Monday, December 29, 2014

A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations)

Photo: Matthew Murphy
Sam Shepard came to prominence chronicling the battered and bruised families of the American West, so it should come as no surprise that he would set his sights on the most dysfunctional family in the history of theatre. His latest play, A Particle of Dread, is, as its subtitle suggests, a duel reimaging of Sophocles' trilogy, transported to two of Shepard's favorite locales: Ireland (by way of Thebes) and the contemporary Southwest. The former is a fairly straightforward retelling of Oedipus the King, albeit with strong brogues; the latter, a bloody true crime mini-epic that could be the love child of Breaking Bad and True Detective. The two narrative strands unspool through interlocking scenes, sometimes with accentual erasure, in order to keep the audience sharp to the dramatic parallels. And while the elements don't always come together harmoniously, the high-octane proceedings are never boring. Shepard's gift for tight, menacing language is sharp as ever, and the crack cast (which includes Tony winner Brid Brennan and, as the Oedipus figure, the great Stephen Rea) is, to a person, superb. A Particle of Dread concludes its run at the Pershing Square Signature Center on West 42nd Street this Sunday; it is brief, engrossing, and well-worth the effort.

[Sixth row center, TDF]

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Film Review: Into the Woods

It's not good. It's not bad. It's just nice. And perhaps that's why the long-awaited film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, which opened Christmas Day, is largely a disappointment. Directed by Rob Marshall, it is slick, stylized, and without much spark, not unlike Marshall's other two high-profile forays into movie musicals, Chicago (2002) and Nine (2009). The sets and costumes are beautiful. The performances are all professional and proficient, some are even great. The pace is spry. Yet the endeavor stops short of being wholly satisfying. It feels strangely empty in a way that even the less-than-perfect stage productions of this musical I've seen over the years never have.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014: A Year in Review

Rebecca Hall and Morgan Spector in Machinal.
Photo: Joan Marcus
2014 was, like most theatre-going years, a grab bag of exquisite highs, painful lows, and a wide, bland middle. But as Wendy and Liz have both so rightly noted in their end-of-year essays, one of the beauties of being an unpaid blogger is that we have the luxury to focus on that which we enjoyed the most. Those who read my reviews regularly probably wish I would heed that advice more often--since rejoining this site over the summer, I've noticed that my negative columns seem to outweigh the positive--but I believe that one of the functions of this site, other than highlights and promoting the productions I absolutely love, is to advise readers to steer away from (or, at least, proceed with caution towards) that which I feel isn't worth the time and expense. Before I shower with praise the productions that lifted my spirits and transported me in the way that only good theatre can, I'll briefly highlight the hours of 2014 I spent in theatres, wishing I was somewhere else.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Year-End Roundup

Every year, I rack up regrets over shows I never got the chance to see. I missed Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 &3) this year, for example, and also Sticks and Bones and Bootycandy. That being said, I got to see some great productions, among them 18 I blogged about for Showdown. While a few of them--Bread and Puppet Theater's summer circus and New Hazlett Theater's production of Parade--were so far off Broadway as to be in different states entirely, most of them were right here in New York, a city that I love mightily and want the very best for.

Sure, this year, I experienced some theatrical lows. I made no secret of really, really disliking If/Then. And I really have no idea what the fuck was going on with Outside Mullingar, despite some good performances and a nice set. There were a few shows I chose not to blog about at all because I had nothing terribly insightful to say about them (and, in the case of The Death of Klinghoffer, because I just didn't want to wade into the controversies that drew away from what was, in the end, a beautiful if flawed opera in a beautiful if flawed production).

But as Wendy notes in her end-of-year post, one of the joys of being a theater blogger is that we don't have to see stuff that we know will suck. We might pay for all our tickets, sit in crappy seats, and waste far more time on this blog than we should, especially when we have books to work on and classes to prepare for. But on the other hand, we are predisposed to like the things we choose to see, and we get to share our impressions with people who read our blog posts and almost never feel compelled to leave abusive comments or spam us with porn. Really, as I see it, it's a win-win situation.


Marianne and Roland first meet at a barbecue. No, wait. It was a wedding. She's interested in him, but he has a girlfriend. Or was it that he was just out of a relationship, not ready to date? The answer, actually, is all of the above. Constellations, Nick Payne's 2011 play, which is currently receiving its American premiere at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, espouses the wormhole theory that the world is made up of millions of parallel universes existing side by side. On each wavelength, we might live an identical experience, altered only by a minor variation. It affects how we live our lives, and, more to the point here, how we fall in love.

It's almost impossible to speak more specifically about the plot of this brief, beguiling play without ruining the eventual experience you'll have when you see it. And you should see it. Payne has managed to squeeze more meaningful interaction and thought-provoking questions into sixty unbroken minutes than any other play I've seen thus far this season. And despite what you might expect from the highly-stylized text and dramatic devices, Constellations is, at its core, a portrait of romance and connection. It's funny, moving, occasionally frustrating, and deeply human; in short, everything you could want from a play.

Constellations marks not only the Broadway debut of playwright Payne, but of the production's marquee names: Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson. Gyllenhaal previously starred in Payne's If There Is, I Haven't Found It Yet Off-Broadway; Wilson, a two-time Olivier Award winner in London, is best known for her current starring role on Showtime's The Affair. Both are extraordinarily good here. Never leaving the stage, they manage to map the complicated trajectory of an entire relationship in several dozen mini-scenes, some non-verbal, some lasting mere seconds. Rarely have I seen such an intense connection between two performers, and I imagine their bond will only grow stronger as this production moves towards its official opening on January 13. It's almost certainly guaranteed to be 2015's first must-have ticket.

[Last row mezzanine, deeply discounted ticket]

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Best of 2014

Rebekah Brockman, Tom Pecinka
in Arcadia
Photo: Joan Marcus
Aaah, the joys of being an online reviewer. I don't get paid, and I often have to buy my own tickets, but I don't have to see shows that don't interest me. This may be why I always have robust "best of" lists--I'm choosing among shows I was predisposed to like. This doesn't mean I love everything. I saw some serious stinkers this year (Your Mother's Version of the Kama Sutra, Architecture of Becoming, Nothing on Earth (Can Hold Houdini), Bullets Over Broadway, Intimacy). But on a whole, I had a very exciting year in the theatre.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy)

He's not really the messiah. His mom is Mandy, not Mary. She's certainly not a virgin. For that matter, neither is he. Well, you know the story.

It's Monty Python's Life of Brian, only now it's an oratorio, called Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy). It's written by Eric Idle with Pythonian flair and composed by John Du Prez in a variety of styles (e.g., pop, Broadway, folk, etc.), all delightfully ear-friendly. Ted Sperling does a fabulous job conducting and directing, using the Collegiate Chorale and Orchestra of St. Luke's to their fullest, as they don hard hats, comment on the action, argue really well, and make a truly joyful noise.

Eric Idle, Victoria Clark, William Ferguson, Laura Worsham
with the Orchestra of St Luke's and the Collegiate Chorale,
conducted by Ted Sperling
Photo: Erin Baiano

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Once Upon A Bride There Was A Forest

In the first scene of Kristen Palmer's Once Upon A Bride There Was A Forest, Josie (Rachael Hip-Flores) tells her boyfriend Warren (Chinaza Uche) that she will finally marry him but first she has to search for her father. Warren doesn't want Josie to go off on her own, but she promises to call every night and to be back in a fortnight. Off she goes. Soon her car breaks down. There's this big house...

Rachael Hip-Flores, Kristen Vaughan
Photo: Isaiah Tanenbaum

And now....the audience

Have you seen the Broadway League's recent report on the demographics of the 2013-14 Broadway audience? If you haven't, and you're interested, you can check it out here.

I recognize that demographic surveys strike a lot of people as about as interesting as watching a boring person eat a sandwich. But I look forward to the ones the League release, because they give us as clear a picture of the commercial theater audience as anyone can get. Believe me when I tell you that there is nothing more maddening, when it comes to writing about popular entertainment, than not being able to truly assess the audience. Until we develop some sort of magical device that allows us to read, with incredible accuracy and clarity, the Borg-like hive-mind that makes up any group of spectators, the Broadway League's demographic reports mean a lot, and I'm grateful for them.

That being said, the findings in this particular study don't strike me as especially celebratory.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Side Show

Call me Joanne Kaufman. I knew from the downbeat of the horrifically misguided new production of Henry Krieger and Bill Russell's Side Show, currently in its final weeks at the St. James Theatre, that when intermission came, it would be time for me to go. The original production--which made Broadway stars of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, despite a similarly short run--is beloved by many, myself included. Coming of age musical-theatre obsessed in the late nineties, I don't think there was a cast album I subjected my parents to more. (Love ya, mom and dad!) The compelling story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, the unabashedly melodramatic score, and the harmonious blending of those two leading voices--what more could you want? Maybe my personal bar was set too high, but the heavily revised book and lyrics pale in comparison to the original, and Act One (which is all I can fairly judge) crawls along at a snail's pace. The staging, by Academy Award winning film director Bill Condon, has no spark; attempts at freak show hyper-reality bring to mind Spencer's Gifts more than Tod Browning.

It also doesn't help that Emily Padgett and Erin Davie, playing Daisy and Violet, respectively, are as charisma-free a pair of headliners as I've ever seen in a major musical production. In the original production, Skinner was a strong alto capable of riffing her face off, while Ripley employed both an angelic soprano and a fearlessly high belt. Padgett and Davie both sing like church sopranos, dull as dishwater. It's smart singing, perhaps, but never exciting. Their voices and physical presentation (both done up in mousy brown wigs) are so similar that it's often hard to tell them apart, much less care about their hopes and dreams, which they enumerate in "Like Everyone Else," a merciful holdover from the original production. The rest of the cast--which includes Ryan Silverman, Matthew Hydzik, David St. Louis, and Robert Joy in principal roles--is serviceable, if hardly captivating.

photo: Drew Angerer

Side Show will shutter on January 4, 2015, seventeen years and one day from the original production's closing date. It will have played even fewer performances than its predecessor. Perhaps, as was the case then, the closing notice will bring renewed interest to this struggling revisal. I'd say that you'd do just as well to stay home and listen to the vastly superior original cast recording.

[Last row orchestra, all the way to the side, TDF]

Wednesday, December 03, 2014


photo: Jeremy Daniel
Since his brilliant debut play, A Bright New Boise, had its New York premiere in 2010, Samuel D. Hunter's output has been both prodigious and prolific. At 32, he's already picked up an Obie, a Lucille Lortel Award, and a MacArthur "Genius" Grant. He's been averaging 2-3 new plays a year, including The Whale, a problematic, fascinating look at obesity and isolation, and The Few, a strange and satisfying little play that recalled early Sam Shepard. Time and again, Hunter has chronicled life in his home state of Idaho with the same gimlet eye that August Wilson once brought to Pittsburgh. All of which makes the spectacular failure of his latest work, Pocatello, so nakedly glaring. Set in a failing Italian chain restaurant (you know the one, even though it's never named), this boring and formless attempt at dark comedy is staler than a day-old breadstick.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Beautiful is one of those shows I meant to see when it first opened, and then right before Tony time, and then right after Tony time, and then over the summer. . .  and then I just sort of moved on once I realized that (a) getting cheap tickets to the show wouldn't be easy as long as the Tony Award-winning Jessie Mueller was heading up the cast as Carole King, and that (b) I did not want to cough up a lot of cash to see a musical that was roundly received as sweet and diverting, if hardly brilliant.

But then, fellow-blogger and longtime friend Sandra got a special offer, and we leapt upon discount tickets to Beautiful like--well, honestly, like two middle-aged women who grew up listening to Tapestry and who are exactly the target audience for this particular musical would. The upshot? Beautiful is indeed sweet and diverting, if hardly brilliant. That doesn't mean I didn't tear up a couple of times, and chuckle genuinely at other times. An added bonus: Jessie Mueller remains in the show, as does a vast majority of the original cast. They remain fresh and committed and sharp, and I was glad to see them. Mueller is as strong in the title role as everyone in the universe has already said she is; I'd like to add that Anika Larsen, as Cynthia Weil, and Jarrod Spector (no relation) as Barry Mann, are particularly appealing and well-suited, too.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Is all really fair in love and war? Not according to the thriller-comedy-love-story-political-commentary Asymmetric, written by the wonderful Mac Rogers, directed by the also wonderful Jordana Williams, and produced by Group UP and Gideon Productions at 59E59

Sean Williams, Kate Middleton, Seth Shelden
Photo: Deborah Alexander
As political commentary, Asymmetric offers a fascinating and important debate about the idea of "us" versus "them," with one character viewing "us" as the United States, our people, our guys, and the other viewing "us" as the human race, with no "them." I am struck by the fact that Rogers uses a woman character to embrace humanity and turn against drones and killing, despite (because of?) her previous close relationship with human destruction. Rogers is the second playwright this year to have a tough woman fight the idea of raining death down from the sky, and I have the same questions I discussed in that review (Grounded by George Brant):
... I wonder, does Brant believe that women, ... feel sympathy/compassion differently/more than men do? Is [the main character] supposed to be unique or representative? Or both? Would Grounded be the same if it were about a father rather than a mother? Men and women can be so different and yet so similar....

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sticks and Bones

The 1950s and early 1960s masqueraded as an innocent time in the United States, and nowhere was the masquerade more vivid than on television, with its faux perfect white families with their faux problems and their faux reality. In his deeply disturbing play, Sticks and Bones, David Rabe uses one of those families--Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky Nelson--as his canvas to show how America's war in Vietnam stripped the United States of its masks and revealed the confusion, hatred, and violence underneath. What raises this angry comedy to brilliance is Rabe's compassion for the faux perfect family as their willful blindness is destroyed when David, the older son, returns from Vietnam suffering from actual blindness.

Raviv Ullman, Bill Pullman, Holly Hunter,
Ben Schnetzer, and Morocco Omari
Photo: Monique Carboni
In a way, the main conflict in Sticks and Bones is between reality and denial: David can only survive with reality, and the others can only survive in denial. [spoiler] This is why the family is so eager to aid David by helping him to kill himself. It is not his pain that are seeking to end, it is their own, and they are all willing to have him die for their sins. [end of spoiler]

Sunday, November 23, 2014

On the Town

As Carol Oja points out in her new, excellent book Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War, the 1944 musical On the Town is not nearly as well-known or celebrated as Jerome Robbin's and Leonard Bernstein's 1957 collaboration, West Side Story. It's also not as cohesive or as deep, which is not to imply, at all, that it's bad. It isn't--especially in joyful revival at the historically cursed Ford/Hilton/Foxwood/Lyric Theater. 

A landmark work that is perhaps celebrated less for its aesthetic achievements than for its introduction to Broadway of a young, superlatively talented, and enormously influential creative team (Bernstein! Robbins! Betty Comden! Adolph Green!), On the Town was the result of disparate elements that were blended together in a hurry. Based in part on the short ballet Fancy Free, which premiered to enormous acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera House in April 1944 (and which you can see in its entirety here), On the Town was expanded into a full-length musical that opened on Broadway in December of the same year. Still deeply rooted in dance and, like Fancy Free, primarily about three sailors on shore leave, On the Town's book and lyrics were added by Comden and Green, who drew largely from material they'd been using in their nightclub comedy troupe, the Revuers (which also featured Judy Holliday, and for which Bernstein sometimes served as pianist).

The resultant musical is as dense a mix of highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow elements as the disparate influences imply: moody classical dance sequences are accompanied by Bernstein's symphonic scoring, while hips grind suggestively to his jazzier, bluesier numbers. Other numbers are all about wide-open, smiling faces and optimistic Broadway brass. Through the show, erudite, elitist characters mix easily with crasser, coarser ones. There are ridiculous plot-lines and moving ones (sometimes, these are one and the same). There are subtle jokes, corny jokes, recurring jokes, cheap jokes, dirty jokes.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lost Lake

Lost Lake is a brief, largely unsatisfying two-hander that only catches fire in its final moments. As the title suggests, both Hogan (John Hawkes) and Veronica (Tracie Thoms) are lost: she's a widowed mother whose professional life quickly unravels in light of a stupid mistake, and he's the wayward caretaker of a dilapidated, largely unrentable lake house in Upstate New York. Longing for idyll and escape for herself and two children, and suffering from a shortage of cash, Veronica agrees to take Hogan's place for a week; she's his only renter for the season. The first seventy-five minutes of this ninety-minute one act unfold banally, with Hogan and Veronica alternatingly arguing over repairs he promised but failed to deliver and disclosing their personal troubles. We learn why Veronica lost her job; why Hogan is estranged from his daughter and essentially homeless; we learn the ways in which they're more alike than might seem at first. Unfortunately, Auburn's writing hardly strikes sparks, and while Thoms and especially Hawkes (under Daniel Sullivan's direction) do fine work, a majority of the play remains uninvolving.

The play's final scene, however, is another story. In fifteen minutes, Auburn is able to capture the depths to which these two people have fallen, and how painfully alone they feel. It's striking in its profound darkness; the playwright rejects the redemptive sluice so fully, and that in itself feels gratifying. I cannot say that it's enough to recommend the play overall, though. Would that Auburn had written an entire work worthy of those fifteen minutes.
[Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. Last row, extreme side. TDF.]

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Elephant Man

photo: Joan Marcus
Unique questions arise when presenting differently-bodied characters in theatrical productions. Should one be painstakingly literal--either out of respect, or to offer the audience a chance to fully wrestle with its collective prejudices and preconceived notions--or should the artists let the mind's eye do at least some of the work? Recently, Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale (presented by Playwrights Horizons in 2012) and Donald Margulies' The Model Apartment (first produced in 1995, and revived to acclaim last fall; both by Primary Stages) used extraordinarily convincing body suits to present morbidly obese characters, played by Shuler Hensley and Diane Davis, respectively. The effect was primal and immediate: there was no hiding from plain fact of two people succumbing to their size. Oppositely, the recent Broadway premiere production of Violet, in which the title character has a disfiguring facial scar, used no make-up at all. The physical deformity was evoked solely through the actions of the actor (Sutton Foster) playing the role, and the reactions of those around her. Cases can be made for both the strongly literal and the evocatively figurative characterizations.

Bernard Pomerance's ever-popular The Elephant Man has always stringently shied away from using anything other than vocal or physical mannerisms in portraying John (real name: Joseph) Merrick, a real-life Victorian man whose horrible deformities gained him notoriety and a certain amount of celebrity in his own time. In fact, most productions have taken pains to cast conventionally attractive men in the role. The original production starred Philip Anglim, who had worked as a model prior to becoming an actor; Mark Hamill (at the height of his Star Wars fame) and David Bowie acted as replacements. A 2002 Broadway revival featured the dashing Billy Crudup. The current revival, in previews at the Booth Theatre after a successful Williamstown Theatre Festival engagement two summers ago, outdoes them all, with box office megastar and former People Sexiest Man Alive Bradley Cooper assuming the title role. And while this handsome but lifeless production does not make a case for the play as an enduring stage classic, Cooper's anchoring central performance is imbued with both skill and passion.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Love Letters

Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

Alan Alda and Candice Bergen replaced Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy as the two life-long pen pals that rarely physically connect in A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on November 9. This third Broadway rotation of famous pairs follows the play’s usual bare-basics format, with no real set– just two chairs, a table, two scripts, two beverages and two actors that remain on stage reading letters placed in a binder. Alda and Bergen enter with no pomp, merely suddenly appearing on stage: She in a soft, dark sweater and pants; He in a blue button-down topped with a gray blazer.

Without changing sets or elaborate costumes, the play relies on the actor’s physical interactions and pacing to add intimacy during the letter reading of the 50-year correspondence between Connecticut elites Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (Alda) and Melissa Gardner (Bergen). Despite a slow start, where seven-year-old versions converse at length about drawing pictures for one another and other childhood sundries, Gurney’s tale, ultimately, becomes moving as the letters’ simplicity convey the humor and tragedy of life in a compact 90 minutes.

While such a scaled-down concept allows for poignant sentimentality, it offers little context. While, the play touches on serious issues like sexual abuse and fractured families, it does so without ever delving deeply into these situations—allowing time between confessions to flash forward without much commentary from the other party. Even when Melissa tells Andy she’s going to see her father with his new family in California and he prods her persistently, “Write me about California. How’s your second family?,” she only eventually replies that she doesn’t have any such thing. This happens often: a character reveals some horror without any follow-up.

It is not the clichéd story that grabs the audience here—where the man becomes a senator with the perfect wife, who works part-time sales in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s gift shop, and three strapping sons and the free-spirited Melissa travels the world but ends up depressed, divorced and spending $155 a day drying out in rehab—rather the reassuring idea that even unfulfilled promise can elevate the importance of human existence.

Gurney’s play initially opened at New York’s Promenade Theater in 1989 and has become a regular staple of regional theater since, probably because it is easily mounted and allows actors a platform that requires no dancing, accents or pages of memorization. In this version, Alda often relies on his script, and goes for handfuls of minutes without making eye contact with the audience. Still, he imbues Andy with the proper New England remoteness and pomposity that hints of an underlining sensitivity of a more thoughtful man. Bergin is the opposite; she animates Gurney’s words with eye rolls, grimaces and gesticulations. Sometimes, all the activity feels over-the-top but she makes Melissa likable and fun, even as the character’s life darkens.  It’s nice to see Bergen back on Broadway in a bigger role than in her last venture as another suffering wife in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.

Alda and Bergen appear in Love Letters until December 18th. Stacy Keach and Diana Rigg star in the show from December 19th-January 9 and Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen from January 10-February 15.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Real Thing

Many people consider The Real Thing to be Tom Stoppard's most accessible play, and I suppose that's true--but at what cost? Instead of Stoppard's usual verbal and mental fireworks, and frequently big heart, we get a bunch of whiny, unlikable people who couple and uncouple and talk and talk and talk. The biggest talker bears more than a passing resemblance to Stoppard himself: playwright, discerning, exact, witty, etc. However, Stoppard is no kinder to his stand-in than he is to the other characters. All of them are painfully self-involved and deeply annoying. It might be more possible to sympathize/empathize with these people if we saw more of their good sides (assuming they have them), or even if their bad sides were more interesting (see George and Martha, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf).

The current Roundable production--directed by Sam Gold and starring Ewan MacGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Josh Hamilton, and Cynthia Nixon--does the show no favors. The performances range from competent to wooden, and none of the four manages to truly inhabit his/her character. (Then again, why would any of them want to?) The last production, with Jennifer Ehle and Stephen Dillane, was better, but the play still came across as thin. Eloquent, of course, but thin.

I will match my love of Stoppard's work (see reviews here and here) to anyone's, but the popularity of The Real Thing  baffles me.

(full-priced ticket; last row balcony)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Indian Ink

The show is by Tom Stoppard. It takes place in two time periods. In the more recent period, a scholar is trying, with mixed success, to understand what happened in the earlier one. The play's themes include memory, love, class, and social mores.
Rosemary Harris, Romola Garai, Bhavesh Patel
Photo: Joan Marcus

No, this is not Stoppard's magnificent Arcadia. It is instead his not-quite-as-magnificent but-still-amazing Indian Ink. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Delicate Balance

photo: Brigette Lacombe
A classic boulevard comedy is back on Broadway. The side-splitting laughter that rings through the auditorium is fairly deafening. No, I’m not talking about the acclaimed revival of Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You, which I reviewed a few weeks back. Nor am I discussing Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play, which is minting money over at the Schoenfeld Theatre thanks to its starry cast. And no one has snuck a Neil Simon favorite into the season’s line-up. The play in question is Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, and it’s a scream.

Apparently, A Delicate Balance is uproariously funny. A real knee-slapping laugh riot. At least, that’s the impression being given by the current, woefully misguided revival of this Pulitzer-Prize winning masterpiece, which is several weeks into previews at the John Golden Theatre. Directed by the usually reliable Pam MacKinnon and featuring an ensemble cast with boldface names to spare, this production projects a tone-deaf unsteadiness from the moment the curtain rises.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sticks and Bones

photo: Monique Carboni
I wasn't around forty-three years ago, when David Rabe's Sticks and Bones premiered at Joseph Papp's Public Theater, the second work in his trio of plays about Vietnam (the other two being The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Streamers). It quickly moved to Broadway, where it earned the Tony for Best Play of 1972 over a boulevard comedy by the then-almighty Neil Simon. It ran six months and was adapted into a TV movie for CBS, a controversial move that resulted in over half of the country's affiliates refusing to air the film. No, I wasn't around when this play premiered, but I can imagine the impact it had, because the first New York revival (being presented by The New Group at the Signature Theatre complex on West 42nd Street) stick packs one hell of a wallop.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bedbugs! It's a Musical

Rex Bonomell
Every stage musical is a reflection of its place, time, and culture, and this is no less true for Bedbugs! It's a Musical than it is for something comparatively celebrated or canonized--say South Pacific, Hair, or In the Heights. If I wanted to give you an extensive reading on the sociocultural subtext of Bedbugs!, for example, I could start with the obvious: the collective fear of those dreadful, elusive, blood-sucking little beasties. But then, I could easily move on to discuss the show's reflection of contemporary environmental concerns, the ramifications of celebrity and power, the search for love and sexual fulfillment in an increasingly technology-driven world, and, finally, national anxiety over the potential for terrorist attacks in post-millennial America.

But fuck all that. I'm convinced that the creators of Bedbugs!--bless them, every one--don't want you to focus on anything too deep or upsetting while you're at the show. I'm going to go even further and guess that they want you, instead, to have a great time watching an appealing group of very committed actors perform a show about how a dedicated (if slightly batty) scientist (Grace McLean), her long-suffering sidekick, Burt (Nicholas Park), and the fallen megastar Dionne Salon (Brian Charles Rooney) bond together to save present-day New York City from a scourge of human-sized mutant bedbugs, which is being led by a hunky, preening bedbug king, Cimex (Chris Hall; picture what Cheyenne Jackson and Tim Curry's love child might look like in glitter makeup and an enormous, tentacled headpiece and you've arrived.). 

Sunday, October 26, 2014


I'm sad to say that the Yale Rep production of Arcadia closed yesterday. It's one thing for me to suggest that you take a train up there to see it and another to suggest a time machine. But if you do happen to have a time machine...

Tom Pecinka, Rebekah Brockman
Photo: Joan Marcus

The Yale Rep production of Arcadia was lovely. Smoothly and clearly directed by James Bundy, this production of Tom Stoppard's most wonderful play honors and underlines its perfect balance of brain, heart, and genitals. The two story lines are gracefully intertwined: one, about Thomasina Coverly, a young math genius in the 18th century, and the messy lives of the people around her; the other, about 20th-century scholars trying to understand what happened during the time period depicted in the first.

Thomasina is my favorite Stoppard character. Her innocence and brilliance, her straightforward way of seeing the world, her development from girl to woman are deeply real. That you know that she will not live past the time period shown in the play is devastating. One measure of the strength of this particular production is that I had tears in my eyes for most of the 2nd act. It was my 6th production of Arcadia, yet the emotions were as deep as the first time.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Real Thing

photo: Joan Marcus
The Real Thing, Tom Stoppard’s popular romantic comedy (if it can be called that), is back on Broadway in a starry revival from the Roundabout Theatre Company. This is Roundabout’s second Stoppard offering this season; their Off-Broadway space is currently housing the first major New York staging of his 1995 play Indian Ink. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I favorably reviewed that production last month. Unfortunately, despite a strong central performance from Ewan McGregor, in his American stage debut, this outing is far less successful.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Have you ever seen Change of Habit (1969), the last movie Elvis Presley had a starring role in? Presley plays a doctor who works at a clinic. . . "In the Ghetto". Mary Tyler Moore co-stars as an undercover nun (seriously) who assists him in the clinic and, soon enough, agonizes over whether she should throw Jesus over for him. It's as horribly, brilliantly, gloriously awful as it sounds, and if you haven't seen it, you should, especially if you are drunk, high or (ideally) both. A subplot involves a young, autistic patient at the clinic. "She's hiding behind a wall of anger," Elvis knowingly tells Mary when they first examine her. Elvis and Mary eventually load up on coffee--and gumption!--and let the patient rage and scream and flail and cry for, like, a full day without a break. Lo and behold, at the end of the day, she's exhausted, but magically cured of autism, and Elvis and Mary happily go back to making moony eyes at one another while attending to other slum-dwellers.

Change of Habit popped into my head at some point during The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, not because the latter is even remotely awful, but because I wondered if, someday, The Curious Incident would seem as quaintly ridiculous and outdated as Habit is when it comes to its depiction of neurodevelopmental disability. I certainly hope so, not only because medical advances are a good thing, but also because I have a son on the autism spectrum, and I admit feeling frequently frustrated by how little anyone really knows about the disorder. During positive moments, though, I like to remind myself that, at the very least, we've left Elvis in the dark ages. As far as autism goes, we no longer resort to dumb, simplistic assessments involving real or metaphorical walls of anger. As we work toward answers, simplistic black-and-white dichotomies have given way to a lot more gray. There's something comforting in the gray. It's what we have right now. That's something.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lips Together, Teeth Apart

photo: Joan Marcus
Terrence McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart was written at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and premiered Off-Broadway in 1991. The original production—which starred Nathan Lane, Swoosie Kurtz, Christine Baranski, and Anthony Heald—was an instant smash, running for over a year; an LA production, with Lane, Andrea Martin, and John Glover, was also very successful. The work of a gay author who would go on to write several plays about AIDS from a gay perspective, Lips Together is unique—both then and now—for portraying the experience of a disease so often linked with the gay community through a heterosexual lens. Some might even call the play a precursor to McNally’s enormously successful, similarly-themed Love! Valour! Compassion!.

Lips Together was set to make its Broadway debut in 2010, via the Roundabout Theatre Company, but that production was derailed just weeks before it was set to begin previews when its star, Megan Mullally, abruptly quit. (Rumors at the time swirled that Mullally had tried to get her co-star Patton Oswalt fired, in order to replace him with her husband, Nick Offerman). The piece is now receiving its first New York revival under the auspices of the Off-Broadway Second Stage Theatre. As with any once-current play that has aged into a period piece, there are more than a few creaky moments. And while this production is smoothly directed (by Peter DuBois) and features at least one stand-out performance, it does not make a convincing case for the play as an enduring masterpiece.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Oldest Boy

photo: T. Charles Erickson
Tenzin is three years old. He lives in what is described as "an American city with a large Tibetan community." His Mother (Celia Keenan-Bolger) is a white American academic, whose literary specialty is the use of religious symbolism in the works of atheist authors. His Father (James Yaegashi) is a Buddhist exile who owns a Tibetan restaurants. In all respects, Tenzin appears to be a normal toddler. That is, until the day two monks arrive at the family's house and inform his parents that they believe him to be the reincarnation of a venerated Lama.

Sarah Ruhl's The Oldest Boy, currently in previews at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, looks at issues of faith, family, and sacrifice through cultural and religious lenses. The characters, particularly Mother and Father (with the exception of Tenzin--the title character--no other figures are given names), are forced to question the duties they owe to their past, their future, and their culture. When the monks ask permission to take Tenzin to India to be "enthroned,"
and educated so that he may achieve his full potential within the Buddhist tradition, the American notions of childhood and family are placed in contrast with the Tibetan monastic custom. The family must decide whether to keep their son at home, in America, or sacrifice his life for the well-being of a country he will likely never see.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

You Can't Take It With You

Sara Krulwich
You Can't Take It With You, currently running in star-studded revival at the Longacre, has been reviewed twice already on this blog. Wendy really enjoyed it (you can read her review here); Cameron really didn't (you can read his review here). I'd place my take on the production somewhere in-between theirs, though maybe a little closer to the Wendy side of things (sorry, Cameron): I enjoyed myself, in large part because I found the current Broadway production to be lively and well-performed and quite funny. But also, I dug the nostalgia trip: I played Penelope Sycamore in the Central Catholic High School of Pittsburgh's 1983 fall production, and seeing the show (with a friend who played Alice in a Denver high school production a few years later) brought back fond, if surprisingly fleeting, memories. Was the revival the best thing I've ever seen on Broadway, or even at the Longacre? No. Was it the worst? No. Did it seem like the all-star cast was having as much fun as I remember having when I was in the play? You betcha.

You'll likely have lots of fun, too, if you go to see it. Then again, the world probably won't end if you don't, and You Can't Take It With You is all about doing what you feel like doing, so you can decide and I won't judge you either way. That's about all I have to say about this particular production. I'd rather talk here, instead, about You Can't Take It With You from a more socio-historical perspective. Again, honest, I won't judge you if you stop reading right now.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

The only aspect of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time about which I am curious is what the appeal of this show is to so many people. Adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s prize-winning novel and transported from London, where it won seven Olivier Awards and continues to do brisk business, the current Broadway production opened over the weekend to rapturous reviews. (Example: Marilyn Stasio of Variety implores us to “believe the buzz” and describes it as “spectacular, like Cirque du Soleil for the brain.” Okay.) The box office numbers are through the roof, and major award nominations are a foregone conclusion. Then why did virtually every aspect of this endeavor leave me so cold?

Monday, October 06, 2014


photo: Joan Marcus
Disgraced, Ayad Ahktar’s Pulitzer-winning powder keg of a play, is finally making its Main Stem debut. Produced once again by Lincoln Center, it has arrived at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre without losing a smidge of its volcanic force. Smoothly directed by Kimberly Senior (who helmed the previous Off-Broadway production two seasons ago) and performed by a peerless cast, this is easily the most thought-provoking, entertaining, and frankly, chilling piece of theatre currently in New York.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Rock Bottom

Bridget Everett, creator and performer of Rock Bottom, has been described as challenging, gutsy, provocative, hard-rocking, raunchy, and raucous, and those adjectives don't even begin to describe her in-your-face persona. With songs like "Tell Me (Does This Dick Make My Ass Look Big)" and "Eat It," she holds no punches in her depiction of aggressive sexuality and human foibles. Much of her material sounds like it is out of a drag queen's show; the rest takes feminism to places it hasn't been before. Her language is, uh, straightforward. The only word she uses more than cunt is pussy, and the only word she uses more than pussy is dick. If her sort of work is your cup of tea, you'll have a great time. She's very good at what she does.
Photo: Kevin Yatarola

If, however, you're like me, you'll find the show long, boring, obnoxious, and unpleasant.

Since Rock Bottom is so much a matter of taste, there's not a lot for me to add in terms of a review. However, I do want to discuss the concept of "consenting adults" in theatre.

In the course of Rock Bottom, Everett has much to say against rape and molestation, and how they are the perpetrators' responsibility and not the victims'. Her song, "Put Your Dick Away," makes its points in vivid language. I admire her for taking on this important topic in a cabaret act. But...

The Last Ship

On one hand, The Last Ship, music and lyrics by Sting, book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, has already had a run in Chicago and should be in pretty good shape. On the other hand, it doesn't open for a few more weeks, and the show might still change. So take these comments with a larger grain of salt than usual.
The story is basic. A young Englishman doesn't want to do the difficult and dangerous manual labor--in this case, building ships--done by his father and the other men in his town. So he leaves. He promises his girlfriend he will return or send for her. Many years pass. The ship-building industry moves from Northeast England to Asia. The now-idle men feel angry and ashamed. They decide to become strippers. Oh, wait, wrong show. They decide to build one more ship. Their foul-mouthed priest helps them. 

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Lady Parts by Andrea Martin

It should come as no surprise that Lady Parts, the recently released memoir from Broadway favorite Andrea Martin, is often hysterically funny. Along with Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, and John Candy, among others, Martin is one of the original SCTV cast members, memorable for creating Edith Prickley and impersonating everyone from Indira Gandhi to Liza Minnelli. She has two Tonys on her mantel, winning her most recent one for last year’s gravity-defying turn as Berthe in Pippin (a role she’s currently recreating, for a short time, on the national tour). On screen, she’s known for scene-stealing turns in films like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Yes, Martin’s comedy credits are legit.


By intermission, I found Bootycandy to be an entertaining, occasionally insightful, and random collection of skits. By the end of the play, I realized that Bootycandy is a smart, brave, wily, and important exploration of race, sexuality, and humanity, and an entertaining, very insightful, not-so-random collection of skits.

Phillip James Brannon, Jessica Frances Dukes,
Benja Kay Thomas, Lance Coadie Williams
Photo: Joan Marcus

Written and directed by the impressive Robert O'Hara, Bootycandy mainly presents scenes from the life of Sutter, a gay African-American. There are also scenes without Sutter. One of them, a rather extraordinary sermon, is clearly part of Sutter's story. Another, an almost mugging, seems out of left field, but turns out to be a set-up for a later scene. Together, they add up to an amazingly complex whole that depicts and often satirizes black culture, white culture, theatre culture, black homophobia, white homophobia, human stupidity, and the ways that difficult childhoods can warp people's souls.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Next to Normal

Next to Normal is a superb musical. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's depiction of a woman derailed by mental illness and loss, and of the people around her, mixes compassion, humor, insight, and a wonderful score to explore the deepest parts of human lives. It's a staggering achievement in many ways. (The plot is discussed in mega-spoiler detail below.)

Benjamin Sheff, Carman Napier
Photo: Bella Muccari
The Gallery Players' production of Next to Normal (running through October 5) is an honorable, straightforward, and frequently successful attempt to grapple with this challenging show. Next to Normal needs, first and foremost, a top-notch actress and singer to play Diana, the lead character, as she struggles with bipolar disorder, disappointment, and grief. Carman Napier is up to the challenge. Her performance is smart and subtle; her singing is excellent and her enunciation is clear; and she looks and feels right in the part. She's too young, but she's so good that it doesn't matter.

Next to Normal also needs to be technically successful; the sound, in particular, is quite important. In this aspect, unfortunately, the production fails. At best, the balance between music and performer is barely okay; at worst, it is terrible. The night I saw the show, Lindsay Bayer, as Natalie, was frequently inaudible, through no fault of her own. It wasn't clear if her mike was broken or the sound cues were off, but her performance was lost. As was much else.

While I Yet Live

photo: James Leynse
Billy Porter, the talented, Tony-winning star of Kinky Boots, makes his playwriting debut with the autobiographical drama While I Yet Live. The production, directed by Sheryl Kaller and presented by Primary Stages, is handsomely staged and generally well-acted, but the play--like several of its central characters--suffers from an identity crisis. Porter doesn't seem to have known what he wanted to write: is it a kitchen-sink family drama, a coming-of-age (and coming out) story, a meditation on faith and its effect on black lives, a record of hard-won personal growth? In the end, he tries to incorporate all of these elements into one play, and the result is lopsided.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On the Town

A new Broadway revival of On the Town began previews over the weekend at the oft-renamed Lyric (nee Foxwoods, nee Hilton, nee Ford) Theatre. There were no survivors.

This is not going to be a complete review. I left at intermission, so I can only base my opinions on what I saw in the first act. Yet, what I saw truly appalled me. This is the kind of production where, if it was your introduction to the piece, you'd wonder what caused anyone to hold it in any regard. This staging is so bad that it calls the unquestionable genius of the piece--the gorgeous Leonard Bernstein score, the witty and wry Comden and Green lyrics, the delightful cast of characters--into question. From Joshua Bergasse's listless choreography, to John Rando's tone-deaf direction, to a principal company painfully short on charisma, there's nothing to be found that rates a big Navy E.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Waiting for Godot (Vartn af Godot)

Waiting for Godot is one of those masterpieces of modern drama that everyone has read or seen or, at the very least, picked up the basics of through cultural absorption. (If you have managed to make it to this point in your life without ever having heard a thing about the play, here you go: Two guys with memory issues wait around in a sort of dreamy, disconnected wasteland for someone named Godot. They meet two other memory-challenged guys who are locked in a real whopper of a power struggle, and the four of them all kill time together. Then there's an intermission, and pretty much the same things happen again in act II. At the end, the original two guys go back to waiting on their own. Godot never shows up.) Being the landmark that it is, Godot has been translated into many languages and gets staged an awful lot all around the world. Since it first showed up in New York City in 1956, Godot has been performed by Very Big Names. The Broadway premiere featured Burt Lahr and EG Marshall; a revival the following year starred Geoffrey Holder, Earle Hyman, and Mantan Moreland.

As if convinced that the show wouldn't click with....well, with anyone unless very famous men were in it (Becket wasn't cool with with the idea of women doing the show), producers seem to have made star-studded casts a requisite for any New York-based Godot revival. BAM staged it in the late 1970s with Sam Waterston, Austin Pendleton and Milo O'Shea. The Mike Nichols production at Lincoln Center in 1988 went simply balls out with megawatt famousness: it featured Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Bill Irwin, F. Murray Abraham, and Lukas Haas. In 2009, Nathan Lane, John Goodman, John Glover and Bill Irwin (again) took Godot on; just last fall, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley appeared in yet another starry revival.

It occurred to me the other night, after agreeing to attend a performance of Godot in Yiddish at the tiny Barrow Street Theater in the West Village, that the play has been revived so frequently, and so fancily, that I've just never bothered to see it. I've read it, sure, but I've never seen one of the star-studded casts perform this monster masterwork about the tragicomic nature of human existence. My bad; it's just one of those shows, like King Lear or Grease, which shows up so often that I always figure I'll easily be able catch it the next time around.

The other thing that occurred to me--after I'd committed to a date and secured a ticket to the Yiddish version--that maybe my first time seeing Waiting for Godot should have been in a language that I actually understand.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Valley of Astonishment

In Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne's charming new piece, The Valley of Astonishment, the titular valley is that uncharted, elusive area where brain metamorphoses into mind and the unexpected can occur: perfect memory, hearing colors, only being able to move one's body parts while looking at them. A theatricalization of, and riff on, the findings of such scientists as Oliver Sacks (well-know for The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other books about neurological anomalies), The Valley of Astonishment is in some ways like the coolest Ted Talk ever, with skits.
Jared McNeill, Kathryn HunterPhoto: Pascal Victor/ArtComArt

The main-ish character is Samy Costas, an unassuming journalist who doesn't understand how astonishing her mind is until her editor sends her to, well, have her head examined. Samy remembers everything. Everything. Her brain is a compulsive producer of mnemonics, constantly churning out pictures and associations and locating them in a mental map of her neighborhood that she can "visit" whenever she wants to access her memory. But when she becomes a nightclub performer, astonishing people with her mental talents, she comes up against an unexpected question--can her brain become full? And then what?

Uncle Vanya

I have this theory about plays and movies. If the main character or another character learns something and grows, the piece can last hours. But if the characters remain stuck and learn nothing, the show can't be over two hours. Ninety minutes is ideal. Now, I understand that Uncle Vanya is a brilliant classic, but OMG the characters in it are annoying. No one learns a damn thing, and it's over two hours.

Does anyone ever learn anything in a Chekhov play? Chekhov was the patron saint of stuck people, people who can't read the writing on the wall, people who ignore good advice, people who sink into quicksand without even waving their arms and crying, "Help!" On one hand, I admire the heck out of Chekhov. His compassion and subtlety are impressive, and he juggles heartbreak and humor admirably. But if I never see another Chekhov play in my life, I will not mind at all.

The current production of Uncle Vanya at the Pearl is largely solid and well-acted. The scenery and costumes are effective. Hal Brooks' direction is good. The show's largest asset is Chris Mixon's performance as Vanya. Most Vanyas I've seen are pathetically kidding themselves during their "I coulda been a contender" speeches. They blame other people and the universe for making them the failures that they would have been anyway. In contrast, Mixon's Vanya has an undeniable spark and might really have accomplished something. His life is still his own fault and not anybody else's, but there is an extra level of meaning in his Vanya. Nevertheless, he still doesn't learn a damned thing.

(5th row center, press ticket)

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Country House

[As with my review of Indian Ink, this post contains what may be considered spoilers to some. Read ahead at your own risk. -CK]

Photo: Joan Marcus

The Country House is a rare--and a rather wide--miss for Donald Margulies. At first I wondered if this was due to the playwright stepping out of his comfort zone. Then I realized that he doesn't really have one. He's written everything from standard domestic dramas (his Pulitzer-winning Dinner With Friends to searing accounts of the effects of war (2010's Time Stands Still) to chamber plays like his famous two-hander, Collected Stories. His plays usually feature strong female characters, and this one--ostensibly, at least--is no different. In the end, I've come to believe that Margulies is weighed down by the anxiety of influence.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Fatal Weakness

If there is a theatrical heaven whence long-deceased playwrights can watch their work, then I'm certain that George Kelly is thrilled with The Mint's new production of his fascinating play, The Fatal Weakness, elegantly directed by Jesse Marchese. And I imagine he is particularly delighted with Kristin Griffith's wryly subtle performance as Mrs. Ollie Espenshade, a woman who discovers that she has been taking her marriage, her husband, and herself for granted. Griffith has an astonishing ability to simultaneously hide and reveal her emotions, just as she can be simultaneously heartbreaking and funny. Add to that her crack timing and superb listening skills, and the result is one heck of a performance.

Kristin Griffith, Cynthia Darlow
Photo: Richard Termine

Monday, September 15, 2014

Love Letters

Portrait by Ken Fallin

A.R. Gurney's Love Letters has long been a favorite of regional theatres and one-night-only benefits. Its conceit is simple: two performers--a man and a woman--sit side by side at an oak table and read the titular epistles, which amount to over fifty years' worth of correspondence. It's easy to produce, with a simple set and no props, and easy to entice well-known actors to participate, given the lack of necessary rehearsal and optional memorization. It's also, often, heavy on the schmaltz. I did not go into the current Broadway revival of the play, currently in previews at the Brooks Atkinson, expecting to be moved. Yet as the lights came up, I found tears in my eyes.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Indian Ink

[Note: This review contains potential plot spoilers. You have been warned. -CK]

Photo: Joan Marcus

Roundabout is starting its Broadway season with an all-star revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing. Beginning October 4, that production will shepherd the Broadway debuts of Ewan MacGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and feature the talents of Cynthia Nixon (who appeared, at eighteen, in the original New York production of the play) and Josh Hamilton. By all accounts, it will be an event. But Roundabout was not content to mount only one Stoppard offering this fall. The English master’s 1995 saga Indian Ink, featuring the indomitable Rosemary Harris, is currently in previews at the company’s Off-Broadway space, The Laura Pels Theatre. Helmed by American Conservatory Theatre’s artistic director Carey Perloff and featuring a smashing performance by the British actress Romola Garai, it’s a lush and luxurious staging of one of Stoppard’s most gratifying works.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

The acclaimed, awarded Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is currently benefitting from addition by subtraction. Neil Patrick Harris is gone, and he's understandably taken some star quality with him, but that's not necessarily a bad development. Currently filling out the wig and heels is Andrew Rannells, who, despite being the original star of the most successful musical in recent memory (The Book of Mormon), is not a huge name--or persona--in his own right. Whereas the awareness that you were watching a star playing a role was inescapable in Harris' interpretation of the "internationally ignored song stylist" who escaped communism and repression with a botched sex change, Rannells burrows deep into the character, wringing layer upon broken layer of meaning from John Cameron Mitchell's still-brilliant score. His voice is perfect--equal parts rock-tinged, poppy, and Broadway-beautiful--and his manner conveys an earthy sexuality that just feels so right for the role. It's a virtuoso performance that captivates the audience (now smaller, but no less fervent in its adoration) for the entire intermissionless performance. Michael Mayer's production and Spencer Liff's choreography remain boring and uninspired, and while Lena Hall is unquestionably excellent as Hedwig's husband/back-up singer Yitzhak, I still don't see it as a Tony-worthy role. Rannells continues as Hedwig through October 12; catch him while he's there.
[Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, without intermission. Rear balcony seats, $37.]

Thursday, September 04, 2014

You Can't Take It With You

photo: Joan Marcus

The new Broadway revival of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s You Can’t Take It With You is spectacularly bad. This, perhaps, shouldn’t be surprising. New York theatre no longer specializes in top-drawer revivals of the classic comedies of the twenties, thirties, and forties. Once in an ever-growing while, you’ll get a production like Doug Hughes’ The Royal Family, done for Manhattan Theatre Club in 2009, where a talented cast creates the kind of magic that makes you feel like the golden age never ended. More often, though, you end up with subpar stagings that might even make you question the integrity of the original work: the Kim Cattrall Private Lives; the Victor Garber Present Laughter; Roundabout’s ghastly Old Acquaintance. There are even more such productions of which I don’t care to be reminded.
This new take on the Pulitzer-winning classic, staged by Scott Ellis in a Roundabout co-production, seemed so promising. On paper, the cast is divine. The set takes your breath away as soon as the house lights dim. The incidental music by three-time Tony winner Jason Robert Brown had my toes tapping. Yet as soon as the gums started flapping, I knew something was terribly wrong.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

You Can't Take It With You

Oh, the joys of a well-made, genuinely funny comedy. Oh, the joys of a solid cast of Broadway stalwarts doing what they do. Oh, the joys of a sold-out theatre rocking with laughter. Oh, the joys of Kaufman and Hart's classic, You Can't Take It With You.

With the thinnest of plots,  Messrs. Kaufman and Hart fill three acts with comic bliss. Tony Kirby loves Alice Sycamore. Alice loves Tony. Tony's family is staid. Alice's is idiosyncratic. Alice's family has Tony's over for dinner. All hell breaks loose. There is never any doubt about where the show is going, but, oh, the fun of getting there. You Can't Take It With You has begot many progeny, but none can touch it for sheer joy.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

This is Our Youth

Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow

In 2014, a play written in 1996 and set in 1982 is making its Broadway debut. Still with me? The play is This is Our Youth, the first major work by Kenneth Lonergan, who went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for the smart and touching film You Can Count on Me and make the Pulitzer shortlist for The Waverly Gallery. Some might consider This is Our Youth a modern classic: the acclaimed, extended original run in New York is often cited as a breakthrough not just for Lonergan but its original star, Mark Ruffalo; a long-running London production featured the likes of Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anna Paquin, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Chris Klein, to name just a few. Nearly twenty years after its premiere (and thirty years after it’s meant to take place), it’s on Broadway for the first time, in a production that’s billed as a “comedy” and coming direct from a well-received run at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater. I suppose the question is, does the play stand the test of time?

My answer, in short, is no. This handsome but lifeless production, staged by Tony winner Anna D. Shapiro and featuring the Broadway debuts of Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson, shows that what was once perhaps an immediate and recognizable appraisal of the play’s title “youth” has become not much more than a creak-ridden museum piece. It doesn’t help, either, that one member of the central acting trio is severely miscast.

And I and Silence

What happens when people have no options? Specifically, what happens when a pair of women, best friends who met in prison, try to make good lives for themselves in a world that has little use for them? In Naomi Wallace's poetic, uneven, heartbreaking, awkwardly named And I and Silence, what happens is not pretty.

Trae Harris and Emily Skeggs
Photo: Matthew Murphy
Jamie is black and smart and unyielding; she was an accessory to a robbery. Dee is white and uneducated and explosive; she stabbed someone in self-defense. When they meet, they are 17 and 16. Dee wants so much to be friends with Jamie, after seeing her stand up to a guard, that she sneaks from the white section to the black and shrugs off Jamie's rejections until Jamie succumbs to her admiration and offers of friendship and candy.

They spend much of their time together practicing to be maids. Jamie has the knowledge, and she tutors Dee in dusting, shining silver, and even how to bend down. They test each other's ability to put up with mean bosses and ill treatment. They discuss how to deal with sexual harassment (leave, and always remember to take your bucket and brush).