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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Art Times: What We Can Do When We Work Together

My latest essay is up at Art Times
I just voted, and I’m a nervous wreck. The sad truth is that no matter who wins, it’s not going to be pretty. We seem to have lost the ability as a country to work together toward a common goal, if indeed we ever had it. 
And that’s one of the many reasons I adore theatre.
[keep reading]


Katharine Hepburn and Constance Collier
in Stage Door

Monday, November 05, 2018

The Thanksgiving Play

I see political correctness as largely a good thing. For me, it connotes trying to honor other people and their needs; calling people by their chosen names; respecting that people with different backgrounds have different experiences; and so on. On the other hand, political correctness can be taken waaay too far. Larissa FastHorse's wonderful new comedy, The Thanksgiving Play, takes place on the other hand.

Greg  Keller,  Jennifer  Bareilles, 
Jeffrey  Bean,  Margo  Seibert
Photo: Joan Marcus
Four people assemble to develop a thanksgiving play for an elementary school. They are to be the writers and the performers. Logan (Jennifer Bareilles) is the director. She works at the school, and the posters on the walls (the witty scenic design is by Wilson Chin) attest to her theatre tastes and values. Her boyfriend, Jaxton, self-righteously humble, is so thrilled to be involved that he is performing without pay. Caden (Jeffrey Bean), a history teacher and playwright wannabe, knows all about the truth of the "real Thanksgiving," which of course was not exactly full of turkeys, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and good will. The fourth writer/performer is Alicia (Margo Seibert), a well-known actress who has been promised a big paycheck. Logan and the others defer to her since she is Native American and therefore her opinions must come first.


Inner Voices 2018

Every couple of years, the theatre company Premieres commissions three sung monologues. The writers are given no limitations in terms of content or theme. The latest three monologues, Inner Voices 2018, display a remarkable range of styles, voices, and content. Two are terrific; the third less so. But all are worth seeing, and it's a unique evening in the theatre.



The first show of the evening, Window Treatment, was my favorite. Farah Alvin plays a kind of sweet stalker who is in love with a man who lives across the way. He doesn't have curtains, and she watches him, lovingly and creepily, with binoculars. She has also followed him in the real world, but has never spoken to him. Written by Deborah Zoe Laufer (words) and Daniel Green (music), the show is stuffed full of psychological insight and humor. Alvin's performance makes the most of her amazing voice, excellent acting, and heartfelt clowning. It's a real treat.

Waiting for Godot

The superb Druid production of Waiting for Godot, which is part of the Lincoln Center White Light festival, is damn close to perfect. Garry Hynes's meticulous direction exquisitely balances the pain and humor of Beckett's heartbreakingly funny play. While the famous review of Godot, saying that "nothing happens...twice," is not untrue, the show is full of emotion and meaning. What exactly it means has been debated, but certain themes seem clear: Life is meaningless and absurd. Most of us nevertheless choose to go on living. Human connection helps.

Aaron Monaghan, Marty Rea
Photo: Richard Termine

Godot hits particularly hard this time around, with the rich bully Pozzo, full of bluster and in desperate need of constant flattery, being a scarily effective stand-in for our 45th president.

Aaron Monaghan as Estragon and Marty Rea as Vladimir combine their wonderful sometimes-subtle, sometimes-broad acting with a physical grace that is a sheer joy to watch. Another gift for the eyes is the gorgeous set (designed by Francis O'Connor), which turns Beckett's tree, stone, and road into a Van Gogh-esque landscape of barren beauty.

Photo: Wendy Caster

Everyone affiliated with the production provides top-notch work, including Rory Nolan as Pozzo, Garrett Lombard as Lucky, and designers James F. Ingalls (lighting) and Gregory Clarke (sound). A special tip of the hat to movement director Nick Winston, whose work deliciously blends clowning and grace.

This production only runs through November 13, which is a pity.

(Aside: in an article in the program, designer O'Connor says that Beckett's specific scenery descriptions turned out to be liberating. He adds, "They made us ask fundamental questions, to investigate those few things he allows and how they interact. We asked, What is 'tree"? What is 'stone'? What is 'road'?" Really? Really?? It seems like laughable nonsense to me, and yet O'Connor's set is a work of art. So, what do I know?)

Wendy Caster
(8th row, press ticket)
Show-Score: 97

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Big Apple Circus

If you have any interest in circuses; if you love the daring young people on the flying trapeze; if you are entertained by amazing juggling or impressed by feats of strength or fascinated by people who can bend their bodies like proverbial pretzels or balance way high in the air, go see the Big Apple Circus!

Photo: Amy Schachter

The Big Apple Circus provides the chills, thrills, laughs, and ooohs and aaaahs of a three-ring circus in one small ring, with a level of intimacy that adds to the fun. The ringmaster, who doesn't actually do much, is the fabulous Stephanie Monseu, with a haircut like Annie Lennox's, a huge smile, and a ton of presence. The clowns (new style clowns, without painted faces) are genuinely funny. The performers are completely amazing. And there's a new act, called Wall Trampoline, which is unlike anything I've ever seen before. No description could do it justice. Just go see it!

I can't guarantee that "a good time will be had by all," but I'd bet on "a good time will be had by at least 99%."

Wendy Caster
(2nd row, press ticket)