So the play- as mentioned before, it is very funny- especially when we're dealing with getting our conquistador's boots off the living room table-but the story tends to meander and slack at places when more structured plotting would have bolstered its savory one-liners. Overall though, I sat among a very engaged and happy audience which is always a good sign of a recommendable production.

Die Mommie Die!

photo: Carol Rosegg

Charles Busch is back in wigs and heels to treat New York to one of his smart and snappy campfests, and while this one (set in the late '60's and spoofing Hollywood Gothic melodramas) is a little too loose to snap as tightly as his very best, he's at the height of his dizzying powers as a performer. Every cross of his leg and tilt of his head is an orgasm of kitsch pleasure, even for those in the audience who don't recognize Busch's style as a dead-on exaggeration of the feminine signifiers from vintage Hollywood melodramas. In this one, as a faded femme fatale and washed-up chanteuse who plots to murder her louse of a movie producer husband, Busch gives himself plenty of scenery to chew. Some of his supporting castmates do a bit too much chomping of their own, but it hardly matters in the end: Die Mommie Die! is still one of the funnest nights out you can have at the theatre right now.

Also blogged by: [David]

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Glance at New York

Photo/Dixie Sheridan

I'd certainly be woozy and out of breath if I had to get up on stage and perform under the tight, hyperactive confines of Benjamin Baker's 1848 hit, A Glance at New York. There's no way I'd be able to play two characters -- sometimes at once -- as Randy Sharp demands of her cast. I'd be more lost than George Parsells (Ian Tooley), the country rube who keeps getting swindled in the city, or confused by the local, colorful slang. However, to be fair, most of the cast seemed to be tripping over their lines, or half-heartedly moving together, and both the visual pictures and text seemed clumsy. Reviving the vaudeville comedy does indeed give us a glimpse of New York, a place so much chaotic and faster-paced than it is today that it's almost a foreign country. It lets us hear the old, sorrowful tunes of that era (as sung by Britt Genelin and Laurie Kilmartin): so what if the songs, like the cuts in scene, come out of the blue? The show explodes onto the stage, and ebbs away just as quickly 50 minutes later, and such oceanic theater isn't concerned with narrative so much as a theatrical flood of ideas and images. To its end, A Glance at New York succeeds in that, but without any sort of anchor, the production is a bit of a wash.

[Also blogged by: David]

The Blood Brothers Present: PULP

photo: Aaron Epstein

A Halloween goodie-bag of three one-acts and several short vignettes, Pulp is a razor-spiked treat for horror and gore fans. The tastiest bits in the mix - Mac Rogers' Best Served Cold and James Comtois' Listening To Reason - were adapted from 1950's horror comics: thanks in part to smart costuming, resourceful staging, and heightened performances (but mostly thanks to sharp writing) they both achieve the feeling of the era's comic books come to pulpy, blood-soaked life. (They also both feature macabre narration, which goes a long way toward unifying the 90-minute evening's plays with the shorter pieces). The third play, Qui Nguyen's Dead Things Kill Nicely, doesn't recall the era in the same way as the other one-acts, but its Evil Dead-like detour into more baldly comic territory adds another welcome flavor of tainted candy to the assortment. Just about every piece in Pulp - from the wickedly smart vignette that opens the show (in which a metaphor between the relationship of artist to audience and of doctor to patient is illustrated with a most unpleasant "surgery") to the chilling one that closes it (no, I won't say a thing about that one, except that it's not easy to shake off) ends in a splatter-fest. Hard as you try to keep your tongue in your cheek, you'll have a bloody good nightmare anyhow.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Blood Brothers Present: Pulp

Pulp, a new horror anthology by Nosedive Productions, isn't just right for the October season, it's exactly what the doctor ordered. According to that eviscerating doctor of the opening number, "Metaphor," some pain is necessary to satisfy the audience's desire for catharsis, but this well-assembled production is pretty good about cauterizing the weaker portions and the evening is mostly a delightfully grim success. As hosts and stylistic centers for the show, the Blood Brothers (Pete Boisvert and Patrick Shearer) are a delight, shuffling across the stage in slick, funereal suits, all skeleton-bald with faces as white as the gleam in their sinister smirks. The pieces with Shearer glibly narrating go over best, namely James Comtois's "Listening to Reason" and Mac Rogers's "Best Served Cold." The evil narrator lends a brisk pace to the pulp, allowing us to revel in the splattering blood packets and to laugh along with him and his delight in schadenfreude. But the entire evening, even amid some poor acting in Qui Nguyen's "Dead Things Kill Nicely," captures the right mood, and the Nosedive company's collaborative efforts really pay off: this Pulp goes down smooth.

[Read on] [Also blogged by: Patrick]

The Ritz

There are towel-clad hotties prowling the three-tiered cherry red bathhouse for sex, but we only get to glimpse them: the gay men we spend time with in Terrence McNally's The Ritz are sexless cartoons, strategically safe for the straight audiences of yesteryear. This comedy probably provided a whiff of naughtiness when it premiered over thirty years ago, before the AIDS pandemic shut down the city's bathhouses and before Generation XXX absorbed gays into mainstream culture. Now, minus any kind of dirty kick, it's just a flimsy farce that plays like a bad Abbott and Costello movie: it's busy, but it's rarely funny. Joe Mantello's direction doesn't help; he keeps the doors slamming and the bodies moving but he doesn't guide the actors to the high-stakes performances that are needed to drive a farce. Kevin Chamberlain gets high marks for his fresh take on his character, and Brooks Ashmanskas manages to bring some dignity to the thankless stereotype he's asked to play, but the one performance that completely triumphs is given by Rosie Perez. As Googie, a washed up lounge performer with more determination than talent, Perez is riotously on-target and turns Googie's lousy and overambitious bathhouse act into the highlight of The Ritz.

Also blogged by: [Aaron] [David]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Photo/Doug Hamilton

Scarcity is a thuggish play, with loose scenes shuffled over by the violence (implied or not) of a raised fist. There are moments of great strength in Lucy Thurber's script, as when the perpetually drunk patriarch, Herb (the excellent Michael T. Weiss), asks if he's ever hurt his daughter, or whenever his struggling but strong wife, Martha (the fiery Kristen Johnston), tries to keep up the lie. Their relationship is believably intense, and we can see how such a routine would affect its two children, Rachel and Billy. I'll be the meanie though, and say that this is where the play falls apart: the young actress playing Rachel (Meredith Brandt) is awful, and although Jackson Gay can have her pace around the kitchen, implying that it's a prison and that her father really has molested her, her lengthy scenes don't seem precociously chilling, they seem planned. Billy (Brandon Espinoza) is more believable, wound so tightly that he can finally look at his father without flinching. While his romantic entanglement with his teacher (Maggie Kiley) is also bold and explosive, there's little explanation for why she, who seems to have suffered so little, desires the sort of life on display in Scarcity. The show comes across as essentially true, but exaggeratedly so, particularly with the final subplot, which always looks like it's being played for easy (albeit uncomfortable) laughs. Martha survives by mentally prostituting herself to her cousin, Louie (Todd Weeks); in exchange for the food and bills her husband can't provide, she leads love-struck Louie on, letting him think he's a part of the family, though it's obvious everyone (including his own wife, Gloria) despises him. That's a play in of itself, but as with so much in Scarcity, it's lost in the violence.

[Also blogged by: Patrick | David]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Let's call a disco ball a disco ball: Xanadu is just another bit of self-referential pomp and substanceless circumstance to grace the Broadway stage. Douglas Carter Beane's book bleeds new one-liners across the shallow remnant of the movie version, director Christopher Ashley manages to make the play look as if it's been more than just bedazzled, and performances from Jackie Hoffman and Mary Testa keep the balloon afloat with their helium ranges. The good and bad songs balance each other out, but there's not much variety: "Evil Woman" and "Suddenly," are the opposite ends of the show, and "Strange Magic" and "Dancin'" come across as very good reiterations of the same poles. The play can't afford any dead spots in what's already a brisk 85 minute laugh-off; unfortunately, Tony Roberts isn't alive, no matter how much the chorus of Muses may try to sing that one off, and while Kerry Butler and Cheyenne Jackson are pitch-perfect, her Australian rendition of Olivia Newton-John didn't make me laugh, and his vapid beach artist only had that one dimension to it. So you tell me where's the love.

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

A Glance At New York

Axis Company

A troupe of 9 very earnest actors desperately follow the bouncing dialogue (Who's talking now?! What are they saying?! Hurry! Listen!!) in this revival of this 1848 vaudevillian melodrama about "Big Mose, the toughest man in the nation's toughest city". Stylistically, this hyperactive and busy concept worked for about 5 minutes before I started to feel assaulted and began to tune out. The rapid pace at which the lines were being delivered made it next to impossible for me to make sense of this 160 year old dialogue and I wasn't sure where I was supposed to look as 9 actors were all pulling focus with their own jaunty tasks. There was one moment towards the end of the play when everything stopped and the cast joined together and sang a soft, haunting melody. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous moment. As gorgeous as Lee Harper and Matthew Simonelli's ghostly, dusty costumes that look as though they were discovered in a forgotten trunk in the basement of this historical theater in Sheridan Square.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A View From 151st Street

photo: Monique Carboni

There's a compelling authenticity in this new play by Bob Glaudini (presented by LAByrinth, in residency at The Public): you believe that the Gulf War vet crack addict, the rapper drug dealer, the Spanish Harlem schoolteacher, and everyone else in this play would say the things that they do and you believe how they say them. That credibility goes a long way to mitigate the play's frustrating structure (we spend way too much time with the drug dealer whose raps, musicalized by an on-stage jazz trio, add too little to the narrative) and its disappointing ending, which seems a pedestrian wrap-up to a story that often takes unexpected turns. Despite these problems, the play is well worth seeing for its slice-of-life credibility and its sincerity: the relationship at the heart of the play, between a Narcotics cop who recovers from a gunshot wound and his war buddy who recovers from crack addiction, is believably depicted and quietly affecting.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I've been told that if you don't have anything nice to say, you shouldn't say anything at all. But because I like Collaborationtown so much (The Catharsis of Pathos and, to a degree, 6969), I want to clear the air about their horrible new play (with music!), Townville! That hokeyness, with the swing-open cardboard sets, the bright color-coordinated wardrobe, the high-pitched voices, and the smiles, that's all intentional. All the actors involved, in case you can't tell, are capable of real emotion, like Boo Killebrew. But the show is so busy satirizing something -- I guess it's to do with the slow slip of America into totalitarianism? -- that there's no truth for the actors to latch onto, just jokes, very very bad, cheap jokes. The direction, by Matthew Hopkins and Ryan Purcell, is at least consistent, and sustains the image of a sparkling yet sinister commune, where everyone is happy, or else. But the plot, pieced together by the company, just jumps from point to point, recycling the same character jokes (how many times must we watch Geoffrey Decas belittle TJ Witham?) in an effort to hold out long enough to make meaning appear. Hint: when your show within a show is avant-garde, and the show itself has musical numbers, yet is not a musical, reason is not likely to come riding in on a white horse.

Me, Myself, I and the Others

This absurdist comedy is a madcap look inside one's mind: and yes, it's about as disorganized in there as you'd expect. The setting is proper fantasy: Jian Jung's set is between the blinking lights and white walls of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory and the "functionality" of the Starship Enterprise. The costumes are loose and wild too: half lab coat, half straitjacket, Oana Botez-Ban then adds a peeping garter, some wacky rubber gloves, and a tutu or two. Dechelle Damien's script, like her co-direction (Kimberlea Kressal also directs), is torn between being an experience and providing a narrative of the unseen protagonist. The cast is committed enough to be certifiably committed, and Karly Maurer, playing the most organized of the many manifestations of the mind, brings Felicity Huffman to mind. Still, the show seems more suited for an exhibition gallery, where one can walk in, out, and interact as they please, than it does as a full-on play.

[Read on]


Union Square Theatre

This Bruce Lee meets The Three Stooges, paper thin, karate play is the type of show that you catch while taking a break in between roller coasters at an amusement park. If you are a karate fanatic, an 11 year old, or have a breaking-boards-with-heads fetish, by all means, GO! If you are anyone or anything else, I recommend skipping it.


photo: Carol Rosegg

There's another Frankenstein monster in town. This one's gym-toned in leather pants with a military crop. He looks punk rock but, like everyone else in this relentlessly somber sung-through musical, he sings mostly Wildhorn-like ballads. (Also like everyone else he wears one of those distracting head mic's that make you think he's an operator standing by to take your call). Like that other singing Frankenstein he's not so scary: this musical is so determined to capture the romantic flavor of Mary Shelley's novel that it forgets to deliver the suspense and the thrills, and while it's faithful to the main events in the novel, it isn't anywhere near as thematically interesting. What the show does have going for it (besides the cast: it must be said that the three principals act and sing the hell out of this show with intense passion and commitment) is a steady focus on the relationship between the monster and his creator. It leads to a strong, emotionally potent conclusion between the two, but the monotonous show seems to take forever to get there.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I Used to Write on Walls

Photo: Working Man’s Clothes/DARR Publicity

Some playwrights dip into the pool of odd New Yorkers, set them in a room together, and call that a play. Others actually listen to what those characters have to say. Bekah Brunstetter belongs to that latter camp, and her new play, I Used to Write on Walls is a blast to watch. With outstanding performances from Maggie Hamilton and Darcie Champagne, the play follows the hearts of several confidence-less woman as they all get lost in the surfer physique and rambling philosopher intellect of Trevor (Jeff Berg). At times, there's a little too much craziness, which co-directors Diana Basmajian and Isaac Byrne might want to look at, but for the most part, it's easy to get lost in this bi-polar comedy, a dizzying last chance for satisfaction.

[Read on] [Also blogged by: David]

Start Up (GTA's Road Theater USA)

I like the ambition of GTA's newest German import from prolific modernist Roland Schimmelpfennig: taking the play Start Up on a sixteen city tour of America in only seven weeks. But I worry that that ambition may blunt the truisms at the heart of the play: that culture has no place in commerce, and that America has become "a country of cinematography." I also worry that Ronald Marx, an actor turned artistic director, may have bit off a bit too much in his multimedia presentation of the show: the scenes are energetic, but seem unfocused, and the home-movie looking monologues, while focused, track all over the place. Some rambling is needed, especially for a play that's half road trip, but I'd expect more from this cast and, to be honest, a little more fury from this playwright (who seems to have toned things down for when this play tours to more rural, certainly less experimental, neighborhoods). But hey, it's a start.

[Read on]

A Feminine Ending

I'll be reading closely all the reviewers who bashed Mauritius for not being realistic enough; I want to see what they'll say about A Feminine Ending, the most artificial play I've seen this year. It's artfully written by Sarah Treem, by which I mean there are some nice depictions of feminist theory (by way of the use of gender-specifying nouns) and elegant, loving descriptions of an orchestra. But the play is pure hokum, not even entertaining enough to be diverting: Amanda (Gillian Jacobs) so glibly patters with the audience that scenes seem like interruptions, and the actors all seem like they're performing, particularly Marsha Mason (the mom), who delivers her "I may be getting old but I still have a life" monologue more to the over-50 subscribers than to her partner. Treem talks a decent game, but she's far too off-topic and "feminine" (in that, according to Woolf, she likes to explore rather than get to the point), and director Blair Brown does nothing to reel her in. Amanda's crush (Joe Paulik) plays eccentric like a manic Robin Williams and both her father (Richard Masur) and fiancee (Alec Beard) go through their scenes without a hint of feeling. The only emotion in the show, in fact, takes place off stage, and even that seems completely planned and falls flat. Ms. Jacobs is perky and bright: too bad the play focuses more on her friends and family than on her fears and insecurities.

[Also blogged by: David | Patrick]

The Quantum Eye

It seems, well, deceptive to call The Quantum Eye a magic act, and I don't think that Sam Eaton - the mild-mannered mentalist who performs the show - would want to be called a magician. (It's perhaps also deceptive to say that it's a one-man show, since every bit of business requires at least one audience volunteer.) Despite some parlor tricks of the playing card variety, the "supernormal" evening is not so much a flashy sleight-of-hand entertainment. It's more a low-key (but sometimes wildly impressive) presentation of mind-teasing deceptions performed at close-range. Eaton's are not filament wire, secret compartment types of tricks. He says that the deceptions he performs in the intimate, ninety minute show can be figured out with common sense and he encourages us to use ours. For exactly that reason I can't get The Quantam Eye fully out of my head. I think I have a good idea how he was able to guess what a volunteer wrote on an index card sealed in an envelope, but most else baffled me. How was he able to get a volunteer to close her eyes and blindly spin the dial on her wristwatch and have it read the exact time that another volunteer secretly wrote down on paper?

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Feminine Ending

Frequently our heroine breaks the fourth wall and addresses us directly, and projections announce each section of the play as if each is a movement in a symphony, but this new show at Playwrights Horizons isn't any more theatrical (or any deeper) than a sitcom. I'm at a loss to decide which of the bland main character's situations is the most shopworn thanks to decades of television and movies: could it be the conflict with her mother, who's one of those cuddly kooks whose wild say-anything inappropriateness is supposed to make us scream with laughter? (Mom is played by Marsha Mason but the cutesy-neurotic character would remind you of Neil Simon at his yuk-hungry worst anyway). Hmm, perhaps it's the conflict she has with her pop star fiance: while she's planning the ceremony she has a meet-cute with another guy who (stop the presses!) is so goofy-loveable that she's got to call off the wedding. For what it is - shallow, derivative - the play has its moments, and half the audience was clearly having a good time. Toward the end one character steps up and behaves like an adult. Too late.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Photo/Joan Marcus

Stamp collectors (or should I say philatelists) know this better than anyone: errors are what keep things interesting. Theresa Rebeck is an overt writer, very explicit and crisp in tone and mannerisms, so she explains this within the play itself: damaged people are interesting too. So are interesting hybrids of character types: F. Murray Abraham plays an arms-dealing stamp enthusiast named Sterling, and Alison Pill plays both a scrap and scrapper of a girl as Jackie, who is best described as the flickering exhaust of a lighter: dangerous and fragile all at once. This is important, as Rebeck's plot is fairly obvious and in the familiar con-game tenor of early Mamet: her characters are what sustain the script, her actors are what fill the stage (John Lee Beatty's sets are intentionally bland so as to support the squalor of Jackie's life). I'm glad, then, to have Doug Hughes (Doubt) in command, who eschews spectacle for essence, and as a result often gets it. As for the rest of the cast, Bobby Cannavale understands both the aggression and the silence of a smooth talker, and Katie Finneran (who was a riot in Pig Farm) inverts her deadpan to make one of the most numbingly unconscious villains I've seen on stage. (As for Dylan Baker, both the actor and the character are superfluous: Baker's sleepwalking through a boring role.) Doesn't matter, really: I couldn't keep my eyes off Pill, who has a special tenacity of spirit that is as irresistable here as it was in Blackbird and Lieutenant of Inishmore. She'll grow up to give my favorite actress, Mary Louise Parker, a run for her money, mark my words.

The Good Heif

photo: Jim Baldassare

In a dry backward wasteland we meet a father and son who, like every other human being in their world, spend every hour of every day pounding the Earth with sticks. This should serve as a forewarning to the audience: the play has as much subtlety and variation as that constant monotonous stick-jabbing. The son, known only as Lad, pops an erection through his pants in the first scene, which his Mom, known only as Ma, points at and condemns as a sign of the devil. We're not talking about mere repression here, but full blown ignorance: she thinks it's a deformity and she doesn't know where babies come from. Dad, known only as Pa, is only marginally more evolved, suggesting the boy deal with his manhood by heading off to the woods to find a good heifer. There are plenty of signs, such as the staging of Ma's periodic tip-over-and-convulse seizures, that this is meant to be funny. It isn't, but even if it were it would be the lowest kind of entertainment: we're invited to snicker with superiority at the ignorance of the hillbilly-variant characters. And then it's essentially eighty minutes more of the same.

Also blogged by: [Aaron]

The Ritz

Photo/Joan Marcus

There's nothing momentous about The Ritz; the closest Terrance McNally's script approaches to serious issues is when Gaetano Proclo (Kevin Chamberlin) tells Chris (Brooks Ashmanskas, delightfully spry, and as swishy in his movements as his floral robes), that gays aren't normal. He doesn't say it exactly like that, but his accidental outburst is clear: American "tolerance" is more ignorance than acceptance. However, The Ritz is a farce (one already stripped of the pallor of AIDS), so Gaetano apologizes and befriends Chris. He's just a straight man (literally) in this comedy hiding in a gay Manhattan bathhouse to escape his murderous brother-in-law, Carmine Vespucci (Lenny Venito, a real ham). And what a place: on Scott Pask's three-tiered birthday cake of a set, there's always some sort of icing going on, be it that of the chubby chasing Claude Perkins (Patrick Kerr, who plays the part as creepily as the character's name), or that of the go-go goer, Googie Gomez. (Rosie Perez plays the part well, enthusiastically violent in both her intentionally awful singing and clumsy seductions, but she's just inaudible or unintelligible half the time.) Joe Mantello does a tremendous job of keeping a lot of half-naked men in action (Take Me Out had to have helped), and the only irritating part of the show remains the role of Brick: Terrence Riordan doesn't look intimidating enough for that Mickey Mouse voice to be funny. Luckily, Chamberlin grounds the whole show in a wide-eyed glaze of stupor, terror, and (at times) curious amusement: he's the row of neon bulbs in "The Ritz" that keeps it from being "The Pitz."

[Also blogged by: David] [Patrick]

Three Mo' Tenors


Little Schubert Theatre

Shh! If you perhaps run into fellow showdowners, Patrick or Aaron, at say Triton Gallery or Applebees, don't let on that you know that I'm going to try and count Three Mo' Tenors towards our race. For even though this production has an official Playbill and a few showtunes are sung, this is admittedly not theater, but a musical revue (and that's okay! as long as you're not in the middle of a cutthroat theater race). The gimmick here is 3 guys (James N. Berger, Victor Robertson and Duane A. Moody at the performance I attended) over the course of 2 hours sing 8 different styles of music. Sometimes they were electrifying, especially during the soul and blues medleys and the Ray Charles tribute. At other times like during the opera and showtune segments, the ease of delivery gave way to focused, careful work as though they were uncomfortably teetering on a tightrope. They got the hard stuff out of the way first though and much of Act 2 was loaded with showstoppers that rocked the house out old school.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Harm's Way

"If you're not part of the show," says one of the myriad tricksters in Mac Wellman's Harm's Way, "you're part of them what takes it all in, and that's a fool." Maybe some people will be in on the show, but I felt like a fool, a perplexed yet curious fool. Perplexed because I couldn't make sense of Wellman's oblique and perhaps meaningless usages of McKinley and Cleveland, nor of his scattered episodes of dark moral wandering, short segments of murder and deceit. Curious because johnmichael rossi, who directs the newFangled theatReR, has some inventive ways of staging Wellman's work, dressing up the rags of words in rags of clothes and stitching it all together with a dark circus of vagabonds. Ultimately, however, just a fool, because I didn't walk away from this production feeling much of anything, and that makes me a time-squandering fool.

[Read on]

Show Business: The Road To Broadway

It took a good two years to get the catchy "Popular" from Wicked out of my head. It's back. I finally caught Show Business: The Road To Broadway , the enthralling documentary chronicling the 2003-2004 race to the Tony Award for Best Musical. Tons of footage has been compiled from the rehearsals, the producer's meetings, the composer jam sessions, the gypsy robe ceremonies, to the opening nights and beyond to give us all an insiders view of what a hand-wringing ordeal it is to birth a successful Broadway musical. I am a mite jealous of the 2 or 3 of you Showdown readers who do not know the outcome 2004 Tony race for Best Musical as you will no doubt get all wrapped up in the cutthroat competition to secure the big one. For the rest of us who pored over every Riedel column, read every Playbill press release, saw every show and planned our Tony parties months in advance, the joy of this movie lies in the insights provided by the smug pundits, the harried directors, the stressed creators, and the sweaty actors. Favorite scene: A visibly drained Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner struggle to find the right lyrics for Caroline's eleven o'clock number for Caroline Or Change. The creative process is under the microscope and the eclectic crowd of creators this doc follows is a brilliant lot. So yes, this is a ripping good flick! And it's 88% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes (please note that Rush Hour 3 only got 20% so if you're torn between the two, Show Business... is probably the one to go with). Show Business... will be released on DVD on October 16th. Trailer here. On a more personal note, I seriously want to hook up with Raul Esparza. Seriously.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Good Heif

Photo/Jim Baldassare

Having loved God's Ear (2007) and Dead City (2006), I had strong hopes for the latest production from New Georges. Unfortunately, I found Maggie Smith's new play, Good Heif, to be as unforgiving as the hot, dry, timeless land it takes place in. The multiple artificialities that make up the script--from the unforgivingly mechanical digging to the equally staccato dialogue--keep the audience at a permanent distance. I relate to Lad's quest for manhood and visions of cool, wet, bubbling holes, but I'm lost by the mythical appearance of a devilish sprite, Ol' Heif. Stuck between the rocky language and hard place of the plot, I could only focus on the excellent acting which, while not always coherent, was at least committed.

[Read on]


I like to drop in on Chicago every year: this time I didn't even bother beforehand to find out who was currently in the cast. I wound up seeing George Hamilton's last performance as Billy Flynn (he oozed charm and flashed a great smile but vocally he was probably the weakest Billy I've seen to date) and, although none of the Playbills handed to my party of five said so, fit Eric Jordan Young was on as Amos. The last tme I saw Young in Chicago he was hip-grinding in the ensemble with his abs on display, so I was not prepared for him to score as sad sack Mr. Cellophane. I won't make that mistake again: he had the audience in his white-gloved hands. Adriane Lenox made a fine Mama Morton, happily embellishing her number with some jazzy vocal riffs. If the ensemble was tired you wouldn't have known it from the other side of the footlights: the dancing was tight and sharp, and the six merry murderesses all nailed their "Cell Block Tango" bits. But ultimately, this revival of Chicago rises or falls on Roxie and Velma both individually and as a team, and that's where this visit proved less than ideal. While Michelle de Jean was a sensational Roxie, she needed someone to play off with more comic ability than Brenda Braxton, whose effortful Velma was short on wicked fun.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Beebo Brinker Chronicles

Hourglass Group

How is it that the already well-tackled issue of coming to terms with one's own sexuality can appear so relevant and fresh? The magic may very well lie in the artful tone established by playwrights Kate Moira Ryan and Linda S. Chapman and director Leigh Silverman in this stage adaptation of one in a series of pulp novels from the fifties about closeted lesbians escaping to New York City. The most obvious and easiest choice would be to camp it up old school. Yes, there is a great deal of humor derived from the rat-a-tat fifties-style delivery and soap operatic heights this production achieves but above and beyond there is a great deal of respect for these lost ladies looking for a comfortable fit. Set mostly in the West Village, a pre-Stonewall atmosphere of underground secrecy is well established as our ladies lurking in the dark corners of smoky bars cruise one another. It reminded me of how scared shitless I was the first time I snuck into a gay bar (Heaven. Houston, Tx. 1991). Led by the gorgeous Marin Ireland and the unmatchable David Greenspan, the cast is just as gourmet as the direction. I just got an email announcing "BEEBO BRINKER sells out run; off-Broadway next?" Does it belong off-Broadway? HELL YES!

A Feminine Ending

Playwrights Horizons

What initially seems to establish itself as a light romantic comedy (Light romantic comedy? Playwrights Horizons?? Wha-?) slowly reveals a darker, less fanciful undercurrent that takes its audience on quite a different journey (Ah! Very good then. Carry on). With one part idealism and one part humor, playwright Sarah Treem offers up the story of a young female composer who is not only getting engaged but also stuck in the middle of her parent's mid-marriage crisis (Marsha Mason, as the antsy New Hampshire wifemom is hilarious). This play of non-traditional ideas snuck up on me in a very good way and I was thrilled to see the second female dramatist of the season so successfully arrive at the PH. Much to my enjoyment, the somewhat controversial moral of this deceptively calm, deceptively casual play now in previews ruffled the feathers of a number of the older matinee subscribers. One contingent marched out in a huff during the final scene, and another afterwards on 42nd and 9th announced "That was the most boring play I have ever seen!". Trust me, Sarah's play was far from boring.

a Good Farmer

Photo/Rick Berubé

Everything takes time to mature, whether it's a relationship, trust, or even the delineation between an illegal immigrant and a legal one, and that's what Sharyn Rothstein's a Good Farmer manages to show so well (though it's far from an even account of both sides of the immigration controversy). Her play takes time to grow, too, with some awkward and exaggerated patches in the first act that are well-worth sitting through, given the ripe and emotional juiciness of the second. Rothstein uses the domestic situation as a portal into the political one, giving us not generalities, but a specific: Carla Gutierrez (the very passionate Jacqueline Duprey). Rothstein begins by showing us her life in 2007 so that when the play skips back to 2000, we aren't judging Carla on her lack of grammar, but rather on her potential. It's surprising, too, to see Bonnie Johnson (Chelsea Silverman) as a rattled mother, considering how unshakably confident she seems down the road, but defying expectations is a great way to drive a point home.

[Read on]


The story of a Jewish boxer whose faith is tested when he alienates his family and his people, Cutman isn't only the best and most exciting show I saw at NYMF. It's also one of the best new musicals I've seen so far this year. The narrative (which tracks the boxer's rise to prominence and the aftermath of a devastating mistake he makes in pursuit of the welterweight title) is straightforward and simple but the themes (of personal sacrifice and of the importance of faith and family) are big and resonant, a combination that makes for riveting, accessible musical drama in the right hands. These are the right hands. The book (by Jared Coseglia, from a story he conceived with Cory Grant who also stars) is solidly built on the sturdiest of foundations: all the relationships between the well-defined characters have been thought out and effectively dramatized. There's great know-how in the musical's construction: for one thing, the songs come when they should and never feel superfluous. The musical score (by Drew Brody) is revelatory: it miraculously manages the melodic sweep and the concise storytelling of traditional show music but with the daring contemporary twist of combining some properties of both Hebrew and urban music. In other words it snugly and convincingly fits these characters and their world. My complaints, that the second act runs long and that one number therein feels exposition-heavy, are only quibbles, and I haven't a single quibble about anyone in the ensemble, which is anchored by Cory Grant's sensational, affecting performance as the boxer. Yes I'll say it: Cutman is a knockout.

Sherlock Holmes: The Early Years

There are plenty of cute, winking jokes in this new (NYMF) musical, which playfully debunks the Sherlock Holmes mythology. Here, Holmes' vaunted claims of his superior intellect and of his extraordinary deductive skills are a source of amusement, as nearly every other character is quicker on the uptake. He doesn't realize that he's got a more-than-friendly interest in Watson, but most everyone else is wink-nudging whenever he introduces the doctor as his "flatmate". The disappointment is that the book scenes are more enjoyable than the musical ones: although the melodies are agreeable, the songs push too hard to be funny (as in the opener, when the ensemble sings that the fog in London is a nuisance) or don't do enough to add to the story. I found a lot to like about the book but I certainly didn't warm to its ocassional anachromisms: when one character shrieked "Awesome!" at another, I drilled a hole in my notebook with my pen.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

I Used To Write On Walls

Working Man's Clothes

While a stoned, aimless, sex-hound wanders around New York doing his best Matthew McConaughey impersonation, a cluster of encrushed ladies each with their own girlgendas struggle to hold his attention in this very funny and honest play by Bekah Brunstetter. Insecurity, obsession, depression, lust, the nature of beauty, and ageism are just a few of the issues touched upon in this edgy exploration of the modern female psyche. Beautifully acted, tightly directed and utterly devoid of gratuitous sentimentality or cliche' we have here in the basement of the Gene Frankel Theater something that is just as/if not more engaging than anything you're going to see on or off-Broadway.


Kristen Palmer's Departures is a distillation of the love story into our fragile modern world, a show about two tentative lovers who fall into each other--at first out of convenience and carnal needs--and find something there that's sweet and scary all at once. Whether or not it could last, could work, is something that Palmer doesn't try to answer: instead she shows us their first true hookup, and then cuts three months ahead to Cara's return to America, a death-knell of a date that has been "etched into the back of [Andrew's] eyelids" since they first started dating. Palmer doesn't turn to any cheap dramatic tricks: everything is already there, in quiet even tones, that focus on longing, loneliness, and irrational (or rational) fears. Kyle Ancowitz provokes action by setting the whole affair in the narrow frame of a half-pipe, with the audience along the long ends, looking down into the pit of a messy flat. Distance is the third character in this play, though Travis York and Keira Keeley already have perfect chemistry with each other, and the show works so tragically well by keeping a slow, natural pace that leaves the ending up to the audience. I strongly recommend it, though dress lightly as the theater is sweltering hot.

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When the Messenger Is Hot

Photo/Jay Geneske

Laura Eason's adaptation suffers from multiple-personality disorder. The underlying core of Elizabeth Crane's When the Messenger is Hot makes for some fine anti-romantic comedy, but Steppenwolf needs more time in development. This collection of short stories is still disjointed and repetitious, and the eighty minutes aren't nearly as fast as the narrative patter. In truth, the play seems a little too hastily assembled, and the few moments that work are either focussed on the stronger plot of a mother seemingly returned from the dead, or on her daughter's inevitable coming to terms with her grief. These moments are adeptly handled by the foul-mouthed charmer of a mother (Molly Regan) and the rational-in-all-things-but-love daughter (Kate Arrington), but they're muddled by the constant stream of men (all similarly played by Coburn Goss) and the other Josies (Lauren Katz and Amy Warren, fine actresses who just seem out of place here). Beneath all that clutter, how can we see the messenger?

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Photo/Aviva Meyer

You'd have to be a foolyheadgirlthing to write a play set in an absurdly fictitious (but not improbable) cabaret in the Weimar Republic (1923) and to then quote Oscar Wilde's maxim: "All art is quite useless." You'd need quite a pair of balls to brag about how the expressionist theater company, the Kinderspielers, "dare to entertain you by completely wasting your time." And you'd need to be awfully clever to make a critic one of your characters, especially if her theory is that "frivolity is serious business."

I guess that makes Kiran Rikhye a large-balled, awfully clever, foolyheadgirlthing: her latest work with Stolen Chair Theater Company, Kinderspiel (child's play) is a double-bill that is avant-garde Cabaret ("infantile improvisation" meets lesbians and garters) when it comes to presentation, and starkly satirical when the plot is narrated to us "children." The play not only stands as a testament to the insane depression of the Weimar era, but illustrates the similarity between genius and insanity, and the odd power of art to transform one's perception of reality. Furthermore, by adding a journalist, Rikhye is also able to make an point about the danger of an explanation, with her mind clearly in favor of spontaneity and personal experience. (Do we demean things by giving them meanings?)

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