Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mary Poppins

photo: Joan Marcus

The two stars of Mary Poppins are Gavin Lee's legs in motion; if Al Hirschfeld was still alive he'd draw them as thin and as long as matchsticks. The show's highlight is Lee's second act tapdance up the wall and then upside down from the top of the proscenium arch, a moment of winning and cheerful stage magic in a show that is otherwise short on them. In this stage version, it's hard to decide which is more depressing: that the playfully stern but loving and magical nanny has been made haughty and no fun at all, with a voice as phoney as Mrs. Doubtfire's, or that she's been rendered nearly surperfluous to the story. They could have done away with her and called the second act Bert! and the first Disney's Scenes From A Marriage.

Talk Radio

photo: Joan Marcus

I was never all that wild about Eric Bogosian's peek at a shock jock behind his microphone: it seems to me a shallow character study that says the main character, an abrasive radio talk show host, spews abuse at his listeners because, surprise, he hates himself and has a God complex. Busy with a lot of dramatic business that now feels dated in a more media-saturated and more shockproof culture that has mainstreamed talk radio, this Broadway revival lacks the original's illusion of socio-political urgency. However, it does have Liev Schreiber, and if you're going to have someone star in a character study you'd have a hard time doing better than that. Schreiber plays a good deal of the sadness just below the surface in the volatile, edgy shockjock, and he peels back layers as he gets deeper into the performance. By his final monologue, he makes you believe you've seen a man almost eat himself alive with disgust. See this for that.

Talk Radio

I finally got to see Liev Schriber in a production. It is pure sloth with a dash of poverty that has kept me from the many opportunities I have had in the past and I should be punished. As the alcoholic shock-jock Liev begins with a subtle intensity that evolves into reckless drunkenness during this 90 minute character study. I cannot think of another name in the current scene who could quite pull of what Liev does (perhaps Ethan but he's busy). This is a recommender.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Dance: The History Of American Minstrelsy

photo: Tatiana Elkhouri
Richmond Shepard Theater

I haven't seen black-face in New York since Mandy Patinkin in The Wild Party. Billed as "educational theater for social change", this highly theatrical history lesson featured two African-American gentlemen diving headfirst into this banished and buried "art-form" with hilarious and harrowing effect. I might have questioned the relevance of this show as we all today acknowledge that black-face is wrong and bad, but this production, presenting racial stereotypes in their most severe and extreme and then the hurt and shame that they inflict, couldn't be any more relevant in our everyone's-a-little-bit-racist society. Actor Aaron White in black-face deftly lip syncing to Al Jolson's "Mammy" is an image I will not soon forget.

The Girl Detective

Every inch of The Girl Detective screams out "passion project." To adapt such a textual short story (by Kelly Link, based on ideas from Grimm's Fairy Tales and the Greek Underworld) for the stage . . . Bridgette Dunlap has clearly been touched. But passion doesn't always translate to the stage, and Dunlap is lacking either the budget or the experience to bring this story to life. Neither illusory enough to fit the narrative nor dramatic enough to make for good theater, the show flutters in an intellectual limbo. Even the thought-free fits of dancing aren't enough to transport me (they're also still a bit sloppy); I spent more time trying to detect the plot than I did enjoying the detective.

[Read on]

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Prelude To A Kiss

photo: Joan Marcus

If you saw the original Broadway production of this sweet little comedy in 1990 as I did, with sensitive Timothy Hutton and quirky-loveable Mary Louise Parker ideally cast as the romantic leads, it's a good bet you'll be stunned at the charmlessness of the first act of this revival. Alan Tudyk and Anne Parisse aren't asked to bring much more than toothpaste smiles and personality-free earnestness to the roles now, and without a convincingly tender romance for the audience to invest in, the first act is a bland snooze. It isn't only their fault - the usually top-notch Daniel Sullivan has directed with a pronounced lack of imagination, letting crickets chirp where laughs used to be. Even Santo Loquasto's set looks second-rate, like someone built it based on a description over the phone. It isn't until the final scene of the first act, when John Mahoney shows up as the mysterious stranger at the couple's wedding with the magical kiss that sets up the more sentimental second act, that this revival has any spark. Mahoney's performance is touching without being maudlin, and along with the good work from the supporting cast, it's enough for this production to (barely) get by. Second acters, take note.

Also blogged by: [David] [Christopher]

Prelude To A Kiss


The TBA slot in Roundabout's season (left vacant by a proposed revival of Les Liasons Dangereuses?) was announced to be Prelude To A Kiss on less than three months ago. And though I am not a fly on the wall of the American Airlines theater (just a bartender, don't forget), I sense that perhaps there was a little too much of a rush to get this drab, uninspired production mounted. I should note that I saw this production early in previews. I hope that before opening night the young leads stop being so miscast and the scenery stops being so dark grey, blocky, and non-descript.

Also blogged by: [Patrick] [Christopher]

Spring Awakening

Photo: Sara Krulwich

Call me a late bloomer, I guess (pun intended), but I finally saw Spring Awakening. It hasn't been overhyped, nor has it been oversexed. Just be thankful for Duncan Sheik's vibrant rock score (often lacking for Broadway musicals), as the text (adapted by Steven Sater from Frank Wedekind's original German play) is awfully predictable. Michael Mayer makes beautiful pictures out of even the obvious, and the two love scenes--the maturation of "The Word of Your Body" and Act I consummation of "I Believe"--are tremendously staged. The set is simplistic but evolves: just like the choreography from Bill T. Jones, which is as much expressive modern dance as an frenetic series of foot-stomping, head-banging rock moves. Jonathan Groff deserves to beat Raul Esparza for the Tony; that he can go from the accusatory falsetto of "Left Behind" to the jagged cliffs of "Totally Fucked" in a span of five minutes shows a remarkable range, especially for someone so young. The only thing I'm not completely sold on is the choice to perform the play out in the open, with some audience members sitting onstage with the cast, with microphones popping out of their period costumes, and background blackboards littered with liner notes for the show. I get that they want to relate this show to the audience, but trust me: the performance is affecting enough all on its own.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Journey's End

photo: Paul Kolnik

If there is anything less than exactly right in this staggering revival of R.C. Sherriff's 1929 play concerning some of the quiet horrors of fighting war, I don't know what it is. Everything about this production - the superb ensemble, the deliberately hypnotic pace, the oppressively contained staging - seems touched by purposefulness and delivered with integrity. We watch a British infantry unit holed up in the WWI trenches over the course of three days, living through the grim absurdities of waiting for battle. While the play is, on the one hand, a hats-off to their valor under grave pressure, it is also a reminder of the futility of war: this particular duality may be what makes it so especially powerful, and resonant for audiences, right now.

Also blogged by: [Christopher] [David] [Aaron]


BFF doesn't really hold any surprises in its plot: the first time it cycles from a cheery poolside chat between friends to the grownup, present-day self of just the one of them, you know there's something tragic brewing. However, the past tense of this play is fun to watch, and Anna Ziegler's writing captures a lot of the cruelties of social relationships of the seventh circle of hell (seventh grade). The modern segments are a bit less endearing, mainly because the love interest, Seth, is too much of a plot device: we never explore his neuroses. Laura Heisler, who plays the doomed Eliza, has a remarkable presence on stage that meshes well with Sasha Eden's stony resolve; by the end of these play, both actresses have taken advantage of their key scenes and shine.

[Read on]

Journey's End

Photo: Paul Kolnik

The worst part of war is the waiting, and in the masterful revival of R.C. Sherriff's 1928 play, Journey's End, that tension is the only thing there is. Sherriff's writing is sharp and witty, but trenchant too (which is fitting for the trenches), and his characters all avoid the all-too-easy trap of stereotype. The outstanding ensemble cast contributes to that artful dodge, from the comically stoic characters like the cook, Private Mason (Jefferson Mays), and the rotundly charming 2nd Lieutenant Trotter (John Ahlin) to the the naive new officer, Raleigh (Stark Sands), and the wizened "uncle," Lieutenant Osborne (Boyd Gaines). Hugh Dancy, who has the meatiest role of the show, delivers a charismatic performance as the courageous Captain Stanhope, a man who manages to get out of bed each day only by battering his memory with a constant stream of whiskey each night. Everything about this production is perfect, from the pulse-pounding sound effects (never has an empty stage told so much story) to the unsettling dankness of the waterlogged underground set. David Grindley's direction is spot on, and I dare you to find a better curtain call than the tasteful, heart-wrenching one that he has concocted for this magnificent, powerful show.

[Read on]

Also blogged by: [Christopher] [David] [Patrick]

A Spanish Play

Classic Stage

There were some great sentences ("If you can't say something nice then could you at least say it nicely?"), but the whole of the piece failed to draw me in- probably because I wasn't quite sure what was going on (though it must be noted that I am often amazing at not getting it.) Working on two sometimes three levels of reality (we're rehearsing a play/we're in a play/we're somewhere?/etc), disjointedness abounded and I didn't feel like I was ever fully allowed to emotionally invest in any of the stories. Still Dennis O'Hare plays a hilariously convincing drunk and I finally got to see the wonderful Zoe Caldwell in a play after apathetically missing her in Master Class ( In my defense, show glutton races were only invented a couple of years ago.)

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Voysey Inheritance

photo: Monique Carboni


Is it possible that the retarded guy in The Pillowman, the lovesick servant in Measure For Pleasure and the very worried banker in The Voysey Inheritance are all the same guy?!... (checking Playbills)... OMG! It's true! His name is Michael Stuhlbarg. Heard of him? He is one of those disappears-into-a-role actors who wins a Tony but still probably has to wait for a table at Angus McIndoes because the host doesn't recognize him. Here in this money drama about a banker trying to replenish the funds that have been looted by his family, Stuhlbarg gives a very sensitive, passionate, specific performance that kept this period piece relevant and extremely watchable. Who knew bankers were so interesting?

Also blogged by: [Patrick]

King Lear

photo: Michal Daniel

There are a few very good performances in the new production of King Lear at the Public, but unfortunately Kevin Kline's isn't one of them. His Lear is small and in many ways ordinary, as if it's believed that that's what's needed for us to identify with the character, but a small Lear is no Lear at all. In the first scene, where we should feel Lear's unsparingly cruel vengenance as he demands professions of love from his daughters, Lear comes off more like a capricious and irritated snit than a grandiose king whose pride has been wounded to the core. A fit of curtness follows where explosive rage should be. And so on. The production is handsomely designed but otherwise wrongheaded, and only half of the ensemble seems to have been introduced to one another. The best of the good half of the ensemble includes Larry Bryggman, Brian Avers, Michael Rudko and especially Logan Marshall-Green, whose dynamic, snakey performance as Edmund handily steals the show.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Curse of the Mystic Renaldo The

Totally experimental, way out there, Art Rock Vaudeville. The Curse of the Mystic Renaldo The spends so much time trying to be different from everything else that I can't tell if it's actually good or just really quirky. After the multimedia faded into the background (about twenty minutes in), I started enjoying the performances; especially the musical numbers. It left no doubt in my mind that Aldo Perez is a very talented comic actor, that Jenny Lee Mitchell has an amazing voice, and that Richard Ginocchio has a hard time keeping a straight face, but it also left me in a state of perpetual disappointment. Just as I'd start to get into a segment--like Perez's bit as a singer/songwriter going on about a phone call he once made--it would skip to something weirder, and at times the show reminded me of Danny Elfman's cult film Forbidden Zone. At one point, Perez throws out the phrase tableau vivant, or "living picture," and that's an apt description for the work. Just know that the artists they like are the tortured ones, like Van Gogh, or the surrealists, like Escher and Dali (to whom the set designer is indebted, what with the ceiling-facing doors and slashed walls). Want to be weirded into laughter? Check out The Curse of the Mystic Renaldo The.

[Read on]

Our Leading Lady

I saw the first act of the first preview of Charles Busch's new comedy at Manhattan Theatre Club's smaller stage. It needs work, and I've no doubt some sleeves are rolled up on capable arms to do it, so I've nothing more to say except that I love Charles Busch, I'm rooting for this one, and I'll be back to see it all in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dying City

Lincoln Center

Tony nominee, Pablo Schreiber, exited Awake And Sing! a boy and he has returned in Dying City a man. Playing adult twins in this fiercely modern play, the new Pablo, all decked out in muscles and edge all of a sudden resembles you know who (note that "resembles" is different than "imitates"). He is giving an extraordinary, natural, handsome, honest performance that needs to be seen. And the play. Yes. Christopher Shinn gives to us yet another challenging work of art that the older generations might not be totally comfortable with (as indicated by the chattering, crinkling, annoying matinee rabble I sat among (there's a story there if anyone wants to ask me about it)). Text messages and emails are major plot points in this play yet the revelation of character and gentle fluidity of story are as succinct as an Albee. Christopher Shinn and Pablo Schreiber have enormous futures ahead of them. Please go see this play. HGA!

Also blogged by: [Patrick] [Aaron]

Bill W. And Dr. Bob

photo: T. Charles Erickson

I read a biography of Grace Slick which quoted her as saying that she took so quickly to Alcoholics Anonymous because the group meetings were such "good theatre." I'm sure that good theatre could be made of the alchemy of identification that happens between people sharing intimately and painfully in AA but this one, about the first men to test it out, isn't it. This play aims to blandly instruct and isn't shaped for dramatic impact: it feels like a live presentation of the educational filmstrips you used to be forced to watch in school about how cells divide or how photosynthesis occurs. It's even less entertaining. At least a couple of the actors are good (Patrick Husted gets the chance to dig deep and deliver a wrenching speech near the end of the first act - it's the only reason I stayed for the second) but no one can reasonably be expected to overcome material this dry and pedantic.

Also blogged by: [Aaron]


Not much has changed since I first covered Neglect last October. What playwright Sharyn Rothstein has changed is for the better: Joseph no longer has a gun, which makes him even more helplessly desperate, and Rose Anne Hayes, the elderly woman whose house he winds up attempting to rob, is no longer strong enough to put up a fight. I feel also that the actors -- specifically Geany Masai -- have only grown deeper roots and connections with their characters. I loved this show in '06, and I love that it's back now. I think it's a fresh, young play with vibrant observations made about the circumstances of the poor without all the polemic and proselytizing of the classicists. I also think director Catherine Ward has made the right choices, visually, in eliminating the hallway, as it concentrates everything within this cramped, sweltering inner-city apartment. The tension isn't just palpable - it's sticky and messy: check this one out for the phenomenal performances and natural scripting.

[Read on]

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Chorus Line

photo: Paul Kolnik

I feel just as I did about this revival as when I first saw it last November, but wanted to note that Joey Dudding, now playing Paul, drew a burst of applause after his monologue. I didn't hesitate to join right in.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Avenue Q

I wish I had a picture of Mary Faber as Kate Monster. The likeable, good-vibed actress very amusingly gets her face to wear the same expression as the puppet. The picture of Howie Michael Smith will have to suffice, although it doesn't really communicate how gosh-darn endearing he is as Princeton and it gives only a rough idea how well he fills out black denim.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


It's easy to forget that thin, ridiculously silly Spamalot is an awful lot of fun; I enjoyed it even more this second time than when I saw it in previews two years ago. The current ensemble is tight and, surprise, I missed the original stars not at all. As King Arthur, Jonathan Hadary is oddly endearing besides being funny, the stillness at the eye of the hurricane just as Tim Curry was. Marin Mazzie has a blast and sings with panache as The Lady of The Lake, Lewis Cleale is a perfect sparkling-toothed Galahad, and on and on. Even before Rick Holmes' second act ad lib about Anna Nicole Smith, this current troupe looked like they were having a blast on stage. That kind of thing is contagious.

Sweet Bird Of Youth


In their very intimate space and on a shoestring budget, T. Schreiber Studio has managed an absorbing, resourcefully staged revival of the Tennessee Williams drama. Although not one of Williams' best (partly because the second of the play's three acts has much that feels extraneous) there's plenty of gold to be mined in this play, especially in the first and last acts which center on the shifting power struggle between faded middle-aged film star Alexandra Del Lago and fading golden boy gone gigolo Chance Wayne. This production seems to emphasize the carnality and the drug-hazed dynamics in their early scenes and strenuously resists playing either character for easy, cynical laughs. Joanna Bayless, who plays Alexandra, is able to expertly render both the character's harrowing vulnerability and her cold, sad candor without turning her into a caricature; Eric Watson Williams could stand to make Chance a little more wily in the first act, but he's otherwise solid and renders the character's humiliations with heartbreaking clarity.

The Jaded Assassin

The Ohio Theater

I am very intrigued and impressed with playwright, Timothy Haskell. Author of such slap-happy hits as Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy and Road House: The Stage Play, he is hell-bent on creating FUN theater. And snobs be damned, fun theater is a valid, respectable artistic genre. Billed as the world's first full-length action play, The Jaded Assassin, is a hysterical amalgam of karate flicks and comic books. The plot is thin but the gimmick is golden: 70 minutes of finely choreographed/highly theatrical fight scenes. Yesterday I was heartbroken over the deaths of the soldiers in Journey's End. Today, watching a warrior in Jaded... get disemboweled I died laughing. I love the theatre.

Also blogged by: [Aaron]

Lookingglass Alice

photo: Michael Brosilow

This colorful and visually inventive take on the Lewis Carroll stories depicts Wonderland with gymnastics and acrobatics: it's like a Cirque du Soleil for the grade school set. It's full of theatricality, always busy and active, and it's clearly been created with skill and artful stagecraft. I was ready to be wowed once I saw how Alice's fall down the rabbit hole was presented. Curiously, the wow moments continue apace but, as the show has a lack of narrative clarity and no dramatic momentum, the moments don't build from one to another. Depending on your tolerance for theatrical circus, you could either leave wowed or weary.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


(Photo: Sara Costello)

Turns out that all you need isn't love, it's vaudeville. Or at least guardian angels who are really into vaudeville. It's the talented ensemble that pulls this collection of caricatures into a fully fleshed show, but Rose Courtney's end-product, Cycle, would be a sweet ride for any company. All the humor is outsized and gushing, and the work is so warm, so desperately appealing, that it's impossible not to like (once the initial confusion wears off). Also, the show mocks the industry pretty accurately, from casting to scene work to singing, so if you're involved with theater and need a laugh, this show might be a nice way to affirm those stereotypes. This is vaudeville, so the whole show does come across as a little loose--almost haphazard at times--but that just means you might want to bring along a helmet. The ride itself is worth it.

[Read on]


As the title character in Leos Janacek's stark and somber opera Jenufa, Karita Matilla skillfully scales Janacek's angular melodies and seems to emote as if from the depths of her soul. She's ideal in the role, and her portrayal would be enough to make this run at the Met an event. With the legendary Anja Silja, dramatically intense and also ideal as Jenufa's stepmother, it's an emotionally wrenching, passionately sung don't-miss.

Journey's End

**** 1/2
Moral of the story: war kills hot guys. And if there's anything more tragic than that then I don't know what it is. This intense, heartbreaking, 1928 WW1 drama was superbly acted/directed and before I realized what was happening I was completely wrapped up in the lives of these soldiers. Set in an underground bunker (the most dimly lit production on Broadway) this story focused in on one military maneuver and the repercussions of this one event. As addressed in the play, when one imagines WW1 one thinks of a lot of guns and fires and running etc, however the reality of it is that it was a lot of sitting around and waiting. And of course whiskey and conversation. I was very glad I got to see this production and I highly recommend it. HGA! HGA!

Also blogged by: [Christopher] [Aaron] [Patrick]

Friday, February 16, 2007

Meet Me In St. Louis

Photo: Carol Rosegg

Despite some terrific, enduring songs and the clang clang clang of that trolley, I'm not convinced that the 1944 MGM movie musical is such great source material for the stage: I couldn't stand it with big production values on Broadway back in 1989, and I liked (the first act of) this small-scale revival even less. With only three instruments to make music and only a tiny playing area for the performers, the focus is squarely on the story and the characters. Unfortunately, the antiquated, twee story is not this musical's strong suit, and it's personality rather than character that we really need to be charmed by the longings of the Smith girls as they await the Worlds Fair at the turn of the century.

La Traviata

photo: Ken Howard

The Met

Why is it that every time I go to the Opera someone dies? So far I've witnessed murder, suicide and tonight was all about a slow sexy death by tuberculosis. Hot! Still a novice in the whole Opera scene, I'll refrain from delivering one of my brilliantly succinct capsule reviews (ha). I will say however that just like my previous 2 visits to The Met, I was captivated with the hugeness of the event. This production in particular had probably the most gorgeous scenic design I have ever witnessed. I've you've never been to The Met, it's probably something that you, as a New Yorker, need to experience.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Little Dog Laughed


Due to the fact that producers are practically handing out tickets at Port Authority, I got a chance to revisit this snappy gay comedy a few days before it closes. It's still a lot of fun and was successful in thawing out the frozen matinee crowd that had just slogged in from the first blizzard of the year. Why is it closing so early? I don't think it's necessarily because it's a gay play, but maybe because it's a play about coming out, an issue that I think the general New York post-millennium theatergoing public is pretty much beyond- though it should be stated that Beane's dialogue is as fresh and modern as anything on Broadway right now. Anyway, Little Dog Laughed is really all about Julie White who, as the high-strung ambitious talent agent, is giving the funniest female performance on Broadway since Katie Finneran in Noises Off. It'll be tough competition in June (Seldes, Landsbury, Redgrave, Pinkins, etc.) but I am addicted to the notion that she will win the Best Actress Tony. HGA!

Also blogged by: [Patrick] [Aaron] [Christopher]

The Coast of Utopia: Salvage

Before anybody lavishes more praise on Tom Stoppard's trilogy or attacks it with an inevitable (and unenviable) backlash, let me go on the record as saying that Salvage is my favorite part of Coast of Utopia. Whether or not this would have been the same without having my expectations lowered by the second part, Shipwreck, or if Jack O'Brien were not such a talented and visual director (and almost certainly a soon-to-be Tony winner), I can't say. I do miss Billy Crudup in this final installment -- surely they could have worked in a part for him, as they have for returning character actors David Harbour and Richard Easton, or at the least, given him a cameo in one of the lively and creative dream sequences. But I won't debate directorial decisions: the tragic comedy is clearer now without melodrama cluttering the frame, and the revolutionary struggle has risen to the forefront with Herzen's struggle to find a means to express and keep up with the times, and characters like Bakunin are so established by now that they practically sing their lines, even as their faces decay under the expert touch of the makeup artists. This is a remarkable conclusion to the trilogy, even if the final thirty minutes jump around a little too much into the neat little corners of a bow, and the work has aged well since it started with Voyage back in November. This is a must see, folks.

[Read on]


photo: Jim Baldassare

This new drama alternates between scenes a generation apart of the same well-meaning but quietly terrified woman unable to acknowledge the homosexuality of her brother (in the flashback scenes) and of her son (in the present tense ones.) The woman is played with compassion and strength by Nancy McDonnel: the integrity of her performance grounds this production (even though the focus of the play is more on the men) and her characterization reminded me of Lois Nettleson. High praise. The play's aim is more ambitious than its throw but there's no denying that the final emotionally charged scene hits the mark.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I've at least a handful of complaints about Kate Robin's play anon, including that it's too long at two and a half hours, that it too often threatens to go to the "sisterhood of womyn" place when it locates sexually compulsive behavior as a strictly male evil, and that (in this production, at least) it wavers unsteadily in tone. Happily, I've more than a handful of reasons to recommend it anyway: the issues it raises (playfully and gently in the main story of a man and woman dealing with his sex addiction two months into their relationship, more darkly and unsubtly in the secondary story of the man's parents also struggling many years into their marriage) and the arguments these issues inspire are likely to sound bells of recognition. Have we become a sexually compulsive culture in danger of losing our capacity for genuine intimacy? I admired where Robin's play wound up - it recognizes that it takes two to do a co-dependent tango - and I very often smiled at the play's spot-on observations about the struggles of sex and emotional connectedness. I also laughed alot - the play alternates the scenes of the two couples with monologues from women at a support group, and half of them are laced with sharp, comic observations. (Susan Blackwell's monologue is, surprisingly, one of the gravely serious ones, and she delivers it with appropriate intensity and deliberateness). The play is short of coming together fully, but it passed both the "does it speak with relevancy to the world I live in?" and the "does it stimulate passionate discussion afterward?" tests with flying colors.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Jackie With A Z


"Can I go visit the sick children? I'm a comedy writer and I need material." Thank God Jackie Hoffman almost had cancer for if she hadn't we wouldn't have this sick, atrocious collection of stories and original songs about her recent hysterectomy. Yet another gay man trapped in a woman's body, Ms. Hoffman's crass, politically incorrect diatribes are candy to silly boys like me. At one point she sings a duet with her uterus which she has pulled out of a glass jar. I love this woman.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

All That I Will Ever Be

I'm certainly glad I didn't leave after Intermission. The first act of Alan Ball's new play is insufferably bland, and, so far as I can tell, exactly like The Little Dog Laughed, minus all the entertaining monologues and wry humor. However, the second act brings us deeper into Omar's skin, and Peter Macdissi, who plays the role, manages to let go of the facade that I hated so much in Act I to reveal the pained individual underneath. There are plenty of glib moments in this play that seem written to dazzle rather than impress, and there are a lot of scenes that are never followed up on, specifically between Dwight (Omar's boyfriend) and his father. There's also a lot of falseness in the actors, though it's an intentional device meant to show how little we really give of ourselves. I'd like to hope that we will be more than we are today, and even though Ball's play is sloppy, there's truth spilling out all over the place in it.

Elephant Girls

For the first ninety minutes, I buy Elephant Girls. I wouldn't normally enjoy this kind of special, but the evocation of "terrorist" in an ordinary New Jersey household is amusing to me. Rather than just being a pleasant after-dinner party complete with parlor games, cookware demonstrations, and racist jokes among well-bred friends, the introduction of an exotic stranger (Sarah Miriam Aziz) and a police alert throughout the area make for an exciting build. But when we come back from intermission, Carl Gonzalez's script relaxes the tension and starts making subdued conversation about the so-called 'elephant girls' of the Muslim world, using the famed "Afghan Girl" photo from National Geographic to make some sort of point about cultural differences. When this doesn't go anywhere, Gonzalez makes an inexcusable dip into Ridiculous Land (TM), and pulls the most out-of-character twist ever over a truly inconsequential event. I think Gonzalez is a talented, natural writer, full of wit and well-humored characters, but unless he loses the melodrama and grounds his characters in something more dramatic than a dinner party, his stakes will never be high enough to make any sort of lasting impression on the audience. Well, not a good one, at least.

Frank's Home

Playwrights Horizons

Charles Isherwood at the Times didn't like this play but I did. So there. Quite possibly the first story about an architect I have ever come across, I was fascinated with all the architect shop talk and the spelling out of what makes a beautiful building beautiful. And I had no idea Frank Lloyd Wright (played brilliantly by Robocop) was such a self-absorbed prick! The crowd of very damaged people writhing at his feet elevated this play to near soap-operatic heights. And that's a good thing! I assume FLW probably wouldn't like this play either. But I did. So there.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


A.k.a., too much Internet makes the teenager kill his best friend. Act I features some ambitious direction, and Act II forces Max Rosenak to jump through different hoops simultaneously, but the juggling of personalities in 6969 isn't strong enough to let Jordan Seavey's "ripped from the headlines" story go. There are some gloriously weird moments, and Matthew Hopkins does well to keep all the "chatroom characters" behind transparent scrims, like the messenger windows they are, but something about the show feels flat. It's also one case where the real-life story is so much more impressive than the condensed one that Seavey's been forced to adapt; his version is more poetic and less of a soap opera, but that also gives it the ring of something false. I think the problem is that the show is just too long: the brilliant first act, which sets up John's grand guignol of lies, makes the second act too much of an explanation and takes us out of the illusion entirely.

[Read on]

Howard Katz

Howard Katz isn't bad theater, but it's not worth seeing. Theatrical masturbation is an effortless craft: it takes nothing to take a shallow character and then punish him for it. The show is at least mercifully swift, although the scenes don't come at our "hero" nearly fast enough for his portrayer, Alfred Molina, to do much with them. Instead, he spends most of the play wading through recycled pity parties that were done better in other plays. The confrontation with the brother? The last-ditch gambling effort? The final telling-off of one's bosses? Where playwright Patrick Marber shines, however, and where Howard Katz redeems itself ever so slightly, is in the base humility it forces him to undergo. This is the same stuff Neil LaBute spouts once a year, although with LaBute, I at least feel that there's a certain level of honesty underneath it all. Here, I really just get the sense of a slick veneer that's been pushed as far as a good actor can, only to discover that's not far enough.

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Frank's Home

Photo: Michael Brosilow

When a performer returns to the stage after years of working television and movies it's often the case that the stage muscles have gone soft. Not so with Peter Weller. As Frank Lloyd Wright, in Richard Nelson's somewhat Chekhovian play about the architect's emotional absence from his primary relationships, he's assured and intense; he gives the kind of performance that makes the audience hang on his every word. He also avoids making Wright likeable in the dishonest, audience-pleasing way: he goes right to the soul of the troubled, complicated tyrant. As Louis Sullivan, Harris Yulin matches him beat for beat.

A Very Common Procedure


This was a serio-comic play about a wife going haywire after the accidental death of her premature baby. Playwright Courtney Baron's trio of characters come vividly to life as they each take turns narrating the events of this tragedy. Well cast and tightly directed this brisk 90 minute production never lost momentum. My one problem was that the central character (the haywire wife...the haywife) just wasn't very likable. Yes, she just lost her baby and I should cut her some slack but the fact that she totally dumps all over her (very likable) husband for most of the play made it very difficult for me to have sympathy for her. That aside, this was a very unique journey of a play and I was glad I went.

Friday, February 09, 2007


There's a reason they're called Partial Comfort Productions: every show I've seen from them, from Baby Girl to 'nami, revolves around some disturbed and colorful characters who are thrust into a bleak urban setting and left to fend for themselves. In this offering, Nelson, the titular character is a slovenly, shy, sad man, who may or may not be a serial killer. As portrayed by Frank Harts, he certainly has the air of one, and it's his unique ability as an actor to allow himself to be steamrolled by the supporting cast that justifies the ironic flatness of Joe (the sadistic boss) and Charlie (the angry, entitled friend). I love this company because they always manage to entertain me. I wish that Sam Marks had written a side-plot or balanced out the characters a little bit so that I could care about someone other than Nelson, but I have to say--that Kip Fagan was able to propel us through a 95 minute show without the work seeming threadbare is a real testament to the need of more, clean directors.

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The pastiche numbers all score (wow!) and the thirty piece orchestra sounds absolutely lush (yes, by all means, go!) yet I can't give this production of Follies the unqualified rave that others have. The dynamics between the four main characters - crucial in any production of this musical if it's going to amount to more than a string of brilliant songs - simply don't come off. Victoria Clark sings well (although not distinctively) but her Sally lacks vulnerablity and puts too little at stake; she communicates a vaguely put out "oh darnit" disappointment where crushing heartache ought to be. She has no chemistry with Michael McGrath, who simply disappears on stage as Buddy even when he's front and center, and she has no chemistry with Victor Garber, whose Ben leans so far to the sour side that we have to take claims of his desirability on faith. (It doesn't help that Garber's wobbly vibrato makes him sound like a goat yodeling through its nose). The saving grace in the main quartet is that as Phyllis, Donna Murphy is spectacular - her cool line readings turn ice into fire, and her "Could I Leave You" has so much poison bitterness it's almost like watching a snake coiling around its prey and hissing through fangs.



THIS WAS GAY CHRISTMAS! AHHHHH!!!!....(lemmie catch my breath for a moment...) Okay. I drool over this legendary Sondheim score (well, except for "The Right Girl" which hurts my ears) and this production was almost perfect exactly as it should be. Is there another musical out there that so revels in its imperfections than this congregation of old showfolk looking back one last time? The futile struggle to reach those high notes and high kicks was valiant and heartbreaking and beautiful to behold. I could not take my eyes off of the gorgeous, hysterical Christine Baranski who knocked it out of the park with "I'm Still Here". Donna Murphy is a LEGEND. VICTORIA CLARK WAS BORN TO PLAY SALLY DURANT PLUMMER. OH MY GAY GOD! AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

The Fever

I didn't realize how much Wallace Shawn's words had sunk under my skin until I left the theater. I was expecting a more immediate play, but the subtle and studious language was just a wonderful luxury to find at the theater. Some of the segments didn't work for me, or I was too tired to fully appreciate them, but more often than not, I was actively engaged--and this from a short, raspy man who spends the majority of the play on a tiny sliver of stage, in a small armchair, covered mostly by darkness. I found the topic very relevant, but Shawn's right when he says that a play will not fix the problems of the poor. It takes the playgoers to do that.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Secret of Mme. Bonnard's Bath

Not Horovitz's best work, and I feel he certainly over-directed it, but The Secret of Mme. Bonnard's Bath is interesting enough to keep me at the theater. I don't like that the two actors supporting John Shea's turn as Bonnard are forced to narrate the piece too: the metadrama is as out of place as much of the comedy, if if the metadrama is justified by Bonnard's beliefs about art (that the artist must remain visible, that the piece of art must be seen as a piece of art) and if the comedy wins points on the merits of it being genuinely funny (as many of Horovitz's works tend to be). But it's unbalanced, and still too much like a rough sketch. The technical aspects haven't been smoothed out, particularly with the transitioning light gels, and the use of music highlights the weaknesses of the dramatic scenes. Also, the performances aren't likely to win any awards: they get the job done more often than not, but there's a measure of flatness to the play as is right now. Like Bonnard, revising his work twenty-five years later, Horovitz might want to consider a few more touch-ups on this play.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Very Common Procedure

I went as a guest; it wouldn't be cool to critique the performance I saw of this new play (currently at the Lucille Lortel) by Courtney Baron. I want to say though that a) Lynn Collins digs in deep and grabs the attention, as a mother who responds to the death of her newborn on the operating table by pursuing the surgeon, b) Amir Arison (who plays the surgeon) sounds my Hot Guy Alert bell and c) no one scribbles in a notebook as intently as director Michael Greif.

The Last Word...


Two playwrights from two different generations debate their extremely different viewpoints on writing, theater, life, etc in this kinda interesting one act. Was the young playwright character based on this play's author, Oren Safdie? Playwrights' self-characters often come off with a diet personality and are armed with very intelligent mouths that make lots of points. Check. The young playwright announced that he was trying to get into Columbia, a school Oren attended. Check. To his credit he does not masturbate by making his character a Pulitzer Prize winner or allow his character to win every argument, but I still got the sense that the older blind playwright (played with a winning chuzpah by Daniel J Travanti) was doomed in terms of who is righter. There were a few notable moments but not a whole lot happened.

mis(Understanding) Mammy

This underdramatized, facile 80 minute monologue is an extreme case of too much tell and not enough show: we listen as sickbed-tethered Hattie McDaniel narrates the key events of her careerography to an unseen (hallucinated?) Walter White, the NAACP president who led the public campaign against her portrayals of Mammy roles. Too much of what we hear is of the "that was the year I had a role in such and such" and "do you remember when I played opposite so and so?" variety, and as her character has no arc over the course of the show, there's no dramatic conflict. What the show does have going for it is Capathia Jenkins, who plays Hattie with a credible mix of warmth and sass, and who thrills the (too few) times she gets to sing. It's almost enough to make you forgive everything else, but not quite.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Real Danger

Can you spot which one of the above is a psychopathic killer? Oh, who cares. By the time this show is over, you'll be begging for your neighbor to stab you. What's irritating about Jeff Hollman's play, Real Danger, is that there's plenty of substance there, and some workable characters. But for a show about real danger, it's played too safe: when the change actually hits, it's almost laughable. The actors deliver their lines with the flattest of zest, the direction amounts to a game of musical chairs, and I'm bored just remembering it. A thriller doesn't work if you don't let on that there's supposed to be suspense, and if the play boils down to nothing more than a twist that everybody knows is coming . . . then what are you left with?

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Howard Katz

If the National Theatre website is accurate, Patrick Marber's play clocked in there at two and a half hours including an intermission. Here, presented by The Roundabout, it runs an intermissionless ninety minutes. Maybe it's been cut too deeply, because - despite a solid cast and at least a handful of attention-grabbing dramatic scenes - the play seems to be missing a great big something: why does career-centric talent agent Howard Katz suddenly begin to repel everyone in his life until he is left alone and suicidal? I've no idea, and I don't know why Marber is telling us this story. What we see is an unpleasant and abrasive man whose raging workaholism drives his loved ones, and then his career, away. He seems to begin to experience some moments of humility, but if that's the intention, the play does a poor job of defining his change: he seems just as miserable after his sweeping losses as before. Except for a wrenching moment of workplace humiliation that is something of a cousin to Death of a Salesman's "a man is not a piece of fruit" scene, and a heated argument between Katz and his father about the value of earning to provide - I didn't find any reason to care about or believe this character.

The Secret of Mme. Bonnard's Bath

Israel Horovitz's play takes its time coming into focus - it jumps at a fast clip between two stories a couple of generations apart which seem at first to have only a banal connection - but after the play's structure and its purpose become more clear, this is an intelligent, often lovely little play which gently and playfully speaks to the eternal mysteries of love and to the immortality of art, among many other things. In the contemporary story, two young art students study Bonnard paintings and fight their attraction for each other; in the flashback story, Bonnard catastrophically gives in to his attraction for a woman he immortalizes in his paintings. While John Shea (credibly and vibrantly) plays only Bonnard, the other two actors - Michael Bakkensen and Stephanie Janssen (both very good except for a wobbly accent here and there) - are called upon to play all other roles, quick-changing behind the line of dress forms upstage. The "we're here right now putting on a show for you" feeling, also communicated in moments when the actors break character and tell us what we will soon see in the play or that it is time for intermission, gives the play a warmth to mitigate some of the cold truths it gently reveals. I'm happy to add, finally, that the art critic friend I attended with vouched for the play's historical credibility and accuracy relating to Bonnard: fact-based art scholars probably have nothing to fear here.

NEO FUTURIST OVERLOAD: Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind and Apocalypse Neo

I say overload because it makes for a good title, but you can't get too much of a good thing. I'm glad that I'm no longer a TMLMTBGB virgin, and that my eyes are open wide to the aesthetic appeal of the "deny nothing" art form that is Neo-Futurism. Well, to be perfectly honest, you need to experience TMLMTBGB. Thirty plays in sixty minutes is a unique viewing experience on its own, but this is a talented ensemble, an energetic series of shows, and ultimately an entire season of Saturday Night Live on crack. There's political expressionism, avant-garde imagery, slapstick, straight-stick (it's hard to just call it drama, given the conceit), interpretive dance, movement pieces, narratives, monologues, spoofs... the list goes on, and while some of the themes may repeat, the visual performances of them continue to change. While this week's eclectic collection didn't demand as much from the audiences as I'd heard (rumors of buzz-cuts, beer-chugging, and make-out sessions abound), 11 of the 30 plays next week will be all new (determined, like the ticket price, by the roll of a die), so unlike other cult amusements like Rocky Horror, this is the gift that literally keeps giving. [Read on]

Apocalypse Neo, on the other hand, is a "prime-time production," which means that the works are less frantic and more paced. The advantage of TMLMTBGB is that when it misses, it only misses for a few minutes. With Apocalypse Neo's "In which the end of the world...," a "debate" between whether or not the Apocalypse will occur in our lifetime, we've got a winner. The action is clear-cut, comedic (yet poignant), and hey, there's popcorn too. The other two segments aren't quite as strong, depending on your tastes: "Revelations of a City of Us" is a pop-culture story about recreating society, made the more interesting by their appropriation of the audience's coats, shoes, and persons, and the use of lighting is intriguing. But the show itself is a little threadbare. "Monkeyland II (anatk 21.10)" is a satire of biblical proportions that mocks the very things that we put faith in, by comparing them with a cult of toy-monkey worshippers. Again, interesting, but so vague and confusing that I'm not as engaged here as with the ADD antics of TMLMTBGB. Still, Apocalypse Neo ends on the 10th, while TMLMTBGB has a continuing run late Friday and Saturday nights at the Kraine, so you might want to catch their prime-time work before it vanishes, and then just stick around for TMLMTBGB. [Read on]

Friday, February 02, 2007

At Least It's Pink

The most wonderful and perhaps even the funniest thing about Bridget Everett's on stage persona in this self-proclaimed "trashy little show" is not that she's porno-mag raunchy. It's that she's happily, hilariously unashamed about it. Stripped down to fishnets and a too-tight thong, she can belt out a tune about a drunken Internet hookup gone wrong with what feels like uncomplicated candor and glee, and there's not a trace of righteous anger nor a subversive desire to shock in it. No matter how graphic she gets, she's smiling and least on the surface - just a small town big-boned blue collar gal who's telling you the score. Even her potentially humiliating stories are given a cheerful wide-eyed gloss: this is not an example of the gal who comes to the city only to be robbed of her dignity; this is a gal who proudly didn't have any dignity to begin with so it's all good. It is a testament to Everett's freshness that she brings to mind the bawdiness of early Bette Midler, the comic faux-earnestness of vintage Sandra Bernhard, and the unique skills of half a dozen other ballsy comediennes, and yet the result is something original and unique. This unabashedly filthy, fall down funny 80-minute show, which she wrote with Michael Patrick King and Kenny Mellman, features a dozen original songs and there's not a show-slowing bummer in the bunch. At Least It's Pink is a howl from start to finish.