Friday, October 31, 2008

If You See Something Say Something

Photo/Kenneth Aaron

If You See Something Say Something is a political play in the first-person, a unique trait that allows it to be socially responsible on a collective scale. It is first-rate theater, too--a direct story, with no mixed messages, that reminds us all of the very power we have to say something. It's a power that Mike Daisey seems to grow more and more comfortable wielding with each new monologue, too: whereas How Theater Failed America stemmed from personal experience, this play was generated first by Daisey's research into the morality of the atomic bomb (Cohen and Kahn), with his own anecdotes created later, by his trip to the Trinity site. Despite the means of production, the tone of this piece--which is very heavy on Homeland Security--is much needed. We need someone to be angry about the things we see and don't say anything about, those deaths we sweep under the table in the quest to be "the good guys."

[Read on]

La Traviata

The first act didn't bode well - German soprano Anja Harteros had an effortful time getting through the coloratura passages in Violetta's "Sempre libera" and Italian tenor Massimo Giordano's acting as Alfredo was of the silent movie pantomime variety - big showy gestures, but no convincing passion. He improved only incrementally, but she sprang to vivid life in the second act once the most challenging coloratura runs and trills were behind her. She's of the new generation of opera performers who are cognizant of opera as theatre and, based on the rich, expressive colors in her voice and the her well-judged acting opposite Zeljko Lucic (who made a top-notch Germont on all levels) she's worth watching out for. It's also worth watching out for when the new Peter Gelb helmed Met retires this Zeffirelli production - the ornately overdecorated sets are like one gaudy jewel box after another designed for pageant rather than theatricality.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

American Buffalo

Given that I sneaked into the dress rehearsal for American Buffalo, take this with a grain of salt (which I can only help has better cured the rotting meat...), but all of the glib energy has been drained from Mamet's so-so play about American ennui, a show in which three deadbeats talk a plan to death, for no reason other than it being embedded in their genetic capitalist zeitgeist to make money, and not be cheated. It's not that far from Israel Horovitz's Line, and it has the advantage of being a lot more subtle . . . but subtlety isn't something John Leguizamo and Cedric the Entertainer are known for. (And Hailey Joel Osment isn't actually known for anything, which is about what he presents in this minimalist role of a mentally challenged kid.) I'm sure the staging will grow to feel more natural over the next few weeks of previews, but unless the actors actually find some motivation behind their bullshit, that is, unless they manage to talk themselves up, it's going to be a long, miserable two hours.

Black Watch

I expected to be riveted by this piece from National Theatre Of Scotland, which has traveled the world to great acclaim and has just extended its sold out run at St. Anne's Warehouse. Instead I find myself in the minority, thinking that its often striking theatricality is a case of style over substance. The playwright interviewed young Scottish soldiers who served in Iraq - some of their insights are interesting, particularly because their subculture is aggressive and they nonetheless came to think of the U.S. as bullies - but the playwright does next to nothing to distinguish the boys from one another, which becomes exhausting. This documentary-interview material alternates with highly theatrical, visceral sequences which miss as often as they hit. The best is a hypnotic wordless segment with faux-Glass musical underscoring in which the boys read letters to themselves while slowly adopting individuated, specific hand signals and body language: the segment evokes feeling and has a compelling strangeness. The worst is a gimmicky segment in which one of the boys narrates the history of the Scot fighting force while the other soldiers re-outfit him: it's theatricality for its own sake, nothing more than a way to enliven dry information.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Billy Elliot

photo: David Scheinmann

At least half a dozen tearjerking moments in the thrilling, superbly staged musical of Billy Elliot set the audience around me bawling. The moment that finally did me in me was a quiet, understated one which subtly put forth the idea that community may be larger than family and family larger than the individual, but artistic expression is larger than all. The show, adapted from the smash hit indie film of the same name about a Thatcher-era working class boy who yearns to dance ballet, instantly joins the very highest ranks of British musicals a la Oliver! and has thankfully arrived on Broadway without being Americanized or dumbed-down. It's the kind of stirring entertainment that has something for everyone whether one absorbs its overarching thematic message or not and that nearly everyone will be interested in seeing once the word is out: in other words, get your tickets now while the show is still in previews because by Christmastime it will be impossible. The show employs three boys to play the central role of Billy and doesn't pre-announce who will play the role at a given performance, but given the level of care that has been clearly put into every aspect of the production I can trust that the other two Billys are in the same high strata of ability as Kiril Kulish, who I saw and who was captivating. There isn't a weak link anywhere in the large cast - Haydn Gwynne, reprising her role from the London production as Billy's unsentimental small-town dance teacher, has honed her every line reading for its maximum bite; Gregory Jbara and Carole Shelley, both familiar to Broadway audiences, skillfully disappear into their unglamorous, downtrodden characters; Frank Dolce, as Billy's cross-dressing school friend, is the kind of young ham who immediately endears himself to the audience and leaves everyone charmed. New musical theatre classic, thy name is Billy Elliot.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Romantic Poetry

photo: Joan Marcus

"There's a nightclub in my shoe/And I go there when I'm blue": John Patrick Shanley doesn't only write lyrics like someone who has never written them before. He also writes them like someone who has never heard them before. At first, with mouth likely agape, you think that the schmaltzy Lawrence Welk ambiance and the generic melodies and clunky, unmusical lyrics in Romantic Poetry are meant to be purposefully bad, a satire on our cultural mythology around romantic love. But before long the songs in this would be absurdist fable more likely seem to be an attempt to make inelegant "real" poetry out of what ordinary schlubs say - I haven't cringed so much since Paul Sorvino was waxing lyrical about how love makes the garbage on the streets smell like roses in Slow Dancing In The Big City. It's no shock that artists must sometimes fail, even ones as gifted as Shanley; the shock is that this survived all the check points and is actually up on stage for MTC's audiences. The show is too cringe-inducing to be boring, and it counts for something that all six performers commit to it bravely. My vote for the unluckiest would be Mark Linn-Baker who gets the bum end of the rhyme of "heinous" with "penis" and who inexplicably spends most of the second act dressed as if he's about to play Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Twelfth Night

I couldn't fail to notice Jacqueline van Biene's standout work last year so I can't say I'm too surprised that she's outstanding again. The surprise is that she's at ease in Shakespeare, and that her delightful, layered and always emotionally accessible performance as Viola is this Twelfth Night at T. Schreiber Studios is the kind that will captivate both those who have analyzed every Shakespeare line and those who need help comprehending Bardspeak. The rest of the performers include those who don't seem to understand what they are saying, those who do but don't give the illusion that it is speech, and those who are comfortable with Shakespeare's language and rhythms (with Julian Elfer, as Malvolio, most notably in the last camp despite the lack of other Shakespeare credits in his bio). With the variable degrees of ease among the performers, the directorial concept (which emphasizes whimsy and pulls from both the antique and the modern) doesn't have much chance of taking hold. As is becoming the norm at T. Schreiber Studios, the sets and costumes are astonishingly well-done by off-off standards.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Like You Like It

Photo/Jennifer Maurfrais Kelly

Despite a few bum shops in this "All-the-world's-a" mall, Like You Like It, an '80s light rock riff on Shakespeare, is quite likeable. Alison Luff, Hollis Scarbourgh, and Trey Compton are such charming A+ actors that, when they're in the midst of a well-executed number from choreographer Keith Andrews, and wearing Hunter Kaczorowski's slammin' clothes, all you see is a blur of comic cheer--and that's something we can all like.

[Read on]


Reviewed for Theatermania.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


There's initially a temptation to think of Equus as dated - pharmaceuticals have drastically changed the world of mental health treatment, so the play's conceit of behavioral psychiatrist as detective seems from another era that includes Hitchcock's Spellbound. But it's quickly apparent in this riveting, superbly staged production that the play's themes are what really matter and that they're as compelling as ever. It's also apparent that the text may traffic in the cerebral but the show is often a powerful theatrical spectacle. Daniel Radcliffe is suitably intense as the adolescent who undergoes treatment after blinding a half dozen horses, but the show more belongs to Richard Griffiths, who emphasizes the doctor's vulnerability and gives many of his speeches the feeling of deeply private soul searching. The result of this approach is that it makes his final monologue newly devastating. All in the ensemble do very fine work save for Kate Mulgrew, whose performance is scaled so grandly that it seems like she's still playing Iphigenia.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Blue Before Morning

Lights up on a chintzy-looking car and a wall made out of black suitcases: consider this re-enforcement of the positives and negatives of Kate McGovern's new play, Blue Before Morning. Over the next ninety minutes, a lot of things are squeezed into that car and rather showily discussed, but very little actually opens up, and that wall of baggage never comes down. In truth, the play is a little well-planned for a spontaneous road trip, one caused when the young Ava (Kether Donohue) hails a cab driven by the amiable Jerry (Chris McKenney), and manages to guilt him into driving her from New York City to South Carolina. Along the way, he picks up a third-trimester hitcher, Ella (Jenny Maguire), as he can't stand to see her get soaked. While Gia Forakis's neatly choreographed segues work (accelerated video shows the passage of time), McGovern's short scenes ("Doughnuts," "Obstacles," "Birthdays,") come across as overplanned. Credit the writing that it remains enjoyable up until the end: it's a shame the luggage is missing.

[Read on]

CD: Patti LuPone At Les Mouches

***** (out of five stars)

I completely agree with our Patrick when he calls this upcoming release of Patti LuPone's early eighties late night cabaret act a "one-of-a-kind-gem". As opposed to current day where we are gifted with the elegant belter who delivers showstoppers from her throne in the pantheon of musical theater legends, this CD re-introduces us to the fearless, sassy, raw (yet still refined) fresh face who has something to prove.

Patti's energetic Les Mouches gig reminds me of Bette Midler's 1970 break-out "Divine Miss M" act at the Continental Baths (not that I was there but we've all seen the scratchy footage on VH1). Happily, Patti's performance was more carefully preserved and has been digitally restored for a November 11th realease.

The eclectic song-list ranging from standards ("Come Rain Or Come Shine") to jazz ("Street Of Dreams") to, of course, musical theater (yes, she sings "Don't Cry For Me Argentina"- the second time that night having performed it a few hours earlier on the Broadway stage), is peppered with playful, saucy banter that kinda makes you feel like you've travelled back in time and are there in the room with her.

My favorites include the melodious and belty "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife, a smooth and jazzy version of Petula Clark's "Downtown" and Springsteen/Smyth's "Because The Night" that sounds near perfect in this expressive and dramatic rendition.

I've always had a gay crush on Patti LuPone. It started with Evita and has only been stoked over the years by her many Broadway, TV and concert performances. Seeing her as Momma Rose in Gypsy earlier this year pushed me over the top though and I've been drooling for new Patti stuff ever since. Well this is it. You guys gotta get this CD!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Chekhov Lizardbrain

It'll shame me until the next time Pig Iron Theatre performs, but I attended Chekhov Lizardbrain while in a bit of a sickly fugue, and so I only caught bits and pieces of what seemed to be a complex and beautiful amalgamation of Chekhov's Three Sisters (reimagined as three brothers) and a humanizing study of autism. I can say with certainty that James Sugg gives an absolutely captivating deadpan, and that Dan Rothenberg's direction comes across as vaudeville by way of Michel Gondry--that's a huge compliment to the powers of this production's scenic creativity. It's a convoluted production, too, with each character doubling (much as Dmitri's personality is split) between characters in the Chekhovian world, and ones in the modern day, not to mention their own redirection of the play itself as they seize control--a symbolic example of an autistic fit. I wish I'd focused better on the moments, packed as they were with imagry and fine acting, but I can only really remark on how energetic the whole production was, like a world locked in on itself.

All My Sons

Reviewed for Theater News Online.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Pumpkin Pie Show

The Pumpkin Pie Show is storytelling at its most basic and finest: no set, no costumes, just high energy bedroom stories for the adult crowd. Clay McLeod Chapman's stories may twist and turn, but they are ultimately about the deeply wounded, and even more deeply human, characters at the heart of them, and this voice--unabashedly released by Chapman and Hanna Cheek--is not just what stories need to be about, but what theater should be, too.

[Read on]

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Irena's Vow

photo: Carol Rosegg

At one point in this 90-minute one-act, the always captivating Tovah Feldshuh breaks the fourth wall (while in character as heroic Irena Gut Opdike) to remind us that we will soon have no chance for face to face contact with Holocaust survivors and to drive home the importance of carrying their stories with us. While that's inarguably true, I dare ask: must this story be presented with such a heavy hand and written so that nearly every single dramatic moment is over explained? Just because this is theatre that is good for humanity doesn't mean it's good theatre by default: despite Feldshuh's superb performance as a Polish Catholic housekeeper who courageously sheltered a dozen Jews right under the nose of the Nazi Kommandant who employed her, the play is maddeningly simplistic and keeps faltering with narration that tells us what we already know. That said, I haven't heard so much weeping during the final scenes of a sold-out play since the Brian Dennehy Death of a Salesman.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rock Of Ages

Reviewed for Theatermania.

A.N.T. Fest

Why toy with a catchphrase that works? According to their press release, their first annual A.N.T. (Ars Nova Theater) Fest is a chance to catch "genre-defying emerging artists from beginning to trend." While there was nothing groundbreaking in the short previews of this premiere--unless you've never seen good step dancing before (10/16's Step) nor heard a nebbish white guy talk about his failed love life (11/13's Girls I've Like Liked)--there were plenty of emerging artists, as evinced by the self-deprecating deadpan of Sara Schaefer (of 10/17's Liquid Gold) and the slightly off-kilter humor of Becky Yamamoto (10/23's The Story of America). The rock band Goodbye Picasso may not be next year's Jollyship (11/1's The Book of Aylene), and Eric March and Jared Weiss aren't as endearing as [title of show] (11/17's Songs About Real Life), but they're in the progress of getting their act together, thanks to A.N.T. Fest's act. Why should we need to make sense of the white-guy dancing, intentionally awful jokes, and political commentary of 10/20's Just Jump!? As is pretty clear from shows with titles like Pirates and Ninjas, Dial 'P' For Pasties, and Outre Island, now's as good as any a time to jump. Ars Nova isn't reinventing the wheel (The Brick has been doing eclectic festivals for years now), but with their beautiful space, excellent liquor selection, and comfortable seats, they're driving in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

To Be Or Not To Be

Photo/Joan Marcus

As MTC has stupidly begged the question, the answer, definitively, is "not to be." Nick Whitby's adaptation of the 1942 film To Be Or Not To Be is slow, under-rehearsed, badly staged (Faith Healer meets Gypsy), and unable to establish a tone--as Colonel "Concentration Camp" Erhard (Michael McCarty, one of the few good things about this show) points out at a gestapo soiree, "I've misjudged the tone of the room." Boeing Boeing, for all its flaws, knows that it is a sex farce, and the energy crackles through the play, building and building until take-off; not so for To Be Or Not To Be, which sputters through video clips and recordings that defuse the action. It's also horribly dated: even though "Heil myself!" stems from Lubitsch's original, it now seems like secondhand Brooks. Casey Nicholaw's direction is astoundingly aimless, as if he set out to direct The 39 Steps but wanted all the glitz of The Drowsy Chaperone, too. The space is badly used, and Anna Louizos's set could've taken some cues from Roundabout's revival of Twentieth Century. Erhard comments that Josef Tura, a hammy actor (hammily played by David Rasche, which is a most unkosher choice) did to Shakespeare what Germany has done to Poland; one could go a step further and compare what Germany did to Poland to what MTC has done to this film (and to a wasted Jan Maxwell).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Waves of Mu

It's a credit to Amy Caron's current obsession that Waves of Mu is able to tackle the heady neuroscience of mirror neurons in a playful way that won't go over anyone's head. But perhaps it should have: knowing exactly what's going on tends to make the individual demonstrations drag on. What's more, the cloying tone of the play gives out a lot of mixed signals: for instance, during a video interview with V. S. Ramachandran (whose work Caron is expressing through theater), an actor stands to the side, mocking his gesticulations. The art installation is cute, too, with its secretary-cum-thalamus, but this view of the mind doesn't connect with what follows--a multidisciplinary translation of mirror neurons that relies too heavily on video. All that empathy, and yet I often found myself being very self-aware, unable to relate.

[Read on]


photo: Joan Marcus

Adam Rapp's new play has some stray moments, many of which belong to Annette O'Toole. but they're hard to enjoy once it's clear that the play's lone conflict is the unconvincing and unwelcome suspense of whether the teenaged main character will bash his mom's brains in with a hammer. No matter how much cheap condescension Rapp (who also directed) heaps on Mom - we're cued for most of the play to snicker at her bad cassettes (Juice Newton, for instance) and at her awe of "Rent" (thinly disguised in the script as "Survivin': The Musical") - she's infinitely more interesting than her son, a walking and talking blank slate. A good deal of the play is devoted to his interactions with a mystery woman, a contrived character if there ever was one but at least Katherine Waterston's intensity makes her initially fascinating to watch.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Master of Horror

Photo/Aaron Epstein

I don't want to say anything negative about the latest Blood Brothers anthology from Nosedive, so I'll try to just blame everything on Stephen King. By adapting three of King's little-known short stories, far from the goriest or most interesting, James Comtois, Qui Nguyen, and Mac Rogers have put straightjackets on their creativity, and their attempts to balance their styles with King's have led them to muddle through this show, all zombie-like. Effort and good intentions simply aren't enough to provide the show with a backbone, and without one, we don't really care how many times it gets stabbed, splattering blood all over the first row.

[Read on]

Nightmare: Bad Dreams Come True

Timothy Haskell's fifth-annual haunted house, Nightmare: Bad Dreams Come True isn't likely to give you nightmares, especially if you're with a talkative or sarcastic group, but it's going to scare you at least once, and that's the most one can expect (or actually want) from the experience. More than that, there are at least four really original moments, which, to preserve their horror, I can only describe as involving a strobe light, a liquid stream, a locker room, and a giant face. However, the "play" lacks structure, and the ambiance diminishes each time you accidentally walk out a fire exit, double back on an unprepared actor, or worse, have an apologetic monster double back to get you. The moment-to-moment shocks are also a bit of a tease--worse, in fact than a strip club's champagne room, for not only can't you touch the performers: they can't touch you. This leads to some tame sections of the house, like the action-less Saw V room, or the Frankenstein exhibit. It's also remarkably short (well, you do run/stumble quite a bit), with our group in the dark for less than twenty minutes (both sections). It's ooky, but it's not altogether spooky. Snap snap.


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

Upon moving to New York, for approximately ten minutes, I fancied myself an actor. Many of the reasons why I wised up and happily settled into a rewarding career as a bartender are addressed in this very funny and vehement tale chronicling the epic relationship of two actor buddies whose careers take two distinctly separate paths. Insecure actors standing around measuring each other's cocks (metaphorically, you dirty birds) is nothing new but Michael Buckley's script, which deconstructs the all too common diseases of unconfidence and overwhelming jealousy rife in the acting community, is loaded with crisp, edgy dialogue and two vivid characters you could easily find chanting through their sides at Actor's Equity headquarters. Mr. Buckley, who also plays the poor serious actor who can't get a break, is surprisingly charming even as he complains about his waiter-job or neurotically lists out all the reasons why he should be far more successful than the world will allow him to be. And Will Poston (HGA!), as the statuesque Hottie McHotHot who rockets to stardom, proves that it takes a really good actor to play a less than great one. The chemistry between these two bros is dead-on perfect and natural and they are selling it old school here. Check out their Youtube page. (I love it when theatrical productions have previews. That's like enterprising and post-millennium and stuff.) Thumbs up!


Photo/Joan Marcus

Kindness is the first glimpse of actual humanity that I've seen in an Adam Rapp play: digging deep into the repressed darkness between a mother and son (including a staggering performance from Annette O'Toole), but also into the deep love that drives them together, there are some sad and powerful moments. But Rapp, trying too hard for single-scene naturalism, generates a worthless plot that eats up the vast majority of the play, almost as if he's afraid of growing up. Instead, he has the talented but misplaced Katherine Waterston exude hipness, making implausible choices that go nowhere.

[See also: Patrick's take]

Friday, October 10, 2008

Something Weird . . . in the Red Room

How did Rachel Klein end up stuck with material more ambiguous than Michael Jackson's last music video? She's a fantastic choreographer, so she makes the dancing effectively creepy, but she fails to find a way to direct through the schlocky Swiss-cheesed plots from Benjamin Spiro ("Sir Sheever") and Sean Gill ("Aenigma"). In "Sir Sheever," Ralph (Bret Haines) plans to rob Miss Elise (Kari Warchock), but rather than overpower her, ends up being cowed into taking part in her terrible tea party, and when they both find out that her odd collection of mannequins are real, they just roll with the punches. (I don't mind watching the cast imitate dolls--Ted Caine and Megan O'Connor are especially good at it--but I'd like them to have a reason for doing so.) In the far more unfathomable "Aenigma," Klein is at least given a clever set of flashbacks at the opening that allow her choregraphy to work with the show rather than in parallel to it, but when Charlotte (Elizabeth Stewart) kills Mr. Green (Rob Richardson) over a videotape of her sister, Diana (Jillaine Gill) . . . and then the whole thing turns out to be a psychic manipulation by the mindlessly evil Tad (Bret Jaspers), who in turn is trying to save the world . . . well, you see where this is going. (Just in case you don't: there's also an interpretive chorus, the "Body Rock Crew.") The moral, ghouls and girls, is that if you go to see theater and end up watching dance, then there's something rotten going on.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


If Samuel Beckett had balls, he'd have written Blasted, a graphically offensive, utterly savage play about the deprecation (and depreciation) of human life, starting with something trivial as "mild" rape and moving into a full-on role-reversal (from a symbolic Enemy) and then to the darker stuff: not, "I can't go on, I'll go on," but "I can't go on, but there's no bullets left in my gun, I'm blind, and I can't find a way to kill myself."

I've got a lot more to say about this excellent production from Soho Rep, but know that Sarah Benson is a masterful director who manages to keep the brutal realism present even through the wicked symbolism at the end, and that all three members of the cast (especially Marin Ireland) are so palpably suffering through this play that you owe it to them to stand up and applaud (assuming you can find your footing after they floor you). They've set their aesthetic and dramatic standards ten times higher than in The Thugs: don't let my backlog of reviews keep you from getting tickets while the play gets extended!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Two Rooms

Photo/Aaron Epstein

Despite Lee Blessing's heavy-handed metaphors and Peter Flynn's too-literal direction, what ultimately matters is not the room, but what's inside it: on that account, Angela Christian and Michael Laurence acquit themselves nicely as a husband and wife separated by a terrorist's political demands. If only their emotional journey weren't constantly interrupted by the bland and all-too-familiar use of an ice-cold government agent, Ellen van Oss (Adinah Alexander), and a manipulative reporter, Walker Harris (Patrick Boll), not to mention the slide-show accompanied political lecture. Two Rooms was revived for its relevancy (it's otherwise a rather lifeless play): in that case, the audience needs to be trusted a little bit more.

[Read on]

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Photo/Jocelyn Gonzales

If one is going to call Edgar Allen Poe's Eureka a prose poem (it's an essay), one might as well call Hanon Reznikov's theatrical adaptation of it a play. But if one wants to be honest to the hard work that Judith Malina has put into the choreography, it's far closer to interpretive dance: Fuerzabruta for the New Age crowd. It's a beautiful idea, re-creating the Big Bang by using the audience (and dancing/acting cast) as component parts, but being so close to the action, striving to follow the cues, makes us work too hard to appreciate, let alone hear, "the rhythmical creation of beauty in words." The end result feels like doing the work of an Alexander class while watching Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi, with a big self-congratulatory "Let The Sunshine In"-type conclusion. The Living Theater's committment to larger-than-theater work is admirable, but the question you need to ask is, do you feel transcendental, punk? Well, do you?

[Read on]


Reviewed for Theater News Online.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Brew of the Dead

The jovial energy and rough yet polished performances of the ensemble in Brew of the Dead makes the production seem as if it's been poured straight from the tap, though it's clearly gotten a good oast-like rehearsal process under Justin Plowman's direction. Though the simple "flee zombies and drink beer" plot isn't far from the cheap "drinkability" humor of a Bud Lite commercial, the pun-heavy result ends up resembling a Guinness: dark, frothy, and practically a meal in a can. Patrick Storck's puns are fresh and clever (although, with lines like "insert Tab A into zom-B," you may need a drink), and he's clearly been eating some pop-culture saturated brains, as there are references to everything from Shaun of the Dead to the crowbar-wielding hero of the Half-Life video games. The cast, however, really sells it, especially Peter Schuyler and Amy Beth Sherman, who go over the top, but have so much fun doing so that we're happy to just drink along for the ride.

[Read on]


Michael Buckley's new play, Nemesis, features two charming actors who are trapped in an unglamorously extended episode of Entourage. Buckley bestows some hard-earned honesty from his own experiences on the trials and tribulations of these friends turned rivals, easygoing Eric (Will Poston) and talented but egotistical Dan (Buckley). However, by relying on monologues to convey large amounts of plot over a long period of time, he loses the development he would get from scenes, and his characters are stretched far too thin (high school to Hollywood). If there is a real nemesis in Nemesis, it is the playwright himself (and perhaps the director, Chad M. Brinkman, who throws a single meaningless screen onto the set so that he can call it "multimedia").

[Read on]

Friday, October 03, 2008

A Body of Water

Photo/James Leynse

If you somehow managed to condense Lost into a two-person play, added a third character to twist the plot in a Memento-type fashion, and then stripped out the drama, you'd have Lee Blessing's aimless new play, A Body of Water. Normally, plays either suffer from characters in search of a plot, or a plot in search of characters: here, Blessing suffers both simultaneously, for his characters are in search of their character, and that, in effect, is the plot. The play uses cheap narrative tricks to keep us as confused as Moss (Michael Cristofer) and Avis (Christine Lahti), and Maria Mileaf confuses directing with entertaining, which is perhaps why Laura Odeh is the most enjoyable thing about the show: her character doesn't bother trying to make sense. Water's fine, and a liquid plot has suspenseful purposes, but without any meat--or nutrients--in the show's diet, it just trickles interminably on. Lesson learned: when you're stuck going down shit creek without a paddle, the last thing you want is a clown juggling in the backseat.

[Read on]

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fifty Words

Photo/Joan Marcus

Everything you need to know about the marriage in Fifty Words can be summed up by Austin Pendleton's silent, pre-blackout moment. Adam (Norbert Leo Butz) marches down the stairs and Jan (Elizabeth Marvel) comes through the front door: the two pointedly ignore one another as they cross paths. It's a necessary bit of staging, for Butz and Marvel are such tremendously subtle actors that without clueing us in, one could easily spend the first twenty minutes wondering where all the drama was, missing the tension around a smiled line like "In case there's any ambiguity, that was foreplay," and failing to spot the active choice to compliment the food instead of the waiter. There's a precise imprecision to this failing marriage that epitomizes America today just as Albee captured our past in Virginia Woolf, and Michael Weller's on his A-game, keeping the two-hander clever, despite traveling a much beaten-to-death path.

[Read on]

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Estrogenius Festival: Series A

From a marketing standpoint, the Estrogenius Festival is brilliant. But when it comes to honesty and entertainment, the first week's five one-act offerings fall short of Mensa's theatrical standards (except for Ashleigh Murray's stirring performance in Cheryl Davis's "Child of the Movement"). The festival is still a success: the playwrights show remarkable range and, even in the rockiest moments, take on an energetic, unfaltering pride in their voices. If they're tripping on anything, it's not having enough to actually talk about.

[Read on]