Thursday, May 31, 2007

Close To You: The Carpenters

photo: Russ Turk

The idea of performance artist Justin Bond (the "female" half of Kiki and Herb) performing the Carpenters' album "Close To You" in its entirety might sound like a recipe for camp send-up. Instead, the most cutting edge thing about the evening was that it was played (mostly) as sincere, respectful, and highly personal homage. A couple of attempts to give the evening a momentary '70's variety show feel didn't change that, and when Bond got a seemingly unexpected laugh out of a lyric in "Baby It's You," he pulled back from it immediately. Backed by an impressive (but, regretably, underrehearsed) band aimed at approximating the Carpenters' distinctive sound, Bond marched through every song on the album in order, including the hit singles "We've Only Just Begun" and "Close To You," covers of The Beatles' "Help," Rod Stewart's "Reason To Believe," and the aforementioned Shirelles song, and little-known Carpenters oddities such as the album's closer "Another Song," which ends with three minutes of acid-lite jam session. It's a weird, early album that could never lay claim to being representative and typical of the brother-sister duo's music, but its variety and relative obscurity make it a lively set on stage. More urgently, it means something to Bond - the flyer that served as the evening's program includes his recollections of first hearing it at the age of seven, and being profoundly affected by Karen Carpenter's voice, both "reassuring and profoundly sad." Bond's own voice is an entirely different kind of instrument somewhere in the gin-soaked, world-weary Marianne Faithfull family, but that's what makes the evening's drama. Listening to Bond reverently reproducing each of Karen's vocal phrases without any of her prettiness, the underlying sadness is front and center. It seemed an entirely appropriate tribute.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I.E., In Other Words

Somewhat of a cross between the ironic metadrama of Urinetown and the over-the-top mood of Essential Self-Defense, Mark Greenfield's comedy, I.E., In Other Words speaks for itself. In fact, it does so literally, marking its unique language by often announcing what its doing, a postmodern trend that would be annoying if it weren't so cute and infectious at The Flea, performed in an epic ham style by The Bats, the young resident company there. Kip Fagan does an excellent job of directing fourteen actors (playing thirty-three parts) in ninety minutes, all while conveying the story in a more-or-less consistently funny fashion (whatever isn't funny is soon over and done with). Using a new narrative style to tell an old-fashioned story is a winning combination almost every time, i.e., you should check this surreal playsical out.

[Read on]

Wonderland: One-Act Festival

I hate to compare Wonderland, a one-act festival at Theater Row, to anything so crude as reality TV, but it reminds me a lot of the first week of movies being premiered on FOX's On The Lot. Substitute theater for film (call it Standing Room Only) and leave the judges off-camera, and you've distilled the popular elimination format of TV for off-off-Broadway, a battle of the fringe. The work is what you'd expect: it's crammed, sometimes crude, and certainly rushed from a technical standpoint. But that just makes the performances and the plays all the more surprising: diamonds in the coal bin seemed to be a dime a dozen when I went, and three of the four one-acts I saw were engaging enough to make me want to see more. From heightened language in one play to an all-out battle of personal put-downs in another, or domestic violence stuck in a poetic frame alongside brothers making peace on their father's deathbed, these plays found ways to work around cliche to do good work, and while they're far from perfect, they're getting there.

[Read on]

Fate's Imagination

The armchair psychologist in me was fairly irritated halfway through this new unruly play, which has some good moments of keen interpersonal observation but too many others where the characters' actions simply don't pass the believability sniff test. Playwright David Randall Cook has a good ear for dialogue and a solid dramatist's sense of how to put a kink in a story, but he piles on too many twists in this play at the expense of credibility, before finally overreaching for political statement. Cook is promising - he's especially good at rendering the hollow rhetorical speeches for the character of the female Presidential candidate (played deliciously by Donna Mitchell) - and the play is lively and moves at a clip, so it's never dull. The play doesn't lack imagination. Discipline, perhaps.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Fate's Imagination

Gotham Stage Company

photo: Monique Carboni

Crisp, fresh-out-of-the-wrapper new play alert! With a journalist son wanting to make a difference in the (that) war and a liberal senator mom who is running for president and actually has a good chance (yeah, her) we got some pretty timely subject matter here. Mixing politics with familial relationships with romance, this play endeavours to provide an intriguing portrait of a trio of struggling with all the new millennium has to offer them. It pretty much succeeds, especially with the help of some fun plot twists offered up by playwright, Randall David Cook. Thumbs up!

A Kiss From Alexander

photo: Joe Oppedisano

As Alexander The Great, who is returned to Earth incognito to "correct" a tacky gay musical about his life, Craig Ramsay radiates an endearing innocence. His "fish out of water" bits, as he interacts with the queeny chorus boys, are this musical's best moments. But not much else is funny, and that's especially true of an appalling subplot which ends "happily" when an obnoxious, abusive drama queen finally accepts the overtures of a sweet, adoring fanboy when it's learned that the nerdy fan is a millionaire. What is THAT about?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Eaten Heart

Another aesthetic must-see, The Eaten Heart is the kind of show that puts other directors to shame. In the mode of the epic "Decameron," The Debate Society has taken a series of lives in miniature, and then revealed them to us--slowly, subtly, seductively--in a world of motels and wolves, charming pizza-boys who cannonball in their off-hours, sudden thunderstorms and power outages, and televisions that won't turn off. Everything about this show works, from the compelling power of silence to the parallel motions of strangers who are just a thin skin of a wall apart. Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen play all the parts, which means they change costumes as fast as they change characters, but they're as technically slick as they are theatrically solid, and it's rare to see such complimentary performances working toward Oliver Butler's overarching truth. Dare I say flawless? I do.

[Read on]

Lipstick on a Pig

I'm glad, in a way, that Lipstick on a Pig doesn't try to actually put lipstick on its own piggish plot. That at least makes it a more honest failure. But this bedside drama of a fractured family trying to recoup itself in its final hours pulls so much that's formulaic and that has been done before that it's like watching a "worst of" compilation that someone thought might be a "greatest hits." Though the play starts off strong with some paternal ambiguity, it's not handled with enough subtlety to be a big revelation, and the play swerves instead into a botched surgery for its dramatic closure. It's odd that a play this clean still manages to stay so mired and muddled, but between the sluggish script from Linda Evans and the hands-off direction of David Epstein, there's really nothing to take pleasure in from this production.

[Read on]

Saturday, May 26, 2007


Adapted from the horrendously inept, cheesey-80's-ugly movie that nailed the coffin shut on the roller disco movie craze, Xanadu may be the gayest, campiest musical to ever open on Broadway. It's relentlessly spoofy fluff, "children's theatre for forty year old gay people" as one character says succinctly in the Douglas Carter Beane-authored book. The story is dopey: some muses spring from a chalk drawing to inspire our hero to realize his dream....of opening a fabulous rollerskate nightclub with tunes by ELO. But I have to say that the Broadway musical does what it sets out to do: it takes itself seriously not at all, a 90 minute party musical that you laugh out loud at with your friends before heading out for drinks. You teehee at the 80's references as you did at The Wedding Singer, you chuckle everytime leading lady Kerry Butler does a dead-on spoof of Olivia Newton John's breathy singing style, you simply give in to the disarming charm of seeing a Broadway musical that dares, absurdly, not to pretend to be anything more than ridiculous disposable camp. Theatregoers who can never remove their State Of The Musical Theatre hats are forewarned: you are sure to leave grumpy. I saw a very early preview - the finale needs to be bigger, Tony Roberts' first number brings the show to a dead halt (Roberts seems to have been asked to play it straight, but he sometimes uncomfortably seems to be the only ensemble member not in on a joke) and the choreography could capitalize more often on roller boogie nostalgia. Still, the mostly gay audience I saw it with was beside themselves with glee and all but swarmed the stage door afterward. Impossibly, ludicrously, this could be Broadway's surprise hit of the year.

The Chronological Secrets of Tim

The company may be Impetuous, but the production didn't have to be. Instead of watching three actors fling themselves around a nice, but underused set in a vain attempt at comedy, we could've focused on the more structured scenes of the past, the sexier, funnier, more entertaining moments. Furthermore, for a show so obsessed with time, it didn't have to move so slowly either: farce or not, there's no way a man sits on a ledge threatening to jump for two hours without cops--even the inept ones--breaking in. I mean, if there's time enough for both of his ex-girlfriends to show up and try (for some inexplicable reason) to stop him from jumping (between mercilessly mocking him, that is), surely there's at least one cop somewhere in New York City who can take action. Energy only takes you so far: if you're stuck in a hamster wheel, your show isn't going anywhere.

[Read on]

Monday, May 21, 2007

The New 42 Follies

New Victory Gala Benefit

"I hate you and your ass face!", I imagined the director screaming over the phone to Barbra Walsh and Orfeh, two acts that backed out of this Monday night benefit at the last minute. I'm sure they had colorfully valid excuses and everything turned out fine as the remaining acts in this brisk 45 minute revue hosted by Sam Waterston kicked ass. Beth Leavel rocked it out with "As We Stumble Along", Marin Mazzie belted old school with "The Diva's Lament" and Josh Strickland finally made it onto the Hot Guy Alerts when he walked onto the stage and stood there and looked handsome while he sang. The surprise hit of the night was the last minute replacement Jeremy Smith performing "Caught" a thrilling modern dance from Parson's Dance Company that, with the use of carefully timed strobe-lighting, made it look like he was floating throughout the space. Fun!

Competing Narratives

photo: Ben Strothmann

There's a potentially provocative situation in this play, which links homophobia and racism by dramatizing a meeting between a gay man who could pass for straight and a black man who could pass for white. Unfortunately, because the plot is too full of conveniences and the dialogue too often lecture-like, the play doesn't deliver on the promise of its theme. It is, at least, well-performed: Sebastian La Cause is warm and charismatic but projects just enough caginess to convince that his character has a secret agenda; Matthew Boston is entirely believable as a once gay activist who's moved on to a quiet suburban life with his limp-wristed partner (played by Michael Vacarro, who helps to add some depth to what could be a stock character)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Chorus Line


When I got my drivers license at 16, the national tour of A Chorus Line was the first show I went to without a parental escort. This closeted gay theater junkie in West Houston suburbia was riveted with the character's stories and if they'd needed a towel boy he would have happily run off with the circus. This weekend's visit hit me in a different but still very special place: one of appreciation and reverence. This tightly staged revival had me drooling over that familiar choreography and had me wanting to sing along. I won the lotto (thanks Patrick!) and sat front row center. Perhaps I was a bit too close during the high energy full company dance numbers but during the solo numbers, like "Nothing" expertly delivered by a three feet away Natalie Cortez, were intense and very special.


Silverland, one of the offerings at 59E59's Brits Off-Broadway festival, is juvenille, faux-hip nonsense about a few people who trip out on an unnamed drug at a Rave. There's a kind of self-important badness here that brings to mind the worst experimental theatre of the late 1970s, only now it's the apocalypse that is invoked rather than Vietnam to put the smell of relevance in the air. Avoid at all costs.

Friday, May 18, 2007


Susan Ferrara's Peasant is somewhere between workshop and theater at this point: it's a bunch of raw material that's waiting for the yeast to collect, warm, and rise. In the meantime, there are a few fully saturated plot-points that help feed the audience tasty morsels of an immigrant past, and even the nondescript moments are far from indigestible. Ferrara sells the work with her character acting, but with no set or props, she's forced to sell the show more on mannerisms and comedy than with the underlying drama. Additionally, the show is still a little confusing, skipping between roles, times, and ideas as it does. While the clipped poetic pace is consistent (think Elmore Leonard), the narrative is not, and without taking anything away from the work, I hope Ferrara remembers to add enough conflict to her mixing bowl when she makes the final product.

[Read on]

Thursday, May 17, 2007

At the Word of Mouth Festival

I really wish I hadn't been sick all weekend long, as I'd have loved to spread word about this great site-specific festival sooner, but although it's gone, you should at least know that the World Financial Center occasionally puts up some great projects. The two that I attended were Bird Eye Blue Print and Girls Just Wanna Have Fund$.

Those who follow my writing understand that I have something of a crush on Lisa D'Amour's work, especially when she's working with director Katie Pearl. But I'll be objective when I say that Bird Eye Blue Print was a thrill. I promised not to review it so that I could attend as a guest, but the combination of eccentric tour-guides, a mysterious (and abandoned) office to explore, and the total freedom of the whole evening was fantastic. We were all told that there was one door that was never opened; as all the guests were leaving and given free reign of the facility, I felt like Charlie in the chocolate factory and I couldn't resist in peeking into that unseen room. Such unabashed thrills are almost criminal, but I've no regrets.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fund$, the Women's Project's anthology of five small moralistic plays, was also a blast. An overarching story about a missing "dime" sends a tour group from one end of the World Financial Center to the other, giving each play the opportunity to use the space in a different fashion. "The Dime Show" was silent vaudeville along a long corridor whereas "A Peddler's Tale: Buttons, Guts and Bluetooth" had the audience watching the action revolve from the first floor all the way up to our perch on the second. "Remembrance," my personal favorite, featured two young African-American women chasing each other up and down a single set of escalators. One was ghetto, the other successful: what stood out was how at the end of the play, they switched costumes and repeated the performance. How's that for a statement on status? Most amusing of all were the reactions of innocent bystanders (there's no such thing!), though I was saddened by how busy they all appeared to be: only one person actually stopped to watch one of the performances.

Site-specific, environmental theater. New York lends itself to such tourist-friendly activities, and it's my hope that the lower cost of doing outdoors or guerrilla work will help contribute toward getting some outstanding new works produced new year in this medium.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Passing Strange

Fascinating, frustrating, exciting, problematic, Passing Strange is the kind of flawed but wildy exhilarating show that leaves you jazzed about theatre and its possibilities. It’s uncategorizable, and - for anyone who is serious about the art form of musical theatre - unmissable. Oft-narrated in song by its composer and co-author Stew, this autobiographical portrait of the artist as a middle-class young black man moves beyond the anachronism of Spring Awakening and more boldly melds concert and narrative musical theatre. The show is too long, and it nosedives in the second act, but when it flies it’s a blazing arrow that lights up a new way that musicals might go. The score is flat-out phenomenal: credible and varied with lyrics that put this year’s Tony-nominated ones to shame.


photo: Carol Rosegg

Even if you don't know the story and you've never seen the Charles Boyer-Ingrid Bergman movie, Irish Rep's production of Gaslight is low on suspense and mystery, mainly because it doesn't exploit the room in the play to keep us guessing. From the very first scene, everything is telegraphed and painfully obvious: when the villain needlessly starts off figuratively twirling a moustache, our journey's been narrowed. In a good production, the play's final scene - in which our heroine scrambles for a razor - should have us on the edge of our seats wondering what she's going to do with it. In this production, there's no doubt at all.

Sherie Rene Scott: A Work In Progress

Just about everything in the first fifteen minutes of Sherie Rene Scott's solo performance piece, up to and including a revised "You Made Me Love You" sung to a framed eight by ten of Jesus, falls flat and needs to be rethought. And the show's treacly finish, in which Scott tries to enlarge a cute story about her two year old into a meaningful metaphor for her life philosophy, doesn't feel earned by what's come before. But most of what stands between those bookends is pretty wonderful: her tribute to the songstack of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood is played with a wink, but Scott also manages to mine the earnest simplicity of those songs for something unexpectedly lovely and poignant. A section in which she performs magic tricks, while recalling the New York street magician who was her first meaningful love affair, is well written and smartly performed; the simple, theatrical trick of making a bit of fabric disappear takes on emotionally loaded meaning. The show's biggest crowd-pleaser is an extended sketch in which Scott reaches out to a fan (played by Tyler Maynard) who lip-syncs to her version of "My Strongest Suit" on youtube: that's funny stuff, as fan and performer engage via emails. Scott is charming onstage throughout, and when she sings (accompanied here by a tight band led by Tom Kitt) she makes me bliss out on her full, smooth sound and her seemingly effortless ability. Most of A Work In Progress is delightful enough as it is for those of us who are fans - funny, revealing and full of Scott's warmth and humor - but with a little more work and a stronger throughline it could evolve into something wonderful for everyone.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Crazy Mary/10 Million Miles

Playwrights Horizons/Atlantic

These two productions, so early in previews that I cannot find publicity stills, are definitely worth recommending but are not ready for one of ShowShowdown's good ole' opinionated, brilliantly worded, guerrilla reviews. So in lieu I will say one good thing about both productions: Matthew Morrison is stunningly charming in 10 Million Miles, the new country/folk musical at the Atlantic and Kristine Nielsen is stunningly charming as the title character in A.R Gurney's Crazy Mary at Playwrights Horizons.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Secret War

Singing, dancing, and Satan. An epic 75-minute-long adventure, produced in the cavernous Milagro Theater. Evil Imams, devout but demon-possessed Muslims, and the unstoppable evil of Ahriman. And the one thing that can save the day? A mystical DJ. Darius Safavi's The Secret War ("Episode 1: The Desecrated Ziggurat") is absurd but enjoyable, sloppy but creative. Don't expect to have any idea what's going on, but in the third chapter, "Gemini," the action switches to a modern-day land that rules with an admixture of technology and magic and lets loose language like "Let air-conditioned stars swallow the souls of prophets!" Sure, I'm game for that.

[Read on]

Stairway To Paradise

photo: Joan Marcus

The final Encores! this season, a song-heavy revue newly culled from revue shows, never gathers any momentum: it's hit and miss from start to finish. Some of what hits is thrilling - Kendrick Jones' two tap numbers, one done solo and the other done in syncopation with a chorus of army boys, are dazzling and exciting. Too much of the rest is bland and mild - only one of the evening's two non-musical comedy bits scores and even it, a fluffy goof involving a dimwitted starlet making a movie with a gorilla, lacks a good, capping punchline. Kristin Chenoweth was an obvious choice for this show - she's one of the few current Broadway performers with a personality strong enough for revue material - but she's the only one-of-a-kind up there. The show is packed with talent, but that's not the same thing as personality.

Brand Upon The Brain! (Live)

Brand Upon The Brain! for those of you keeping score at home, isn't just a show -- it's a spectacle. I'm too young to remember the golden days of film, but Guy Maddin's photo-play brings new levels to black-and-white expressionism, and revives the exhibitionism of silent films with live scores. For this limited run, various "interlocutors" provide the sparse text of the movie (John Ashbury when I saw it, Isabelli Rosellini for the recorded one), while Ensemble Sospeso provides an excellent rendition of Jason Staczek's classical score. Plus: Foley artists, in all their white-coated glory. Oh, and the film is pretty good, too: a comically bleak semi-biography that uses exaggerated characters (like the tyrannical mom and professorial father) to explore childhood and adolescence between Guy and his Sis. There are so many lively shots and such charm that it's easy to forget the dark Grand Guignol of the story or the stark mise-en-scene, but it all ties together rather neatly. Not to be missed!

[Read on]

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Jocker

photo: Carol Rosegg

There's a moment in The Jocker when an abusive tough-guy wakes up a runaway by roughly snatching his blanket and leaving him bareassed naked. The runaway (Nick Matthews) stays exposed far longer than the mere purposes of drama would reasonably allow; we're being given time to linger on the actor's dimpled butt. There's no doubt we're at the Wings Theatre seeing something in their annual Gay Plays series, where the stories are usually like pulp novels and there's almost always gratuitous male nudity. This one, a drama about men who ride the rails during the Depression, has more skin than most, so much that after a while it starts to feel like we're watching a gay porno film minus the sex scenes. The performances are, of course, better than that: the play's nicely-rendered B-plot, about a warm-hearted married hobo and the African-American male whore he falls for, is especially well-acted by David Tacheny and Stephen Tyrone Williams. The play is tidy and one of the better examples of what the Wings does, but I never know quite how to take what it is that they do.


David Harrower has found a way to add color to the formerly black-and-white subject of pedophilia. Whether that's a good thing or not, his gripping play Blackbird is an effective and balanced study of a twisted relationship back to bite our "hero" in the butt. Jeff Daniels is a likeable man, trying to hold on to his job and his life, and Alison Pill is an outstanding performer who channels the traumatized girl at the same time as the seductive adult, all while taking her pound of flesh from her one-time abuser. I only wish director Joe Mantello hadn't taken away from the powerful office setting and the naturally staccato script by fiddling with the light switch. Thought: maybe love--which affects the mind, body, and heart--is a trauma, too.

[Read on] [Also blogged by: Patrick ]

Coram Boy


So no Tony nomination for best play, eh? I spoze its foaming-at-the-mouth bid to create gargantuan, emotionally wrenching melodrama is a bit transparent but I am willing to forgive that. Coram Boy is all about its wildly theatrical thrill-a-minute theme ride of a production. With its gorgeous scenic design, 40 person/million character cast, ever present score by Handel and some other guy there was always something to throw your popcorn at. Quite frankly I had a blast at this and I wouldn't mind going back again.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

An Octopus Love Story

Photo/Mike Klar

There's something fishy about the set-up and resolution of An Octopus Love Story, but the questions it raises about gender identity are a real winner. For me, the show works best when active: the interrogative scene between a smarmy reporter and the public activists (Danny and Jane, who are both gay, but marrying each other to protest marriage restrictions) is very revealing, and the playful "first date" between Danny and Jane, which climaxes with a lip-sync re-enactment of a classic film, gives us a lot between the lines. But the monologues -- or more accurately, one-sided conversations -- are a lot harder to excuse, especially coupled with Mike Klar's passive direction. Ironically, the choice to make the set look somewhat like a glass-walled fish tank actually makes a lot of the action on stage less transparent: the strain to make the set match the watery anecdotes of the play displaces the action. I'd still recommend it, but watch out for the soggy subplots of Danny and Jane's thinly cut friends.

[Read on] [Also blogged by: Patrick]

Friday, May 11, 2007

Cary From The Cock

Gene Frankel

There is a lot of courage here in Cary Curran who is baring her soul and pretty much everything else in this autobiographical one woman play generally about her transition from Catholic square to Downtown fag hag. Being close to the same age as her and also having my own transition from a suburban Christian square to Downtown trash fag, I got every reference from The Waltons and Amy Grant (I sang "Thy Word" in church too) to Girlina (oops! I mean `Lina) and that infamous jizzy Jaccuzi (sorry about that). Though there was plenty for me to relate to, unfortunately with notalotta experience carrying a show on her own there was a lack of timing and delivery that really could have sold her sassy material (however it must be noted that I saw only her second performance). Also this seemed to be less of a focused narrative about a single theme and more of a hodgepodge of stories strung together by the simple fact that they're all about herself. My favorite part was her dance tribute to Mother Theresa to Air Supply's "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All". It was hysterical and the audience loved it. She's a kick-ass dancer- that's what she does best.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


The ads make it sound like a highfalutin rumination on the indefiniteness of memory, and the plot description isn't exactly promising - we're going to watch actors rehearsing a play in which a woman remembers the early days of Nazi Germany? But Memory, the opening production of this year's Brits Off Broadway festival, is actually profoundly powerful and completely riveting; it's easily one of the best, most gripping plays I've seen so far this year. The conceit of having the play framed by its own rehearsal is not a convenient gimmick - the deconstruction shrewdly disarms the audience and makes us more emotionally vulnerable to the material, because we are never sure when the rug will be pulled out from under us. The play within the play tells a second story, in which an Israeli contractor has to force a Palestinian man out of his home to make way for the Bethlehem Wall. Of the many different echoes that reverberate from this play's juxtaposed stories, perhaps the most affecting is that we may remember the events of history, but forget its lessons. The production, transferred from Clywd Theatr Cymru in Wales, is knife-edge sharp and the performances (particularly Vivien Parry) are fierce and intense. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Training Wisteria

The Cherry Lane Mentor Project teams a preeminent dramatist (in this case, Jules Feiffer) with an emerging playwright (Molly Smith Metzler this time) to give notes on a play in development. The plays (three this season) are then produced on Cherry Lane's smaller stage and open to the public for a brief run of performances. The productions are not meant to be open for review, and in the spirit of the Mentor Project, I'm going to respect that. From the I-Had-No-Idea Department: Sixteen Wounded, which eventually bowed on Broadway in 2004, was seen as a Mentor Project production at the Cherry Lane in 2002.

Monday, May 07, 2007

God's Ear

photo: Jim Baldassare

If you've been reading this blog, then you know that I'm easily aesthetically excitable, which is why I tell you that you must go see Jenny Schwartz's God's Ear (there's a 'pay-what-you-can' on Mondays). Full of a deftly repetitious but never monotonous rhythm (think Ives and Stoppard), this expertly directed comic tragedy allows its married couple to flounder through fits of logorrhea before finally stripping away the words they use for distance. The truly abstract portions are a little forced (GI Joe and the Tooth Fairy), but presented with such panache by Anne Kauffman that one is pretty much dared to take exception to a single line in the play. Obfuscation is just another tactic, but the exuberance of English here is so powerful that this strategy will literally be music to your ears. Did I mention the tremendous talent of the cast, especially Christina Kirk and hot talent Annie McNamara?

[Read on]

Also blogged by: [Patrick]


photo: Rachel Dickstein

Rachel Dickstein's Betrothed adapts three texts about women and marriage - Jhumpa Lahiri's Indian tale The Treatment of Bibi Haldar, Anton Chekhov's Betrothed and S. Ansky's play The Dybbuk - and succesively tells each story in highly theatrical, impressionistic terms. Choreography is integral to the stoytelling here, as is the haunting original music which underscores throughout, and the stage pictures are always visually rich and evocative. However, only the first of the three segments - Lahiri's story of a young modern-day Indian girl (sensitively played by Mahiri Kakkar) whose crushed hopes for marriage drive her to neurotic fits - struck me as wholly satisfying storytelling, partly because it is narrated by the ensemble. The other two parts of the triptych, adapted from more familiar works, are abundant in imagery and expressive movement but the price for that is muted dramatic impact. I appreciated their beauty and invention, but as if from a remove.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

An Octopus Love Story

photo: Mike Klar

The love story of the title, between a gay man and a lesbian who agree to a sham marriage as a socio-political publicity stunt, sounds like it could make for a groanworthy sitcom-deep play, but Delaney Britt Brewer's comedy-drama is smart and snappy, and it's more questioning than you might expect. The play goes to places (about gay identity and about the importance of desire, for instance) that are unsettlingly messy and deeply human - there is sharp social observation under the play's entertaining surface of comic situations and nifty laugh lines. The shoestring production is less than ideal (some of the staging is clunky, and the set changes take too long) and I could quibble that two supporting performances are pushed to be too broad, but that doesn't hold me back from happily recommending this solid off-off treat by a new, promising playwright.

The Receipt

The Receipt is a postmodern comedy about urban life (London, but it adapts well to New York) that is so awash in cleverness that even the repetition is excusable as satire on city routines. Chris Branch and Will Adamsdale have a great chemistry together, and watching the energetic Will get bent entirely out of shape by the multitude of tormenting authority figures Chris plays is worth the price of admission alone. But you'll want to stick around for the truth beneath all that cleverness, which is that although we are fast becoming small, anonymous figures, happiness is what we make of it: what we choose to grab hold of. Here, it's a receipt that reminds Will that if we only follow the processed chain far enough, eventually we'll arrive at the real person on the other end of it.

[Read on]

Coram Boy

The reason why Coram Boy works, why it grows beyond shallow melodrama, is because of its grandiose vision. One actor making the squalling of a baby is nothing, but a fleet of them becomes an unsinkable and theatrical armada of talent, and it is hard to go wrong with such overbearing emotion. When leading the entire cast (or the underlying choral score and orchestra), Melly Still makes the theater alive with action, from inspiring cathedral scenes to rich balls (not as nice as those in Coast of Utopia), or to the chaos of late-night wharves or underwater rescues. Scenes that are smaller in scope are hammed up and melodramatic, which only goes to illustrate how much of a musical Coram Boy is, despite not having any songs.

[Read on]
Also blogged by: [Patrick]

The Good Thief

Prospect Street Productions

In terms of graphic violence this one man play was right up there with Lieutenant Of Inishmore however not a drop of blood stains the floor. Presented as a sad memory of regret, a mournful thug sips down a bottle of Irish whisky as he recounts the events of a "roughing up" gone terribly wrong. With a straightforward, wistful delivery, imposing and naturalistic actor Kit Wannen elicited sympathy as well as laughter from the packed house I sat among. That's no small task considering this here is a guy you wouldn't want to come across in a dark alley.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Good Thief

Conor McPherson's The Good Thief is problematic to stage as a play: the one-man show is a passive narrative that works better as a short story, actionless as it is. Tom Wojtunik's direction confuses the work even further by adding two musicians to the cast who, stranded against the wall of the already overwhelming Access Theater space, are a constant reminder of the narration. We aren't ever made a part of McPherson's world, and Kit Wannen's interpretation of the role of this Irish street tough is so dispassionate that there's no charisma compelling us to even listen. Worse still, there doesn't seem to be any real reason for Wannen to tell this story; motivation, as in the story itself, seems but an afterthought. The play is built on understatements (which elicit laughs from only the most desperate of audiences); otherwise, it is a matter-of-fact accounting of past events, few of which are interesting. Toward the end of the play, Wannen finds an emotional hook -- the reckoning -- and at last, we can see where this whole production has been leading. "I felt as though my soul was being bleached," he says at one point (the language itself is always appealing), but it's unfortunate that McPherson's story takes an hour to get the point at which we care.

Fast Food

Emerging Artist's Theatre

This was one of those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants 24 hour play festivals. Six of us playwrights pulled suggestions out of a bag on Friday at 8pm, wrote all night, submitted our scripts to directors/actors in the morning and crossed our fingers at 7pm as the curtain rose. This is what I got:
Place: Stuck on the N Train on the Manhattan Bridge
Time: 1776
Must appear somewhere in play: "Gooaaaaall!!!!" and "Are you in the next EATFest?"
WTF??? I raced home and began typing and at 4 in the morning I was in a panic. What have I gotten myself into?! Happily, the actors got it and sold my 1776 on the N train play and the audience declared mine and the other 5 sleepless playwrights' plays hits. Totally scary but ultimately a blast- I wanna ride again!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Happy End

photo: Lab Photography

With very limited resources, Theatre Ten Ten has put together an entertaining revival of this two-hour, three-act Weill-Brecht musical. To modern audiences, the story (set in motion when a Salvation Army sister becomes romantically involved with a gangster) feels something like Guys and Dolls in a Major Barbara-like moral universe. This production, using the translation by Michael Feingold, emphasizes the pointed comedy in the material and mostly hits the mark. Unfortunately the first act is acoustically problematic, but the second and third acts - which play predominantly downstage and in the audience, gamely taking advantage of the troupe's church-basement venue - sound and work much better. Lorinda Lisitza has been getting some deserved attention for her portrayal of Hallelujah Lil - her renditions of "Surabaya, Johnny" and "Sailor's Song" are powerful and dramatically intense - but I was equally impressed with Joey Piscopo, who plays Bill Cracker, the gangster she falls for whose "tough exterior conceals a heart of stone." He's got the wise guy deadpan down pat and his song and dance style here reminded me of Jerry Orbach in the original Chicago. No small praise.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Les Miserables

Two good things about my recent visit to a matinee of Les Miserables:

1. If in some alternate universe they could ever come up with a track where the same actress could play Fantine AND Eponine then Lea Salonga would rock the hell out of that. Queen of the damaged, pure of spirit underdogs, Salonga's expressive and heartbreaking delivery is right at home in the role of the shat-upon Fantine and I would sneak in at intermish more than once just to hear her sing Eponine's "On My Own".

2. Doug Kreeger (that guy from Thrill Me!) stepping into the role of Marius had not an ounce of understudy vibe about him- in fact it felt like I was watching an originally cast actor in the role. With a youthful, whispering, intensity Kreeger dominated the second half of Les Miz as the urgently lovesick student (especially during his beautifully sung rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables"). It is quite a tall order to breathe fresh relevant energy into this dusty behemoth melodrama but Kreeger (and Salonga) did just that and made my second visit to the Broadhurst very enjoyable.


photo: Keith Pattison

Fresh, inventive, and distinctively elegant, Cheek by Jowl's production of Shakespeare's Cymbeline (currently at BAM) is a stunner; it's one of those uncommon, anachronistic presentations of Shakespeare in which style never gets in the way of substance, and its strong directorial imprint is always in service of telling the story clearly and effectively. The play is considered somewhat problematic - it's categorized as a comedy, yet it's loaded with devices that anticipate tragedy - but this production, guided by Declan Donnellan's insightful direction, moves assuredly to a fully realized, potently moving climax. The cast is excellent but Tom Hiddleston, in the dual role of the naive lover Posthumus and of the arrogant prince Cloten, deserves special attention for driving the play with his two superbly delineated performances.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Coram Boy

photo: Joan Marcus

Imported from London and based on the book for teenagers, Coram Boy is entertaining, brilliantly staged, overwrought crap. It's the stage equivalent of a page-turner - one sensationalized event after another at dizzying speed - but it lacks thematic substance and weight; in the end it's just a series of melodramatic, pulped-up moments, a cheesey soap opera in Masterpiece Theatre dress. For what it is, it's fun and ocassionally snortworthy - you'll hiss the baby-snatching villians, you'll ooh and aah the Flying By Foy, and you may even find you're misty-eyed (I wasn't) at the big eleventh hour emotional moment when some measure of happiness is found after nearly three hours of faux-Dickensian injustices - but you'll leave humming the stagecraft.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mr. Broadway: A Benefit For The Ali Forney Center

Dodger Stages

"We have seen some wonderfully dangerous acts", announced the hysterically brittle Tovah Feldshuh after the talent competition which included song, dance, and an attempt to break a Guiness world record for consecutive number of toe-touches. This fun, faggy, spectacle to find the hottest chorus boy on Broadway was an absolute blast! Talent, interview and swimsuit competitions were enlivened with hysterical judge banter offered up by catty Seth Rudesky, perpetually drooling Scott Nevins and the brilliant Nancy Opel (Dear God. Please let her be the next Drowsy Chaperone. Amen). Frankie James Grande (pictured) from Mamma Mia!, by vote of the audience won. How could he not have after his talent presentation: playing Gollum from LOTR auditioning for Danny in Grease on You're The One That I Want. My precious!