Friday, May 30, 2008

reasons to be pretty

*** (...out of five stars)

Ah the world of Labute... where all the women are hysterical bitches and all the men are douche-bags. For those of you who like some yelling in your plays, there's quite a bit of it in this 4 character play about a dude who doesn't think his girlfriend isn't particularly pretty. Though not destined to be a classic, I did find the play to be consistently engaging and I got a little schadenfreude thrill from all of the backstabbing. Actors heads up- there are quite a few two character scenes and monologues that would probably work well in scene study. I've got major theater crushes on Allison Pill and Pablo Schreiber and they're both doing some great work here. Can't wait to see what they do next.

Reasons To Be Pretty

photo: Joan Marcus

I usually like Neil LaBute's plays but he has, of course, had his share of bummers. None yet that I have either seen or read, however, to rival Reasons To Be Pretty, a woefully thin and unfocused effort in which LaBute aims to depict a main male character who matures emotionally past the playwright's typical testosterone-pumped overgrown adolescents. (The character gets a best bud who more than picks up that slack: the guy's misogyny and duplicity are so over the top that he plays like a failed parody of a LaBute man.) The main character's revelations near the end of the play, spelled out for us in a direct address monologue which unthinkably begins with "So what have I learned from all this?", aren't any more insightful than "beauty is subjective". The play manages to be banal, superficial and aggressively repellent all at once, and also features one of the weakest monologues I have heard in some time. (It's about the hardship of being physically beautiful, which turns out to be that guys might try to hit on you in the supermarket.) Committed performances by Alison Pill and Thomas Sadoski provide an occasional illusion of depth, but the material is skin-deep.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reasons To Be Pretty

Photo/Joan Marcus

Reasons To Be Pretty is certainly the laziest of Neil LaBute's three body-image themed plays (also The Shape of Things and Fat Pig). Thomas Sadoski comes across genuinely as Greg, but the other three actors seem to just be working on him, with no regard or care for self. The fact that Alison Pill is forced to emote for cheap entertainment is a real waste of talent (that she still almost manages to pull off), though no surprise from Pablo Schreiber, whose dismissive veneer makes him a perfectly unflinching actor for LaBute's plays. Piper Perabo, on the other hand, comes as a real surprise, interjecting rocky subtext into the obvious and polished dialogue. Right now, the show needs its four exceptionally weak monologues, for they show us what the actors are capable of, but LaBute would do well to deepen his characters--then he might be able to trust them a little more. Don't get me wrong: artifice, made sharp enough, can still be highly entertaining--even blanks pop when they go off. I was just hoping for more.

[Read on]

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Actor's Nightmare
The Real Inspector Hound

I had a blast at this double-bill of theatre-related one-acts at T. Schreiber Studio. First, Christopher Durang's delightful absurdity in which a hapless accountant is mistaken for an actor and forced to fend for himself on stage in front of an audience. The play is my preferred brand of hilarious, as the fish-out-of-water accountant (Michael Black) flops about trying to fake his way through a play that morphs Coward, Shakespeare and Beckett, and I don't have a single serious complaint about this production, which has been well-paced for madcap fun and is energized by Black's endearing performance. Second, Tom Stoppard's barbed comedy in which two drama critics critique (and eventually enter) a run-of-the-mill whodunit. It's not as successfully realized in this production as the Durang piece - not all of the performances in the play within the play are sufficiently heightened enough - but it's good, snickering fun anyhow, and the actors playing the critics (Julian Elfer and Rick Forstmann) are devilishly spot-on. Special mentions: Nan Wray, appearing in both plays and pitch-perfect in each, and George Allison, who's come up with yet another impressive set design for the modest T. Schreiber space.


The fourth character in Blink, the absent father, is represented by an empty hospital bed. The characters talk about him, about the way he sometimes blinks to communicate. Now, the father has little to do with the play, but that idea of talking laboriously through blinks stuck with me when trying to describe Ian Rowlands's play, for that's how it comes across. Blink's series of artificial monologues and scenes are rarely linked together by the aggressive push-and-pull energy it needs, and so the words all come across as deliberate and overdone. There are some good moments from Sion Pritchard, who plays an abused son, but only when he's speaking directly to Rhian Blythe, who plays his first love. It's a shame so much of the play focuses on things other than that relationship, for without focus, the blinks mean nothing.

[Read on]


Mike Bartlett's new play, Artefacts, is clever in the best possible way: it turns shallow thoughts into deep observations about character, and pulls apt cultural metaphors out of those depths. By grounding itself in a family drama—a spoiled British girl learns she is half-Iraqi—it avoids the pitfalls of political drama and speaks personally rather than preachingly. It's also a great demonstration of the old maxim about writing: "Show, don't tell." The stream-of-consciousness of a typical, selfish teenage girl, allows him to tell plenty, but the telling itself shows us even more about ourselves.

[Read on]

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Port Authority

Port Authority was a little too natural for me: the hypnotism of Conor McPherson's passive triptych of unexplainable feelings--particularly longings--nearly put me to sleep. I longed for a little bit of action--some devil in all those rich details--but then again, this is a different animal from The Seafarer. Neither John Gallagher, Jr., nor Jim Norton managed to convey anything other than dialog to me, but I was pleasantly surprised by Brian D'Arcy James, who plays the crude Dermot with a ravenous but reserved desire, the sort found in men who don't believe themselves worthy. In any case, I can normally tell a show isn't working for me when the lighting starts to catch my eye: in this case, it doesn't help that director Henry Wishcamper pays more attention to the plating than the food.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Rafta Rafta

photo: Monique Carboni

The pace is especially relaxed at first: we're taking in the South Asian customs and household dynamics as much as we're following the often gently comic story of the newlyweds who, for one reason or another, can't seem to consummate their marriage. Aside from a couple of quick spikes of melodrama, the play is a warmly amusing, leisurely slice of Anglo-Indian life, rich with keen observational detail and humor that is rooted in the cultural values of the characters. It's very much an ensemble piece in which newlyweds, parents, relations and friends are coming and going, and no one in this uniformly excellent ensemble is out to steal undue focus. A genuine pleasure, and the best effort I've seen from The New Group in at least a couple of years.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Boeing Boeing

This door-slamming "Coffee Tea Or Me"-era farce, in which a fast-on-his-feet bachelor gives the revolving door treatment to three fiances who all happen to be estewardesses, shouldn't be as entertaining as it is: the script is short on laugh lines, and the premise smells of yesteryear's sexism. Yet it's lively ridiculous fun anyhow: thanks partly to the choice to emphasize the immaturity of the bachelor (Bradley Whitford, who even skips around the stage) and the over-the-top sexual ferocity of the stewardesses, the show plays like a cartoon and the punchline is squarely on the three-timer. The show wastes Christine Baranski - she does all she can, but her role as the household's French maid doesn't register as much more than double takes - and I'm in the minority to find the characterization choices by Mark Rylance, as the bachelor's sidekick, to be too oddball and out-there to mesh with the material. But the stewardesses are silly, delicious joy: Gina Gershon as the passionate Italian, Kathryn Hahn as the spoiled American, and most sensationally Mary McCormack as the dominating German. No one will mistake this play for top-drawer farce, but those gals make Boeing Boeing the funniest show on Broadway this season.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Prisoner of the Crown

Photo/Carol Rosegg

Richard F. Stockton's courtroom drama Prisoner of the Crown is filled with so many dubious distinctions about the defendant, Sir Roger Casement, that the play should be a knockout. For example, put to death in 1916, Sir Roger has the "honor" of being the last knight ever to be executed for treason. But the play suffers artistically from some dubious distinctions of its own, most notably how sloppy it looks and misdirected it feels. One of the most vague and anachronistic dramas I've ever seen (scene changes are set to sad jazz; actors even dance into their costume changes), Prisoner of the Crown would rather play than be a play. Some audiences will enjoy a history lesson that uses ammo like "No empire can survive the loss of its moral authority" to cast judgment on our current political mudslinging. But most will be bored and confused by this unimaginative and too comic "swift boat" of a play. Here's a political parallel for you: one cannot run a campaign (or a play) on cleverness: you need passion, too.

[Read on]

Les Liaisons Dangereuse

photo: Joan Marcus

Despite flashes of nudity and some overtly sexual on-stage business (even the climactic swordfight is staged with some crotch-to-butt thrusting) there isn't much danger in this handsome but mostly unexciting production of Liaisons: Ben Daniels' performance as Valmont is more bad boy romantic hero than icy sexual predator. As his duplicitous, manipulative partner in crime, Laura Linney works tirelessly but the role seems way out of her comfort zone and you're always aware how hard she is laboring. The stakes are therefore not set high enough in the first act (when we're meant to take at least a little perverse pleasure watching the two plotting and seducing) but the material is so strong that the second act (when we're meant to see how pitiful they truly are) works anyway: it's a solidly constructed, highly entertaining play, and even this production's missteps can't completely ruin that.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

*** (...out of five stars)
Though I've seen the film maybe ten times, this was my first visit to the play the film was based upon. It's really a damn fine play. High drama...sizzling dialogue...all that good stuff we like in our dramas. In this production we have gorgeous scenery and costumes but with Roundabout at the helm that's (generally) a given. This production belongs to that sexy Brit, Ben Daniels, cast here as Valmont, the heartless lover who accidentally falls in love. He slinks about the stage hitting on everyone who comes within pinching-range and delivers his lines with a masculine purr. I will support the general notion that lovely Laura Linney is miscast. Though she's a stellar actress, her warm aura betrays the iciness of the character's nature.

Monday, May 19, 2008

EST Marathon 30: Series A

Focusing on the bad plays in a one-act festival is a waste of time: instead, I want to reward the writers who stuck their necks out a bit to take a risk, or produce something of value. In terms of risks, Michael John Garces's Tostitos is an unfocused ball of anger, but it's filled with a real energy and vitality that isn't often found on the stage. The smaller space at EST (as opposed to with The Shalimar) has helped to develop the feeling of ennui that drives this show, but I have yet to see Andres Munar allow himself to actually feel what's going on around him. Dude, you've worked a lot since Acts of Mercy, and you obviously have talent: grow up a little. As for value, David Auburn hasn't done much since Proof, but his new one-act, An Upset, is both clever and well-acted. In my mind, it's what Deuce should have been: an exciting verbally played tennis match between waxing and waning stars, and how that feels. The structure is a little forced--that is, it's clear where the play has to be going--but the dialogue remains surprising enough to really tell us something about the cost of stardom, athletic or otherwise.

[Read on]


The teen film Saved, set in a Christian high school where a popular senior girl ditches her abstinence in order to cure her homo boyfriend, was pitched for satire; this musical adaptation is instead overly earnest and desperate not to offend, weighing down its heroine with so many wet, sincere "these are my feelings" songs that it's easy to forget that it's supposed to be a comedy. Played so often straight, the material feels tired; compared to Altar Boyz, which manages smart comedy while still respecting faith, it feels positively old and square. As long as you can accept that twenty-somethings are playing high school kids, the cast (which includes Curtis Holbrook, Celia Keenan Bolger, Aaron Tveit, and Mary Faber) is delightful - whenever my mind wandered I imagined hijacking them for a revival of Carrie: The Musical - and although the score has too many drippy ballads and some dreadful lyrics ("LIfe is screwy/So grab on to a life buoy") there is at least one song ("Heaven", easily the best production number in the show) that works splendidly as is and confirms that Saved might be savable with further development.


**** (...out of five stars)

Playwrights Horizons

I agree with Patrick that this new musical is perhaps a little too precious for its own good. A sharper satirical edge would give our colorful teenage characters another layer to play within and also would not make New Yorkers think that they're attending church. Still though, I was charmed by this perky, needy little musical that follows the exploits of a crowd of haywire teens at a Christian high school. The songs were bright, the sensibility was modern (everyone texts and facebooks) and the show zipped along at a chipper clip. The cast is pretty perfect with Celia Keenan-Bolger leading the pack as the worrisome devout Christian determined to fix her boyfriend. I kinda wanna see the movie now.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Actor's Nightmare/The Real Inspector Hound

Christopher Durang's The Actor's Nightmare and Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound are two fantastic (and fantastically different) riffs on the theater. Durang, ever the manic comedian, goes for broad strokes as he thrusts a hapless accountant, George (Michael Black), into an olio of dramas (Coward, Beckett, Shakespeare), skewering the whole lot with his memories of nuns. Stoppard, always one step ahead, ridicules the murder mystery (Christie's long-running The Mousetrap) by having two critics, Moon and Birdboot, remark on (and indulge in) the proceedings (Julian Elfer and Rick Forstmann, playing Michael Caine and Lawrence Olivier-like roles). It's a funny evening, but it's soured by thoughts of how sweet the production could have been, had Peter Jensen pushed the physical comedy further, and really sharpened the timing of both pieces. Some bits come very close, as when Spelvin haplessly grips a potted plant, or when Moon finds his own acting under the lens of the critics, but my funny bone ached for more.

[Read on]

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Four Of Us

I've got no problem being the lone dissenter on this two-hander from Itamar Moses. I found the play-within-a-play conceit to ultimately work against the show: the only thing objectively real is the second-to-last scene, and the final scene is a cute little throwaway for those who have been paying attention to all the foreshadowing in the play. It's not even all that clever in a literary sense: Tom Stoppard's satirical The Real Inspector Hound did the same for critics that Moses is doing here with writers--except that he's attempt to delve a little into the corruptive power of celebrity and the pressures of sustaining one's integrity. But it's hard to listen to people complain about such empty issues . . . especially twice, with the scenes mostly parallels of one another. You can carefully construct an echo all you want--it's still just an empty sound. But let me not be too harsh: Moses's writing is, at times, very natural and--rightfully so--a reflection of his youth. Let him get the cricks out of his hand now, and his pen may yet write something truly engaging and not facilely fascinating.

Miss Richfield 1981 Flies Over The Coo Coo's Nest

** (...out of five stars)
The Zipper Theater

With this, her second limited engagement in New York, Miss Richfield 1981 tries out her drag schtick that has made her a local celebrity in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Through musical numbers and mock therapy sessions, this colorful, sassy, loud mouthed, middle aged man in a dress attempts to solve the problems of people yanked onstage from the audience. Though intermittently funny, her improvisations are hit and miss partly due to the fact that they're kinda not improvs at all. She doesn't engage the poor bastards who get pulled up onstage more than she just labels them with fictional "problems" ("You're afraid of clowns!"..."You're afraid of germs!") and then proceeds on to her scripted monologues. This grows tedious after a while and without any sort of dramatic structure or arc, this seems like something that belongs in a bar rather than a theater. Still she does an impressive headstand and she looks very funny in her tacky/slutty dresses and 3 pound cha cha heels. I'd happily toast her at Stonewall.

Friday, May 16, 2008

August: Osage County

***** (...out of five stars)
I got to ride the August Osage coaster again! This time I let go of the bar and kept my eyes open. It's even better the second time around. I put a penny on my knee and towards the end of Act 2, it started to float! I wanna go back!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Inner Voices: Solo Musicals

Reviewed for Theatermania.

Colorful World

I was a little disappointed in Nosedive's latest production, Colorful World, because I felt that James Comtois too much respected his source material -- graphic novels like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns -- and too much indulged his usually on-the-money comedy to focus on his own writing. His show simply leaps into too much at once, and compensates with an abundance of exposition that lacks both action and drama. It's not until the second act that things shape up, with the talk of anti-heroes putting the remaining characters in real moral and mortal danger.

[Read on]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Unconquered

Photo/Eamonn McGoldrick

I laughed. I cried. I mostly laughed. Crafting a poetic rhythm out of repetition (think Seuss meets Churchill), Torben Betts's brute-force allegory, The Unconquered, is one of the most distinct and comically unsettling shows I've seen this season. It's far from subtle (imagine Edward Gorey making a life-sized pop-up book), but is all the more powerful by being completely, brutally true to form: a play following in the footsteps of many "righteous" nations before it. I'm probably reading too far into it, but given that Girl (the marvelous Nicola Harrison) becomes a symbol of her country's suffering when a Soldier (a creepily childish Neal Barry) rapes her, it's hard not to hear something beautifully vulgar in her cries to "Get out of my country!" Then again, you could just take it literally, too, and still leave the theater thinking this was one of the best things you'd seen all year, playing to the same crowds as last year's The Receipt and correcting all the grim missteps made by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

[Read on]

A Catered Affair

photo: Jim Cox

Small, somber, and unsentimental, A Catered Affair is a chamber musicalization of a 1950's era kitchen sink drama with songs so artfully scaled to the downbeat mood of the story that they play more like dialogue than musical numbers. The recitative-heavy score (by John Bucchino) is likely to frustrate theatregoers who expect musicals to deliver bombast but I found it disciplined, accomplished and finally enthralling: the music has a plainness which expresses the restrained emotions of the hard-working tenement folk in the story, never betraying them to sentimentality. Bookwriter Harvey Fierstein has erred a bit in expanding the minor role of the, ahem, bachelor uncle - the character does provide some needed levity but brings a too-contemporary "what makes a family?" sensibility that is besides the point. Despite this, the intimate "drama with music", in which a daughter's wedding announcement compels her mother to measure her own marriage against what she had hoped it would be, has a cumulative emotional power thanks to its humanity and integrity (read: trust in the material) and is further distinguished by exceptional performances. Leslie Kriter, whose vivid expressiveness usually makes her stand out from any crowd on a stage, does a fully credible turn as the Plain Jane daughter who is accustomed to being overlooked and neglected. Tom Wopat is remarkable as her long-suffering father, giving a performance that is a study in artful economy and control. But most spectacular, in the show's central role of the bride-to-be's mother, is Faith Prince's astonishing, finely nuanced performance. It isn't only that it's an astoundingly subtle and detailed performance when judged against the other ones I've seen her give, it's that it's one of the most subtle and detailed performances I have ever seen *anyone* give in a musical. Once I picked my jaw off the floor I started imagining what other roles Faith Prince could take dramatic plays.

A Catered Affair

****1/2 (...out of five stars)
No Tony nom for best musical, book or score? Wow. I am mad at the American Theater Wing for this. So far this quiet, deeply emotional chamber piece is my favorite new musical of the season. The story- financially strapped parents make a bid to provide their neglected daughter with an extravagant wedding- was brimming with nuance and humanity. The conversational score- equal parts bittersweet and wistful- couples beautifully with the pace and mood of the story. Faith Prince, the mother of the bride, skillfully conveyed just as many heartbreaking moments in the silence between the phrases as she did while she sang. Tom Wopat finally gets to originate a role on Broadway and he's dead on perfect as the tired cabbie constantly being cornered by his wife. I loved this show.

Monday, May 12, 2008

stretch (a fantasia)

Photo/Jim Baldassare

Fuck it, I'll say it: it's no stretch when I say that Stretch (a fantasia) is unmissable, no stretch for me to say that Gypsy isn't the the only show with a Rose to watch this season. The Rose in question here is Rose Mary Woods, the ultra-loyal secretary (of 23 years) to Richard Nixon who may have intentionally deleted incriminating Watergate evidence. Her portrayer is Kristin Griffith, who grounds the three different manifestations of Rose: the bundle of hard-fought opinions who smiles, beams and struts through the spotlight of her memory as she says "Go fuck yourself"; the tragically diminished modern version, vivacity bound to a wheelchair in a nursing home; and the dream version who speaks to the clickety-clack rhythm of an IBM Selectric (not to mention two violins, a bass, and a trumpet). And while yes, there are some fantastic elements (and I mean that both ways), between Susan Bernfield's writing and Emma Griffin's seamless direction, the show is utterly believable -- almost too believable, as it takes us back to the shady 2004 election, following not just Rose, but The Orderly (Brian Gerard Murray), an apathetic member of Generation Y who yearns to actually dream of something other than SpongeBob's sexuality, and Bob (Evan Thompson), a former history teacher who latches onto the actual history -- the actual life -- that Rose represents to him. The result isn't a fantasia: it's pure magic.

[Read on]

John Lithgow: Stories By Heart

photo: Joan Marcus

The first half of John Lithgow's ninety minute solo show is a warm and nostalgic pleasantry in which the actor mostly recalls the power of storytelling in his childhood home, paying tribute to his father (who put on Shakespeare plays) and grandmother (who read from books). It's an amiable prelude to the show's second half, the altogether delightful main attraction in which Lithgow reads (or, more accurately, enacts) P.G. Wodehouse's short story "Uncle Fred Flits By" with artful comic timing and delivery. Lithgow's skills are obvious and plentiful as he delineates the story's handful of characters but the show isn't aimed to put us in awe of his acting so much as it's aimed to remind us of the life that can spring from the printed page and of the simple joys of storytelling. It may be the most humble and generous one-man show I have ever seen.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Quite simply, it's taken me this long to write the review for one reason: if I'm bored at a play, I'm going to be bored writing the review. Thankfully, with that dreadful bit of snark out of my system, I can say the following things about Traverse Theatre Company's production of David Greig's Damascus. (1) Critics only complain about bad microphones when they don't actually care what the person is saying. The rest of the time, they're listening too closely to jot anything down. (2) Don't prove yourself capable of linguistic nuance or creative narrative (as with Yellow Moon), for once you do, everything else you do after that will always seem all the more mundane, especially when it actually is. (3) If you're doing a straight play about differences in culture, don't set your play in a chain hotel's lobby. Also, if it's to be understood that someone is speaking foreignlish (it's implied that the actor is not actually speaking English on stage, but another language), make sure that's clear. Not every play can be The Internationalist. (4) Don't bore a critic. Even if he says he's got the snark out of his system, it'll still be obvious to everyone that he hasn't.


I waited so long to write about this Mother's Day treat that I lost my program notes: that said, pardon my general recollections. Then again, it takes a good show to leave you with any pictures or images a month down the road, so understand that I found this production of Endgame to not only be visually striking, but emotionally accessible. Oddly enough, the high emphasis on the literary style of Beckett's words (such grand drabness otherwise) seemed to shift the story toward the metaphoric, with the play serving to reflect an artist's struggle to complete a work. Whether or not Beckett desired that metadrama on top of a play already loaded with the very real (yet statuesquely depicted) thoughts of death, I care not. Also worth noting, Max Casella was the star of this evening--though John Turturro held up well, despite (or perhaps because of) seeming to be in the grips of a Coen brothers film. Physical comedy is often spoken of as a motif behind Beckett's carefully choreographed shows, but it's rare to see a production that fully realizes the comic futility in acts as mundane as the absence and presence of a ladder.

A Seagull in the Hamptons

****1/2 (...out of five stars)
McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ

Director/writer Emily Mann has gifted us with an intense, extremely funny, heartbreaking "freely adapted" modern take on Chekhov's The Seagull. Maintaining the classic structure and the complex relationships in Chekhov's masterwork, Mann imbues this piece with wholly accessible post-millennium American language, and colorful recognizable characters (there's actually a goth chick in this). With a gourmet cast (standouts including Brian Murray, Larry Pine and Stark Sands), gorgeous scenic design, and of course the brilliant Emily Mann, we have ourselves something that is as good as or better than anything that is currently on Broadway. This is the second time I have taken the 70-80 minute train ride down to the McCarter in Princeton. You guys, it's totally worth the trip. Especially for this thrilling adaptation.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Man of La Mancha

Turns out that The Gallery Players are men of La Mancha just as much as Cervantes. Imagination (not to mention determination and passion) has taken their revival of Man of La Mancha pretty far. Jennifer McCabe doesn't have a very good vocal bridge, which sometimes makes her Aldonza a bit nasal, but she still gives a damned good performance, bringing so much passion and sorrow to the role that you may find yourself begging to be her knight. And Jan-Peter Pedross may not look (he's a bit too composed) or sound (either flat or singing in a lower key) like the Don Quixote you imagined, but his needs are palpable, and his actions are clear. As for Robert Anthony Jones . . . well, he's exactly the sort of Sancho Panza you expect, but moreover, he's exactly the sort that you need; talented enough for two, his personality is enough to carry the show wherever it might sag. That the ensemble has a few weak voices isn't really a problem: Martin Andrew's ominous set so perfectly resembles a prison that I just assumed those were actually convicts and just accepted them as rowdy additions to the show. Tom Wojtunik's to be commended for making it too hard for me to tell the difference.

Cherry Docs

photo: Caleb Levengood

A neo-Nazi skinhead, soon to stand trial for a brutal hate crime, is defended by a liberal Jewish legal aid lawyer in this two-hander written and directed by David Gow. Surprisingly, the play doesn't delve very deeply into questions of legal ethics, but it's otherwise by-the-numbers and easy to predict. What elevates it a bit above its disappointingly pat plotting is that Gow has written these two characters credibly and he's given them a lot of solid dialogue; he's also paced and directed the play sensibly so that the characters' confrontations are suitably taut and dynamic. He's fortunate that his two actors - Maximilian Osinski as the skinhead and Mark Zeisler as the lawyer - both give strong, emotionally intense performances that hold the attention even when the play is at its most formulaic.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Kirk Wood Bromley's latest play, Me, doesn't really get to the heart of Mr. Bromley. (Unless we take his mash-up of placenta mythology, ecological warning, and fractious parents -- there's father, a hammerhead shark in a golden diaper, and a mother-as-sponge -- at face value. And that's not really the point of this comic play.) However, it does get to the heart of his style, with the entrance to the theater littered with the detritus of his past, from old props and clippings to epigraphs from his favorite influences. It's fair, then, to say that this is the sort of play I imagine John Ashbery might write if he were smoking peyote and unwinding on the guitar. It's a highly literate, linguistically comic, and utterly refracted, interrupted, and regurgitated work of theater. Well, just call me a baby bird then, 'cause I ate it all up, from the self-reference to the Joyce-worthy absurdism: "When someone's obliminal nodes excite your oceanic plasma, you are hookt." Job well done for director Alec Duffy, who somehow manages to keep the twelve actors playing Kirk fresh, interesting, and on point.

No, No, Nanette

photo: Joan Marcus

I usually resist writing about dress rehearsals for a variety of obvious reasons but I want to say that this latest Encores! show - a new version of the 1971 hit adaptation of the frothy 1925 musical comedy - is certain to be a crowd-pleaser. (It runs through Monday, at City Center.) I can say so purely on the sparkle of the blissfully delightful dance numbers (put together by Randy 42nd Street Skinner) which provide spectacular transportation back to the forget-your-troubles Broadway of yesteryear. And some of the songs ("Tea For Two", "I Want To Be Happy..") are so infectious that you might find yourself grinning like a fool and humming along. I'm not comfortable commenting on the performances, but I do want to say what a pleasure it is to have Sandy Duncan doing jaw-dropping fan kicks and lighting up a stage again. At 62, she's still the best kind of "bubbly".

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Good Boys And True

*** (out of five stars)
Second Stage

In the wake of an explicit sex-tape floating around an exclusive private high school, a mother and her senior jock son must deal with the surrounding questions and all of the fallout. Is the guy in the tape actually him? If not, who is it? If so, why did he do it? This pretty good, pretty interesting play by Roberto Aguirre Sacasa, sped along and raised a whole bunch of issues surrounding the cluelessness of privileged youth and their immense sense of entitlement. With J. Smith-Cameron and Brian J. Smith leading the pack we have a designer cast living on a gorgeous designer set (an immense gallery of sports trophies) by Derek McLane. I liked this play and I was glad I got to see it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Glory Days

1/2 (...out of five stars)

I was charmed by the Cinderella story of these young first timers sneaking their little show to Broadway just under the Tony deadline. I wanted to like it but 5 minutes into it i realized that liking it wasn't going to be an option. This hanging-out-on-the-old-high-school-bleachers-reliving-the-old-glory-days (the "old glory days" being three years previous) pop musical suffered from a myriad of problems one would most likely find in the first draft of a workshop production: low stakes, cliche', stories not resolving, at least one main character missing any sort of journey at all. Nick Blaemire, the composer (obviously heavily influenced by Jonathan Larson and Jason Robert Brown) does have potential and maybe down the line can look back on this freshman disaster as a humbling learning experience as he is hopefully launching a new, more Broadway-worthy production. However, this time, no go. There was a prevailing bitterness for me while watching this wildly shocking misfire: Why the FUCK isn't [title of show] right here right now?

Sunday, May 04, 2008


photo: T. Charles Erickson

In a role written for her, Jan Maxwell sounds notes of believable anguish and despair playing a suburban mom mourning her son, recently killed along with many of his classmates in a freak accident. As good as Maxwell is, as always, she can't rescue the play, which tries to quirk up its destination to the land of Hallmark by pairing the grieving mom with a kooky, full-of-life substitute teacher whose eccentricities (such as exercising in the classroom in his underwear upon their first meeting) are meant to be endearing but mostly register as incoherent and bizarre. (Not at all the blame of Kieran Campion, who does all that anyone could reasonably be expected to do with the part). The play is further dragged down by flashback scenes of two students who also died in the accident: their scenes don't flow into the narrative and quickly sink the show's pace.

Cry Baby

** (...out of five stars)

Completely abominable? No, not at all. A run-of-the-mill, business-as-usual, generally forgettable big musical farce seems more like it. Everyone from the creative team to the performers are courageously bending over backwards to sell this ersatz Grease to the back of the Marquis, but the book and score are giving them little to work with. With no real secondary story to round out this musical (there are definitely secondary characters whose journeys each begin and wrap up in perhaps 6 lines throughout but that's different), we are left to follow our one-dimensional, mildly likable romantic leads from scene to scene to their obvious conclusion. And the journey along the way is littered with forgettable rockabilly songs and ballads that are both less delicious vintage Waters trashiness and more cutesy feigning as naughty. I want to be Harriet Harris's life-partner but not even her brilliance could make the ten mile long eleven o'clock "Let me explain everything!" monologue listenable. Not everything was forgettable though: Best. Choreography. Of. The. Year. Cheers Mr. Ashford! You certainly know your way around a posse of Drapes...(or is that a drape of Posses...?)
Also blogged by: [Patrick]

Stretch (a fantasia)

Reviewed for Theatermania

The 1959 Songbook

92 Street Y

What a great year from which to glean some of the greatest showtunes in Broadway history. A snapshot of everything running on Broadway in 1959 -including Gypsy, West Side Story, The Sound Of Music, Fiorello, My Fair Lady, The Music Man, among others- this was a heartfelt tribute to the golden age of American theater. Starring the über-talented Broadway stars David Burnham, Sarah Uriarte Berry, Sally Mayes and Donna McKechnie (all of whom were spot on in the final dress rehearsal I attended), they all tore through many of the more popular showtunes and also numbers from lesser known scores like Jamaica and Bells Are Ringing. This is a very fun evening exclamation point! One quibble: In a presumable effort to fit in as much as they could, the production was very cut and paste medley heavy. It should be ILLEGAL to only sing one verse of "One Hand, One Heart"... especially when you have the glorious David Burham and the glorious Sarah Uriarte Berry on hand to sing it. The same goes for glorious Sally Mayes' one verse of"Rose's Turn". "Blasphemy!" cries the showtune junkie!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Vengeance Can Wait

Yukiko Motoya's Vengeance Can Wait didn't convince me that the wait was worth it. Paul H. Juhn has a marvelous deadpan, and his voice delivers not just one-liners, but one-worders. And his happy victim, Jennifer Lim, is talented enough to be verbally and physically self-effacing, an embodiment of the baggy clothes she wears. But beyond this stiflingly dry style -- a style that is absurd simply because of how laid-back the straight comedy is -- there's nowhere to go, and so the actors simply go there again, and again, and again. If you think that's funny, then this is the play you've been waiting for.

[Read on]

Rafta, Rafta

I'd rather see an original show struggle and fail, like Chuck Mee's cultural smörgåsbord Queens Boulevard, than to see something like Rafta, Rafta succeed at mediocrity. For me, Ayub Khan-Din's done little more than make an ethnic adaptation of Bill Naughton's All in Good Time, and much of the comedy, not to mention drama, feels forced. Scott Elliott does his best to dress things up with bright lights, cultural knickknacks, and his use of Derek McLane's two-story set, but the story isn't big enough to fill the house, nor is the acting firm enough to make it seem lively. What we want to see -- more of the rambling but chaotically lively wedding party, or more ruminations from the father-figure's proud and troubled past -- is covered up with cheap sexual distractions and farce: no wonder the main character is impotent.

[Read on]


The Playwrights Realm

This play about a mother and substitute teacher wandering through the grieving process was written for the actress, Jan Maxwell. Thank Thespis she was available for the evening belongs to her realistic and heart-breaking take on the mom who is reeling over the death of her son. Every laugh, tear, and wring of the fist was earned as she stormed through this production with harrowing rage as though she were cornered by the entire world. She is supported by the handsome (and ripped) Kieran Campion whose nervous energy and adorable pluck matches Jan's intensity. Their scenes together are pretty damn riveting. Unfortch they are chopped up by erroneous scenes about a pair of the dead student's peers having long rambling teenage philosophical conversations about you know- teen stuff. The poor young actors are doomed from the start as we are forced to go from Jan Maxwell weeping uncontrollably to lets play a game! It seemed like two separate plays and I longed to get back to Jan every time the kids popped up. But not to fear 2/3 of this production is hardcore Maxwell and for that, it's totally worth it.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Cherry Docs

I wish that I could believe Mark Zeisler, who plays Danny, a liberal Jewish lawyer appointed to defend Mike, a Neo-Nazi on trial for an act of violence that led to a man's death. The plot, you have to admit, is hard enough to accept. I want to believe, so that I can get behind the sort of moment when Danny, holding his anger in check, refuses to punch Mike (who welcomes the violence, the language he understands best): "If I start, I'm afraid I won't be able to stop." Mike nods and gets really close to Danny: "Now you know how I feel." But because Mr. Zeisler doesn't seem genuine about any of this, we never know how he feels. Luckily, I'd recommend Cherry Docs anyway, solely on the commanding performance from Maximilian Osinski (Pablo Schrieber, look out!): I dare you not to shed a tear at his redemptive journey, going from smug and manipulative to conflicted and worried, and then from forceful denial to apologetic grief. As for David Gow's script and direction -- too much seems forced, especially the tidy final ten minutes; he would do well to listen to his characters.

[Read on]

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Not a review, just heartfelt praise for the MCC Theater Youth Company (ah, memories). Their latest group piece, "Uncensored," combines spoken word with monologues and ensemble pieces, all of which are about the empowerment of these teenagers. Here's freedom of speech, whether it's about "skinny jeans" (trivial to some, crucial to others), the latest gossip on "Gossip Girl" or even, with a nod to the audience, where exactly the denouement is supposed to go, and what a play's supposed to be. (There's even a storybook presentation about the child-raping "muffin man.") "This is not a play," says one of the 26 actors on the stage. But it is: minds at play, and audiences engaging with them, and damned if there isn't enough clever splicing from the cast and director Stephen DiMenna to make the whole evening slide smoothly from segment to segment, even if the pieces themselves often crash up against one another.