Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Secret Agenda of Trees

Struggling semi-white-trash single-mom families are nothing new to the theatrical canon, nor should they be: they make for great drama. Drunk one-night stands with strange, domineering men that turn into lengthy, tainted-love relationships: those are no surprise neither. But The Secret Agenda of Trees handles the two with such a succulent grasp of language that Colin McKenna's play rises above its stereotypes and major dramatic cliches (like a drug overdose and rather restrained recovery). It also has one final trick up its sleeve: a gifted daughter who styles herself after Rosemary Clooney and lives in a fantasy world, but who also nurses her own addiction to a wannabe Salvatorian-gangbanger named Carlos (Gio Perez is, unfortunately, the one character in the play who doesn't surpass the stereotype). That's original, or at least Sarah Lord's brilliant portrayal of her is, flushed as it is between monologuing dream narratives and fearless real-world experiments. Make no mistake, Veronica is the heart of this piece, and she pumps with such ferocious strength that there's more than enough blood to circulate even through the limper, less defined vessels of the show.



PS122 (where else?)

After severely disliking last year's An Oak Tree, I was leery about this production of Doublethink which, like ...Tree, features performers who walk into Act 1, Scene 1 completely unknowing of what the hell's gonna happen over the course of the show. In ...Tree it was a long list of orders: "Okay, stand here now". "Say this". "Now look over there". etc. It got very tedious and I could sense the actor's frustration with being micromanaged. Doublethink generally begins with the same concept (though here there are two actors who cannot see each other who are performing the same tasks). It is when another layer of reality (which I shouldn't give away here) is added that this performance art experiment really pops and becomes this trippy, fascinating, avant garde study in human behavior. These actors, like in ...Tree , still have those "what on earth have I gotten myself into?" looks on their faces but that's exactly what the creators of Doublethink were hoping for.
Also blogged by: [Aaron]


Attention: you've got the rest of this weekend, and this weekend only, to catch Doublethink, by Rotozaza, at PS122, before this marvelously human exhibition vanishes from the stage. This double-blind experiment in trust, communication, and committment is absolutely thrilling, and even after the whole thing becomes a wonky avant-garde display, our two surrogate guest performers (on my night, Steve Cuiffo and Theo Kogan), are too innocent to make us feel as if we've been used or toyed with in any way. For all the instructions they're fed in private (or publically, for the first thirty minutes), they're still ultimately as much in the dark as us, and it's a thrilling Space Mountain-like ride for those of us willing to follow down the rabbit hole. And but so then plus, my personal commendation to Neil Bennun and Silvia Mercuriali for so smoothly operating that ride; I couldn't ask for better Mad Hatters and White Hares.

[Read on] [Also blogged by: David]

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sweet Love Adieu

Lion Theatre
Left at intermish.

note to self: your ADD makes you tune out Elizabethan verse.


I've come to expect good things from Ensemble Theatre, and their latest presentation, Serendib (part of the First Light Festival), is a serendipitous gem. Using agile, arm-throttling puppetry (designed by Emily DeCola) and working off a wryly comic but intelligent script (about scientists and monkeys, no less!) by David Zellnik, this jungle-themed show is an engaging work of parallels between man and ape. The conclusion drawn--that "we all eat at the same banquet of fears and desires"--isn't exactly surprising, nor is the plot's presentation, but the puppets are great, and the fluid way in which Carlos Armesto has managed to have the actor leap from their human role to their monkey alter-ego makes for a theatrically promising evening. Plus: more puppet sex than Avenue Q -- and a monologue during one particularly vigorous rutting. Who can pass that up?

[Read on] [Also blogged by: David]

Thursday, March 29, 2007

John Fugelsang's All The Wrong Reasons

Heads up!
I caught Fugelsang's one man show at New York Theatre Workshop last weekend and it's pretty darned special.
My review is here.
NYTW is offering discount tix below.
I say GO!

Tickets for all performances March 23 - May 6 are just $35 each (reg. $50).
Use code AWNYTW6 when ordering.
To purchase tickets, call TeleCharge at (212) 947-8844 or visit

New York Theatre Workshop also offers both Student Tickets and CheapTix Sundays.

CheapTix Sundays: All tickets for all Sunday evening performances at 7pm are just $20 each! Tickets are available in advance but must be purchased at the NYTW box office on a cash-only basis.

Student Tickets: Full-time students with a valid student ID may purchase $20 tickets for all performances (subject to availability). Limit one ticket per ID. Tickets must be purchased in person and require an ID at the box office.

The NYTW box office is located at 79 East 4th Street (between Second Avenue and Bowery) and is open Tuesday - Saturday from 1pm - 6pm.

Prometheus Bound

photo: Richard Termine

Prometheus was bound to a rock for thousands of years. Theatregoers have an easier stretch of it at the Classic Stage Company's heavy-handed production of Prometheus Bound: just eighty minutes of monotony. I won't say that nothing has been done to mitigate the theatrically static nature of the centuries-old play - there is dramatic music that raises the pulse, and some interesting use of movement for the female chorus - but what has been done is not nearly enough. I spotted at least half a dozen fellow theatregoers snoozin' only a half hour in. The big news here is meant to be British actor David Oyelowo as the bound Prometheus, and while there is something to be said for the ferocity of the rage he sustains for the length of the play, I longed to see him in something (read: ANYTHING!) else.

The Pirate Queen

photo: Joan Marcus

Hilton Theater

It was kinda fun watching Jeff McCarthy, after so brilliantly playing the most sarcastic character in the history of musical theater in Urinetown, attempt sincerity while decked out in a Della Reese wig. The valiant trooper gives it his best shot as does everyone else (each also trapped in their own personal wig hells) in this musical that definitely looks and sounds like a Boublil-Schönberg but gives us neither the memorable melodies or invest-worthy book that made Les Miz and Miss Saigon work so well. All the homoeroticism, step-dancing, endless sword-play made this feel less of a high-stakes passionate epic and more of a cheeseball pageant attempting to capitalize on the Riverdance phenomenon. Is it good enough to secure a best musical Tony nom? Possibly. Depends on how good the wigs are in Legally Blonde and LoveMusik.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Pirate Queen

photo: Joan Marcus

It's nearly impossible to take anything that happens seriously in the lavish new musical The Pirate Queen, which combines the earnest bombast of Les Miserables and the visceral choreography of Riverdance with a historical preposterousness not seen since Princess Amneris' pop-art fashion show in Disney's Aida. A lot of professionalism is evident in the musical stagings and in the design, but it's all more than a little crazy: whenever the story (of a 16th century swashbuckling Irish lass who defied gender conventions by leading men in battle against England) starts to sag, you can be sure the boys in the ensemble will soon be pounding boots to floor in costumes that sometimes show off their chest waxes, so very popular in Ireland in the 1500's. The book should be a lot better than it is - what could potentially be a sensational girl-power story is sabotaged at every turn and has no more emotional punch than a pageant - and the music only has a Celtic flavor when it's time for a jig. Mostly the songs sound like Celine Dion cover bait, or alternately like rough drafts for numbers from other Boubil-Schoenberg shows; play along from your seat and spot the wannabe "Her Or Me," "Master of the House," "At The End of the Day," etc. Stephanie J. Block does all she can in the title role - she's likeably determined and gets a moment or two to break through the spectacle - and Linda Balgord is entertaining if you don't mind that she's asked to play Queen Elizabeth as a drag queen might in 1980 at The Pyramid. All my attention went to Hadley Fraser whenever he was on stage: he sings with so much gusto and passion that you think, yes, now this crazy musical will finally start to soar. No such luck.


By now the confrontational dance of abused and abuser is almost a dramatic cliche - in this case, Una (Alison Pill, exceptional) corners Ray (Jeff Daniels, staggering) in his workplace and forces him to deal with the lingering damage of their sexual relationship (which ended when he was forty and she was twelve). He served time, changed his name and is terrified that she's tracked him down; she's a walking, rageful wound, desperate for closure. We've seen this dance before, but rarely with the force and the impact of David Harrower's stunning, psychologically astute play, which shrewdly plays tricks on the audience's sympathies before its jolting final scenes. Although it's unlikely to be as popular, partly due to its ugliness and its graphic content (I counted six walkouts at the performance I saw, attention: David Bell!), theatregoers are going to be talking about this play as they did with Doubt, debating what *really* happened. You'll hear some praise about how Harrower has written shades of gray into the situation. That's only true up to a point; for me, while open to many nuances of interpretation, this brilliant play is ultimately a grim reminder of the life-long reach of abuse. It's the best and most riveting new play I've seen so far this year.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Altar Boyz

Onward, Christian hotties! Its third year off Broadway, and the hip-pumping, Bible-thumping boyband musical is still sending out (God is) good vibrations to those who believe in prayer, and to those whose prayers are answered by five hunks busting out moves in tight denim. This current cast has the show in tight, crowd-pleasing shape and the songs and dance routines are just as endearingly fun and funny as ever; I wouldn't want to meet the person who could resist laughing at the Boyz' horns-on-head move when they sing about Satan. I'll confess to three Deadly Sins while groovin' to Altar Boyz for a third time: Gluttony, because I couldn't get enough of Chris Gatellii's choreography; Envy, because the musical is that rare breed of satire that gets across with a smile rather than a sneer and I wish I had written it; and Lust. "Nuff said there.

Essential Self-Defense

photo: Joan Marcus

Playwrights Horizons

Though just as dark and pensive as his Red Light Winter, Adam Rapp's new play raises the fun bar by offering us colorful quirky characters in a wildly playful theatrical world. Like Jack Goes Boating at The Public, this play features a shy loserish loner pursuing another shy loserish loner. That's where the similarity ends though as this play is no romantic comedy but a sharp, borderline absurdist examination of fear in America. I would not be surprised if the two leading roles were written specifically for Paul Sparks and Heather Goldenhersch (a post-millennium amalgam of Carol Kane and Georgia Engel) as these two brilliant actors both bring SO MUCH in terms of characterization to this play. We have ourselves here a very imaginative, thought-provoking, very entertaining, very relevant play. Go see it.
Also blogged by [Patrick]

Sunday, March 25, 2007

David's East Village Show-Crawl 2007

On a chilly Saturday I quietly wandered through the East Village and caught four shows for a total of $32.

2pm- Prometheus Bound. Classic Stage. *** The most high-falutin' of the four (it had an official Playbill®!), this was a very urgent and angry production of the classic Greek tragedy. There are three types of people: those who understand Ancient Greek translation texts, those who don't but act like they do, and those who freely admit that they don't. I land wholeheartedly in the third category as I assume much of the fidgety matinee crowd I sat among did too. I was able to absorb the general ideas of the effects of imprisonment and hopeful redemption but as for the specifics? Greek to me. I am perceptive enough though to appreciate the pretty extraordinary performance of the chained up Prometheus given by David Oyelowo who maintained a passionate, honest intensity for the duration of the 90 minute production. The chorus intermittently sang in acapella harmony. Very nice touch.

4pm- 99 miles to Philly. No, this wasn't a show (though it'd be a great title if it were). This is an AMAZING Philly cheesesteak restaurant on 3rd between 12th and 13th. Don't be afraid of ordering one with cheez whiz. It's like slathering a production of Dreamgirls with Jennifer Holliday.

5pm- Genesis, No!. PS122. **** Normally I run in the opposite direction when confronted with performance art as I find it usually takes itself way too seriously. However, seeing as how Neal Medlyn, an insanely unique downtown comic, was a part of the cast I knew this probably wasn't going to be the case. For a little over an hour, this 6 person cast of humor-dancers used the entire warehouse style space by bouncing up and down on their tippy-toes, chasing each other around, knocking things over and making fun of themselves and the craft of performance art as a whole. It was messy, naughty, nihilist and a total blast!

6:30pm- The Boiler Room- 2 bud lites. HX and Next.

8pm-John Fugelsang's All The Wrong Reasons. NYTW. **** This is a new one man show tying together stories about religion, familial relationships, drugs, careers and other stuff written and performed by former television personality ("prompter monkey", he calls it) John Fugelsang. Initially I was worried that this former VH1/Funniest Home Videos vee-jay wouldn't be able to bust out of his weatherman-style delivery but we must remember to trust NYTW's generally good judgement of character. This was only his second performance and already there was an ease and naturalness to his delivery. Even better, the writing- humorous stories filled with introspective observation and a surprising amount of warmth- was actually better than I would have ever expected. I was won over and completely charmed by this man with stories to tell. Go see it. Favorite line: "Paul Mcartney's Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time was playing over the speakers. You know the one. It's the song that sounds like two Casios fucking."

9:30pm- Urge- 2 bud lites. 1 phone number.

10:30pm- Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind. The Neo-Futurists at Kraine. **** Perfect for a late night East Village jaunt! Premise: One hour timer. 30 2-minute plays. GO! This thrilling frantic chaos was dappled with puppets, tea parties, diatribes, impersonations, audience participation and about 100 other things as the hilarious cast zoomed from one short play to the next depending on which number the audience called out after each work. My favorite play was about a woman collecting spit, ear-wax, hair, etc. from her friends because she wanted to keep DNA samples of those she loved. It was actually quite beautiful and made me tear up in 1 minute and 20 seconds. Go see it. It's totally whack!

12:00am- Bed.

The East Village theater scene is edgy, eclectic and economical. I was just planning on watching Discovery Health channel and cruising on the internet all day. I'm glad I chose otherwise. I had a very good day.

The Taming of the Shrew

photo: Donald Cooper

I'm usually annoyed when a director forces his own high-concept interpretation onto a classic - too often the result is more about the director and much less about the classic - but I couldn't possibly complain about Edward Hall's rigorous, revelatory take on this Shakespeare comedy. Directing the all-male Propeller Company (the London troupe currently installed for a few more days at BAM to perform this in rep with Twelfth Night), Hall mines the story of willful Kate's "taming" at the hands of husband Petruchio for something that registers for a modern audience as wholesale abusiveness. While conforming more or less as much to Shakespeare's text as I've seen in other recent productions, this vivid interpretation plays the relationship less like a belly laugh and more like a punch in the gut. The "truth" that emerges is no longer about the submission of women, it's about the capacity for brutality in men.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

volume of smoke

volume of smoke may not be as focused on a hot topic as The Laramie Project, but that's fine: the center of this tragic is a physically hot topic, an "Awful Conflagration of the Theatre" that killed seventy people in 1811, and the emotional core is a molten-smooth assemblage of declamations from the dead. This show takes the wry, honest moments that I liked most from, say, The Burning Cities Project and confronts tragedy dead on with ash-blackened imagery and the beautifully squeamish language. Did I mention that the six-person ensemble is fantastic, particularly Abe Goldfarb and Daryl Lathon, who really seem to love everything about theater? Or that Isaac Butler (who has expanded a lot since I saw The Amulet) is a technically precise, physically gripping director? Clay McLeod Chapman has a distinctly haunting prose that brings to mind a more eloquent Chuck Palahniuk, and I recommend this play very highly to everyone.

[Read on]

The Producers

photo: Paul Kolnik

It seems right that the most-Tony'd-ever musical is going out with John Treacy Egan and Hunter Foster in the leads: not only are they an ideal team, they can also probably each claim to have played these roles on Broadway (Max and Leo, respectively) at least nearly as often than anyone else during the show's six year run. (Egan also put in time as Franz and as Roger DeBris: is that some kind of a first, three principal roles in the same production?) Besides a believable rapport that gives the show warmth, and drum-tight comic timing that keeps the show firing away at a machine-gun clip, the Egan-Foster pairing offers the pleasure of what is probably the best-sung Producers that's ever been. After Tony Danza's brief stint it's great to see the show once again working on all levels in its last weeks; too bad the critics were dispatched some weeks ago to see that bit of stunt casting, when it wasn't.

Friday, March 23, 2007


photo: Sandra Coudert

Left at intermish.

As we see an author get settled into her new life as a college professor, a fairy? angel? (something in a non-descript billowy white dress) intermittently pops up and giggles like a munchkin and then disappears. That got so annoying after a while. I also sensed another possible playwright self-character: the young, beautiful, wise beyond her years, wildly successful author character bravely carries on with her work whilst all of the people in her life constantly burst through her front door and annoy her. Was playwright Lucy Thurber writing herself? I hope not. If so, gross. At the end of the first act when the Vulcan mind melds started up I decided it was time for me to not stay.


Damn. While everybody's been sitting around reviving old plays and dicking around with flaccid new ones, Anonymous Ensemble went out, took one of the oldest plays out there (Oedipus Rex) and made it one of the freshest, most original ones around. Trippy multimedia punk rock burlesque dance show and a stiltwalking emcee, OEDIrx has the unmistakably vibrant feel of youth and the unstoppable passion of inspiration. It's a testament to how impressed I was with the show that even though I couldn't make out most of the lyrics of the six Hype-inducing songs, I was having a good enough time watching all the pretty, digital images being created live (and somewhat randomly) that it didn't even matter.

[Read on]

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Pirates Of Penzance

photo: Carol Rosegg

The new City Opera production of Gilbert and Sullivan's fabulously enduring The Pirates Of Penzance isn't empty-headed: unlike many productions I've seen, this one knows that the operetta is a satire on Victorian society. During the overture, we watch a row of Victorian ladies facing a shadow box stage, on which pen and ink cut-out drawings of Victorian heads and pirate ships sail by on sticks, Monty Python style, above a silhouette of the sea. When the show proper begins, the same silhouette runs the whole length of the City Opera stage, a nifty, unobtrusive directorial touch. If only all such touches in this production were as such; there's a bit too many of them by the time (unscripted) Queen Victoria herself is onstage serving tea. And while setting this Pirates in a Victorian shadow box is terrific for bringing its satirical elements to the fore, the visual result is a bit ugly. The production also suffers from operachorusitis, the inexplicable condition that encourages singers in groups to line up on stage in iron-footed concert formation. This production springs most to giddy, silly life when its principals are front and center: especially good are Marc Kudisch, a wonderful, sexy and smooth-voiced Pirate King with delicious comic timing, Marc Jacoby, terrific as the Major General whose patter song is this production's showstopper, and Sarah Jane McMahon, a soprano previously unknown to me whose Mabel is lively, flirty and witty. She even exits with a cartwheel. I don't remember Linda Ronstadt doing that!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Talk Radio

This is one of the rare cases where I say the play just isn't as hip as the film. It's still a great performance by Liev Schrieber, but the other onstage actors are cardboard (the callers give him far more to work with). The stage version also breaks the rhythm and reality of a descent into madness with three monologues told by Barry's co-workers, directly to the audience. Everything they tell us is already apparent from Liev's excellent performance, from the jittery leg to the sultry radio voice. By the end of the show, Schrieber is rightfully a wreck, but the unamended script lacks the harder edge presented by a whirlwind of sequences in the film. It's gone from unrelenting to almost casual. I expected to be surprised more; instead I was just enthralled.

[Read on]

Also blogged by: [Patrick]

Defender Of The Faith

Irish Repertory

Those poor Irish Repertory matinee subscribers. After being lulled into sugar coma by the wildly genteel Meet Me In St. Louis, the Rep's latest production, Defender Of The Faith, is currently jolting them awake with the force of a zap from a pair of freshly charged shock paddles. This play about family loyalty and government informers is dark, mean and violent and the only word used more than "fuck" is "cunt". Seated in that horrible side section ("punishment seats" as Patrick likes to call them) I had a clear view of much of the audience and I counted three different contingents throughout the 90 minute production demonstratively march out in contempt and the pained looks on the faces of those who stayed tended to suggest that they were in desperate need of a trolley song. Actually this turned out to be a very well acted production of a pretty damn good play. Plays that aren't for the easily offended are the plays I often like the best.
Also blogged by: [Aaron] [Patrick]

Defender of the Faith

photo: Carol Rosegg

Irish Rep's latest offering, a tense intermissionless thriller in which a small IRA cell must sniff out the informer among them, is sufficiently grim and dark: even when characters are just sitting around the kitchen table talking, there's the sensation that violence could break out at any moment. The dialogue has the ring of authenticity, the staging is lean and effective, and the cast is solid. What the play ultimately lacks is suspense (I could tell in advance where it was going to go) and a satisfying conclusion (the play's coda is a pat cop-out).

Also blogged by: [Aaron] [David]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dream of a Common Language

I think Heather McDonald's artistic play Dream of a Common Language is too involved in the words and the beauty of intellectual discussion to succeed as a drama. But it generates a lot of good discussion about the position of women in the 1873 art world. McDonald hits upon a lot of provocative anecdotes, even if the scenes themselves are often flatly acted, and although Karen Sommers' direction is often distracting (live music to underscore monologues), the show itself feels very smooth. There's not much to rant about--this is too intellectual for passion--but there are enough good moments to make this play worth talking about.

[Read on]

Monday, March 19, 2007

Murder Uncensored

A part of the Gay Plays series, Murder Uncensored is billed as a "steamy gay film-noir thriller based on the sensational unsolved murder of silent film director William Desmond Taylor". Wings is committed to producing as much gay theater as they can which I think is a very good thing though I can't say that this play was perhaps the best choice. More of a screenplay than a theater piece, the location hopping and need for period costuming and scenery was a little more than Wing's humble company could adequately fulfill. And though it's respectable that playwright George Barthel's mission is to excavate gay history, the pandering twist at the end of Act One was borderline offensive and had me heading for the exit at intermission.

Essential Self-Defense

photo: Joan Marcus

I have six shows that need to be blogged but the others can wait: Adam Rapp's new play, currently at Playwrights, is all kinds of fresh and fascinating, a sensationally unique comedy that flirts with absurdism and whimsy while always grounded in a dark vision of (perhaps especially American) fears and anxieties. The core story may sound like something we'd expect from Rapp - a fearful, seemingly traumatized woman inches closer to the profoundly paranoid and potentially dangerous loner who works as a tackle dummy in her self-defense class - but what we don't expect is how Rapp holds onto the gravity of what's fear-based and dire in his material while pitching it for offbeat comedy, with flashes of David Lynch-like deadpan, Christopher Durang-like satire, even the false cheer of especially sad Dennis Potter musical numbers. I saw an early preview, but the play is already tight and all the performances are already on the same page of quirky heightenedness: there's no reason I can think of not to see this sooner rather than later.

Also blogged by: [David]

A more in-depth review at New Theater Corps.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Mamma Mia!

Winter Garden

Wish Patrick a happy birthday! Determined to attend a matinee together we scoured the discount ticket sites attempting to find something that we could both count towards our race. He had seen pretty much everything on Broadway so it was a difficult search. That is when, at the last minute, the unthinkable happened: two tickets to Mamma Mia!. It is now official: I am a theater snob. There we sat arms folded scouring at the ten tons of splenda being lobbed into our faces as the Europeans around us squealed with glee. Years ago (like maybe 7th grade), I would have been dancing in the aisles along side them, however, somewhere along the way I became this horrible curmudgeon who prefers depth and relevance. West Side Story opened at the Winter Garden ya know... sigh...

Mamma Mia!

photo: Joan Marcus

The insipid, sub-sitcom jukebox musical Mamma Mia! is set in Greece, the birthplace of drama. That's what I call "irony".

365 Days/365 Plays: Week #18

From the get-go, I said that Susan Lori-Parks' 365 Days/365 Plays was an attention-seeking stunt that would never amount to anything. I don't care how many awards you've won: it takes more than a day to write a play. Sure enough, I'm correct. What Lori-Parks has done is to write a series of vignettes, and I only attended tonight's free performance because it was done by the New York Neo-Futurists, who pretty much do the same thing every week at Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. I was mildly entertained by how the troupe managed to bring their own experimental group direction into the piece, and by the way they maintained their refusal to play anything other than themselves. But the seven plays they performed, along with three "constants," were just plain bad. Surrealistic and devoid of emotion, not to mention plagued with some technical difficulties, I hope that audiences are still willing to check out TMLMTBGB despite this wacky one-night stand.


Hate subtitles? Janyl will make you long for them. I was drawn to the theater by the idea of a multicultural Kyrgyz theater, but what I got was far from epic. Three musicians, four performers, and an American translator, basically ululating and dancing wildly before a slideshow of places in some foreign country. I couldn't understand the plot, nor why there were some actors in traditional clothing and others wearing silk suits. It seemed anachronistic, antagonistic, and pointless to me, and it bothers me that I can summarize this rich oral saga with less than a sentence: strong-willed girl captured; strong-willed girl escapes. Also, the cast kept mentioning something about magic horses that could sing like the wind, but also that their story was entirely true. I'd beg to differ, but if this evening of lackluster performances is something they'd call magical, maybe it's an apt description after all.

Spring Awakening

photo: Monique Carboni

My friend and I risked the scolding looks of strangers by taking her two twelve year old daughters and their schoolfriend to Spring Awakening. Fifteen minutes in, the first question was whispered my way: "When is this supposed to take place, Patrick?" Big thumbs down on the "stupid" on-stage seating. But otherwise, according to the three middleschool gals, it is "a great story" that is "like Rent" and "good for teenagers to see." All three agreed that they liked "the gay guy" (Jonathan B. Wright) and that Jonathan Groff would be cute if he didn't spit so much ("That's SO gross!") At intermission they pronounced the "I can feel your heart beating" lyric "way cheesey". Nonetheless, they had the cast album loaded into their IPods in a matter of days right alongside Fall Out Boy and Blink 182, deciding that "I Don't Do Sadness" and "The Bitch Of Living" were the show's hits, and that the musical is even better than their previous favorites Hairspray and Wicked. Best performance? John Gallagher; even I could agree with that. Critic-approved and tween-tested, Spring Awakening will win the Tony for Best Musical in June. It won't even be close.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Men of Steel

Vampire Cowboy Theater Company isn't about being glamorous or being profound: it's about kicking ass. Their new show, Men of Steel, takes the same approach as Heroes for the first three chapters, using a comic book format of narration (complete with video montages during scene changes), and over-the-top acting to go with over-the-top action. The first segments are uneven, especially the opening fight, but charismatic performances help, like Paco Tolson's super villain, "The Mole." There's also a great stop-motion-animated Lego battle that spoofs the genre, and plenty of in-jokes about the nature of superheroes and vigilantes. The only problem is that Men of Steel's themes have recently been addressed by the comic universes, which threatens to leave this show an entertaining parody alone. Scene 3 the surprise: the tale of an invulnerable retarded man who lets people pay him to beat him up is tragic and elevates the show for a brief moment. And speaking of elevation: the superhero melee in Act 2 has some real chops: not as impressive as Big Time Theater's The Jaded Assassin, but fun all the same.

[Read on]


Cherry Lane

"Oh my God, this is so Prince Of Tides!", SNL's Linda Richman once said. Yes, this play about a psychiatrist and his amnesiac patient follows the old formula of the damaged dr./patient healing each other through a series of breakthrough sessions and that's just fine because it works here. Dealing with issues that I knew little about and the fluid way the patient's memories are theatrically presented made this a very interesting and thought provoking play. Most importantly though, Deirdre O'Connell as the amnesiac running from her past is giving an extraordinarily natural, honest, likable performance that is the soul of this production.
Also blogged by: [Aaron]

Our Leading Lady

photo: Joan Marcus

The first act of Charles Busch's new play, in which grand, self-centered actress Laura Keene behaves despicably to her fellow actors as they prepare to perform An American Cousin for President Lincoln, is meant to be a comedy, but it's merely busy rather than funny. The second act, in which Keene undergoes a reality check after Lincoln is assassinated, is more interesting and successful but it doesn't succeed at bringing the play into focus. Does Busch mean this to be a valentine to the theatre and its ability to create truth and illusion? I couldn't be sure. In the title role, Kate Mulgrew works her ass off to sell the first act but sweat is the last thing we want to be aware of watching a comedy that depends on the appearance of effortlessness. She's wonderful in the second act - the play's best scenes are the quiet moments between her and Ann Duquesnay as her attendant and confidante - but it's not enough to shake the feeling that the play's themes are muted and its higher aims unclear.


Magpie is something of a cross between the operatic stretches of The Light in the Piazza and (probably) the Latin-inspired themes of In the Heights. I didn't love the former, and I haven't seen the latter, but Magpie is a cute little show that bursts through the small space of The Players Theatre. The latest in a series of shows that seem branded more for a younger audience, Magpie succeeds with the bouncy up-tempo numbers and the story of two young, medicated (but otherwise star-crossed) lovers whose racially divided parents would rather tear them apart. But it's a lot more The Fantasticks than West Side Story, with cheesy numbers set aside for the parents, and lots of developmentally awkward side-songs to establish the auxiliary cast (in this case, a trio of bike messengers with attitude and their thuggish boss). Generally, Magpie is a fun show, but it's limited by technical difficulties in the sound, a predictable (even for musicals) book, and a score that, after a few bouncy beats, succumbs to the same old ballads we've heard a million times before.

[Read on]

Friday, March 16, 2007

Particularly In The Heartland


What a horrible, chalkboard-scratching, aluminum-chewing mess! As you enter the theater, the cast is yelling- no, screeching out "American!" songs ("Glory, Glory Hallelujah", "...Tis Of Thee", etc). As they chat with the audience members, they encourage everyone to SING ALONG!!!!!!!!! Come on! SING!! When the lights go down, the yelling (in this claustrophobic brick-walled echo chamber at PS122) doesn't stop. It just gets louder and more annoying. Premise: three Kansas siblings loose Mommy and Daddy to the rapture and they are left to fend for themselves and also ponder the benefits and disadvantages of living in modern America. Or something like that. I don't know. It was all so confusing, disorienting and bombastic. I felt trapped in this intermissionless theatrical purgatory. It reminded me of when I worked in day care and the 4 year olds just WOULDN'T SHUT UP! The crowd went crazy at the end of it and a few even gave it a standing ovation. Show's what I know.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Tea And Sympathy

photo: Dan Cordle

Robert Anderson's 1953 drama is pre-tolerance: the two characters who defend the sissyboy protagonist from widespread bullying do so only because they are sure he isn't "a queer." The play, thought to be intended as a cautionary tale about McCarthyism, doesn't let us believe for long that the lad in question is anything but a painfully sensitive hetero wallflower who is being tormented based on lurid gossip. The drama's omnipresent homophobia is a product of its time, and the most interesting thing that the Keen Company have done with it is to put it on without irony for today's audiences, affording us an interesting peek at the sensibilities of yesteryear. Even on those terms, the production doesn't fully engage: the staging is often counterproductive, and the actors don't seem to have been guided toward creating the needed atmosphere of stiff formality. Excepting that, I thought the three main performances (by Dan McCabe, Heidi Armbruster and Mark Setlock) were all at least quite good and that one supporting performance (by Brandon Espinoza, as girlyboy Tom's star athlete roommate) was best of all.

Les Miserables

photo: Michael LePoer Trench

You really have to work hard to make Les Miz fail outright but this revival, which uses the scaled-down touring sets, the no-time-to-breathe edited book, and some new re-orchestrations thoroughly inferior to the originals, has managed it. There's nothing wrong with the staging, which stays close to the modern masterpiece of music theatre that was Trevor Nunn's original, but almost none of the principals in this revival cast are playing high-stakes enough. Alexander Gemignani is too young and too lightweight with no urgency in his Valjean - not only does he fail to depict a man with inner demons, he fails to depict a man with an inner life at all. Norm Lewis, who naturally projects sunniness and good cheer, makes a decent attempt at dark Javert, but a decent attempt is all it amounts to. Gary Beach's flying leap off the cute end as Thernardier is not even that, it's just a mistake. I do have two nice things to say: Lea Salonga is a very fine Fantine - she sings beautifully and with a depth of feeling that is otherwise missing here - and Aaron Lazar, in the brief and usually thankless role of Enroljas, steals all attention whenever he's on stage.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Based on the first day of previews, I think there's promise for Lee Thuna's script and the strong lead performance of Deirdre O'Connell, who plays an amnesiac trapped in a fugue state (i.e., on the run from a memory she cannot deal with). Unfortunately, there's little chance of cutting the show down to a more manageable one-act, and even less of a chance of replacing her inquisitive doctor, currently played by an unflinchingly bland Rick Stear. The play's direction by Judith Ivey is modest: the way in which the memories invade our heroine's present is interesting, but it grows a bit old, which is yet another reason to pare down. Too much of the show is currently exposition, and too much time is spent developing red herrings. To find that the stereotypical mother, annoyingly awkward love interest, and exuberantly false "friend," are all superfluous to the story makes the otherwise effective climax rather manipulative: there's no reason O'Connell can't confront her memories earlier in the show. Despite all the middling, muddling performances (especially the loose accents), there's a star and a story gripping enough to interest me.

Also blogged by: [David]

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Director

This multimedia work plays in and out of the conceit that it is a recreation of interviews with the victims of a lecherous (and pedophiliac) director. At first, the play bored me: Jessica Davis-Irons' choice to have Shooter, a stoner, watching TV in the corner throughout all the scenes (even before the play) seemed to be grasping at straws, and an early scene where four stoned friends just listen to one of the interviews in the darkness was way too heady to follow. But Davis-Irons finds an interesting blend of recorded feeds (none of which reveal the face) along with actual actresses delivering monologues to creep us out, even though the show ends too abruptly for it the androgynous dolls and dream sequences to sink in. What sells this show, though, are Sadie's confrontations with her lesbian friend and her jealous boyfriend: Lauren Shannon plays a confused but brazen Sadie, and her empathy for the director is both creepy and heartfelt.

[Read on]

Monday, March 12, 2007

Jack Goes Boating

photo: Monique Carboni

I liked all four characters in this peculiar romantic comedy, currently at the Public, and I liked all four actors. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Beth Cole credibly play a pair of loveable, damaged losers - he's a bit dim-witted and undermotivated, while she's neurotically defensive and oversensitive - and John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega radiate a lot of warmth playing a married couple who push the two gently together. The first act is overlong and too lazily paced besides feeling tentative in tone - by intermission you can't be sure whether the second act is going to lighten up or turn dark - but when the characters have quirky moments that are well-defined, the play does offer some distinctive, sunny pleasures. It may not be so exciting to watch these two couples negotiate intimacy - one just starting to know each other, and the other with a few years of marriage under the belt - but there is at least an unforced, believable spark in their interactions. That's not nothing.

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

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Jack Goes Boating

photo: Monique Carboni

Phillip Seymor Hoffman is such a great actor. He is able to draw knowing laughter from from a line or a moment that any other good actor might miss. Playing the loser with a heart of gold, Hoffman subtly endears himself to the audience over the course of this gentle wistful romantic play. Though it takes a while to really get going, by Act 2 I was genuinely involved in this story about a couple with a dysfunctional relationship playing matchmakers for their shy co-workers. With its short succinct scenes, location hopping and general likability look for this to pop up on the indie film circuit in a couple of years. PSH will star with hmmm..... Jane Adams, Rosie Perez, and Bobby Cannavale.

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

Jack Goes Boating

After an enjoyable, albeit slow, first act, all I could think was how misleading the poster for Jack Goes Boating is. Yes, Jack is a shy and awkward limo driver (excellently portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman), and yes, the girl that he's fallen for (Beth Cole) seems to be hiding something beneath her fear of intimacy. But none of that makes the show dark: if anything, the scenes where Jack's best friend, Clyde (John Ortiz), teaches him to swim are heartwarming and bright, as if to remind us that there are still good people in the world. And although he confesses that Lucy (an appropriately bouncy Daphne Rubin-Vega) isn't as perfect a wife as she seems (he can't get over an affair she had with a man he calls 'The Cannoli'), he's perfectly happy to lose himself in the purple haze they all like to smoke. I don't mind the loose ends; the purple haze of the play is enjoyable enough, and though we don't learn anything about the darkness just under the surface that Peter Dubois teases us with, I'm content with the sweet aftertaste of a well-done production.

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

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hotel Oracle

I should've expected no less from a show that calls itself "a play about pergrinations and post-its," but Hotel Oracle is an overintellectual, near inaccessible work that isn't nearly as funny as it thinks it is. The show is early in its run, so I assume the shaky lines and overacting will slowly correct itself with director Stephen Brackett's help. But the writing isn't likely to shed any more light on this vague play about faith than what's already there: the end story is that you know you're in trouble when even the characters call out for deus ex machinas and for a little bit of sense. The show also suffers from Lost-like syndromes; the characters in the first part, "Hotel," start acting differently after the intermission, "Oracle," but it's not due to subtle changes -- it's due to flashbacks that obfuscate more than explain, and some sloppy writing.

Also blogged by: [David]

Tall Grass

Tall Grass is a collection of three aimless one-acts claiming to be black comedies. Killing off the majority of your cast doesn't make it a black comedy, and Brian Harris's wishful channelling of Christopher Durang is a torpid failure: these over-the-top characters have no soul, and the scenes are but a series of last-minute twists. What's worse is that after the limited surprise of the first play, "The Business Proposal," the rest are painfully obvious. The abstract set doesn't work either: a couch suspended in mid-air doesn't impress me, especially since it isn't used until the final play. Eward O'Blenis and Marla Schaffel at least get to act a little in that last segment, playing older versions of their previous charicatures; Mark H. Dold -- you're wanted as the body double for Will Forte on Saturday Night Live.

[Read on - WARNING! SNARKY!]

Hotel Oracle


"I am so fucking confused!" yells a guy towards the end of Hotel Oracle. The feeling is mutual. A microcosom of stock characters check into a hotel en route to a supposed oracle.
As they wait around, they talk a lot about generic philosophical issues and no clear relationships form outside of general annoyance with each other. I can't say I really got what this play was going for. To the production's credit, the actors give it their all and seem to really believe in what they are doing.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Coast of Utopia: Salvage

photo: Paul Kolnik

It's over, baby. So over. I'll remember the thrilling sensations when you were new, your promises of something deep, something grand. Oh how beautiful you looked, as you still do even now at the end. But baby there were just too many bummers after that first rush of infatuation, too many deep talks that seemed to get us nowhere and would wear down my patience. You turned out to be too much talk and not enough action, and it seemed like whenever you wanted to stir up some excitement you liked to go to the semi-maudlin place. Let's try to remember the good times and forget the disappointments. Goodbye, Coast of Utopia trilogy. I'll always speak of you with respect.

Also blogged by: [Aaron] [Christopher]

Bouffon Glass Menajoree

The Brick

Picture The Glass Menagerie performed Marat/Sade style. However instead of prison inmates performing, picture instead three toddlers who got into mommy's stash of cocaine. Hyperactive lowbrow poo-poo humor abounds in this childish wacky needy often hilarious madness. The program warned us that the gentleman caller would be chosen from the audience. As there were only four of us men in the audience I, obviously, was in a panic as I hid in the very back row of the theater. They chose some poor bastard in the front row. My strategy worked. Thank God. If you like your comedy as low as it can go, definitely check it out. Just have a couple of cocktails at Jr and Son's Bar next door first.


Be what, exactly? I was dazzled by the charm and enthusiasm of the performers, but there was a distinct lack of cohesiveness to the individual skits that made up Mayumana's Be. Rhythmic theater relies as much on visuals as it does on the sound itself, and there just isn't as much creativity here (or as solid a gimmick) as in long running shows like Blue Man Group and Stomp. Some of the bits, in fact, seem stolen directly from the former (albeit in burlesque) and there's a lot that's just shades of what Stomp innovated over a decade ago. Also, so far as performance goes, the co-creator, Boaz Berman, and African dancer Aka Jean Claude Thiemele appear to be steps ahead of the rest of the ensemble. Not that I could do even the simplest routines they perform, but while a few segments (like the opening) were inventive and fun, I don't think Be has made enough of a mark to edge out its competitors.

[Read on]

a discount offer for ESSENTIAL SELF-DEFENSE

I'm happy to pass along a blog discount for the new Adam Rapp play Essential Self-Defense, good for the first month of performances March 15th through April 15th.

Mention code EDBL and tickets are reduced to $40 as long as you order before March 28th.
Voice: call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
In Person: Visit the Ticket Central Box Office, 416 W 42nd Street (Noon-8pm daily)

As always, students can rush the show for a mere $15 with a valid student ID, one ticket per person, starting one hour before each showtime. And if you're not a student but you're under 30, you can take advantage of the Playwrights Horizon HOTTIX program, detailed here, and see the play for $20.

Why am I posting this? I get comped into the show in exchange for blogging the discount offer, but in the interest of full disclosure let me tell you that I already have a season flex pass to Playwrights Horizons. I would have been able to see it anyhow without having to crack open my wallet again. I'm posting because the question I most get in my inbox is how I can afford to see so many shows, and part of the answer is discounts and deals like this one. I'm posting because this play features Doubt's Heather Goldenhersh and Paul Sparks from Landscape of the Body. I'm posting because Adam Rapp, Pulitzer nominated last year for Red Light Winter, is a young playwright with his own distinctive voice and style and I want to support that. Don't you?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Year Of Magical Thinking

photo: Brigitte Lacombe

My profile will attest that I have a lot of feeling for Joan Didion's book. That said, it is one thing to sit intimately with Didion's interior, deeply personal words on the page about the experience of profound loss and quite another to see someone reciting variations on it in the author's absence, even when said someone is the great Vanessa Redgrave. This isn't theatre, it's an expensive audiobook. Didion hasn't adapted the book for the stage so much as she's simply organized it into a ninety minute essay so that it can come out of Redgrave's mouth, American accent and all. Besides the mostly chair-bound actress, the production's only points of visual interest (not counting the Broadway debut of the giant roach that meandered across the stage) are a series of scrims that successively drop to deepen the stage space. Eventually Redgrave looks dwarfed on the empty stage, an accidental but apt visual metaphor for what is wrong with this evening.

Also blogged by: [Christopher]