Sunday, August 30, 2009

Candide Americana

Photo: Edward Elefterion

[possible spoilers in this paragraph] What if Candide were a modern young refugee in the United States from Bosnia? What if he remained convinced that this is "the best of all possible worlds" despite living through a ferry accident, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina--and seeing his tutor hanged and believing the love of his life to be dead? What if seven people seemed like a cast of twenty? What if no one sang?

You'd have Candide Americana, the Rabbit Hole Ensemble's extremely enjoyable version of Candide at the Fringe Festival. Playwright Stanton Wood's updating of the story is apt and well-done; the minimal props and costumes provide a simple yet effective backdrop for funny and sad story-telling; the cast is protean, talented, energetic, and polished; and director Edward Elefterion keeps everything moving at a pace that parallels the breathlessness of Candide himself as he goes from disaster to disaster.

Two--and only two--complaints: (1) It needs some trimming (as has every Candide I've ever seen), and (2) I really missed "Make Our Garden Grow."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

As You Like It

Photo: The Queens Company

Extraordinarily well directed by Greg Cicchino, this Queens Players production of Shakespeare's comedy triumphs. While historical opinions on the play have varied, we can safely say, reinforced by the elastic Claire Morrison's animated and expert performance, that Rosalind is one of Shakespeare's most fully realized and interesting female characters. If, as the clown Touchstone lectures, "The truest poetry is the most feigning," it is nonetheless the rhymes carved in the trees by Rosalind's swain, the passionate, lovelorn Orlando (the effective Anthony Martinez), that keep hope burning, not to mention the story. Director Greg Cicchino has a gift for focusing his actors' strengths, and for creating moments of unscripted, silent humor that move the action swiftly along. From his fine cast he draws out a number of standout performances in the smaller roles as well as the leads; indeed, despite the dominance of the Rosalind-Orlando storyline, the production is the very model of a modern ensemble piece. Leave it to Shakespeare, in the loving and crafty hands of a director like Mr. Cicchino, to bring to glorious life the human tapestry in all its poetic good cheer under the rumbling elevated trains of Long Island City. Read the full review.

The Crow Mill

photo: Aaron Epstein

When I saw his The Infliction Of Cruelty at The Fringe a couple of years back, I was struck by Andrew Unterberg's ability to credibly depict literate, intelligent characters. That skill is again evidenced by his latest, a tight, suspenseful 90 minute one-act in which a university professor is urged by his wife to uncover what he can't remember about the abuse in his childhood just as his mother, suffering from Alzheimer's, is losing command of her memory. There's an unfortunate credibility lapse in the play early on - frustratingly, it's a needless one - when the wife, a psychologist, coaxes the husband into her treatment: that's an ethical no-no that went out with Karen Horney. Once past that, the play is wholly believable with well-paced, gradually rising tension. All three performances - Geraldine Librandi, Quentin Mare, and Margot White - hit the mark.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Citizen Ruth

Photo: Dixie Sheridan

Based on the non-musical movie by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, the musical Citizen Ruth (book and lyrics, Mark Leydorf; music, Michael Brennan) is the tale of an unrepentant loser who becomes a pawn in an ongoing battle between a group of pro-lifers and a group of pro-choicers. The musical is quite true to the movie (which is smart since the movie is funny, biting, and excellent) and has some good and some not-so-good songs (Leydorf's lyrics are studded with painful half- and quarter- and not-even-close-rhymes). Garrett Long is first-rate as Ruth--although her voice is not perfect, her sneer is. The outstanding supporting cast includes Craig Bennett, Janet Dickinson, Sherri L. Edelen, Marya Grandy, Joel Hurt Jones, and the ever-wonderful Annie Golden. If this Fringe Festival show is to have a future, it will need to be trimmed and polished, and many of the so-called rhymes will need to be cleaned up, but it is a solidly entertaining two hours in the theatre.

His Greatness

Photo: Neilson Barnard

Playwright Daniel MacIvor
describes his Fringe Festival play His Greatness as "Inspired by a potentially true story about playwright Tennessee Williams." The Tennessee Williams character--known here only as "the playwright"--is an over-the-hill alcoholic desperate for a final hurrah. His assistant both adores and disrespects him, while the uneducated hustler that the assistant procures for him, who has never heard of the playwright, is nevertheless dazzled by his fame. His Greatness has some interesting and moving moments, and the changing allegiances among the three men are intriguing, if not totally convincing. However, the play relies too much on not-so-sharp campy humor and truly dumb "dumb jokes." I feel that there is an excellent play hiding in His Greatness, but it would be about the assistant, rather than the playwright. The assistant is the one who has the most at stake, the assistant is the one who learns something, the assistant is the one who changes.

A Lifetime Burning

Photo: James Leynse

The concept is intriguing: Tess (Christina Kirk) opens the New York Times one morning and discovers that her sister Emma (Jennifer Westfeldt) has published a memoir in which she claims, untruthfully, to be part Incan and part Cherokee. When Tess confronts Emma, the conversation bounces from the memoir to their relationship and back again, but, unfortunately, never gets anywhere interesting. The direction (Pam MacKinnon) and writing (Cusi Cram) offer little that is thought-provoking or new and instead rely on "family dynamics 101" and the occasional funny line. Isabel Keating, in a very entertaining turn as Emma's editor, manages to bring more depth to her two-dimensional character than the others bring to their ostensibly complex ones. And if we are to believe this story at all, if we are to believe that Emma's clearly intelligent editor buys that Emma is of part-Incan-Cherokee heritage, it would be nice to cast someone not blond and not so light-skinned.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dancing With Abandon

Of all the musicals I saw at this year's Fringe Festival, this is the one I'd most want to see again after some more development. The characters - a world famous opera diva and the rocker teenage son she abandoned years ago - are extreme and don't behave as people are supposed to in musicals. Example: when mom and son are reunited his neediness is almost psychotic and she, not the least bit maternal, responds by locking him in a closet. The material needs plenty of work - his songs (which contrast with her opera arias) need to rock much harder, the quality of the lyrics is wildly variable, the show should be his story more than hers but is currently the opposite. And yet despite the hot messiness the authors have written a story that demands to be musicalized, and the parts that work are fresh and wildly entertaining.

Monday, August 24, 2009

All Over.

photo: Samanthe Burrow/Rachelle Beckerman

In Elizabeth Audley's solo show, which vividly recounts her long solo car trip through parts of America, the actress begins in a place of some cynicism about the United States and ends soon after she decides to work on the Obama campaign. Although Audley does a fine job of making clear how the trip restored her political optimism - lots of those red state people have blue state social values, it turns out - the show's most affecting stretch is more personal: as Audley drives on through underpopulated terrain day after day, the isolation forces her attention inward and makes her confront personal demons. What is she doing with her life, and is anything she's ever done worth anything? That's the moment our intelligent, engaging, sometimes humorous tour guide becomes someone we care about and root for.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Population 8

photo: Larry Gumpel

Set in a North Dakota town with a population of 8, this play (by Nicholas Gray) is peopled with characters who live simultaneously in isolation from the world and in close association with each other. There is a main story that takes hold of our attention, but the often atmospheric, evocative play is driven more by character than by plot: we're watching the last gasps of a distinctive community of people. The details, such as how the act of changing the city limits sign has become ritualized, are thought-out and credible, and the characters are individuated and just oddball enough to ring true. The production doesn't rise to all of the play's challenges - there has to be a more fluid way to quickly delineate the space and move between the often very brief scenes - but it gets the general job done and doesn't ever blunt what is special about the play. Cast stand-out: Gideon Glick

Willy Nilly

My reaction to this one-act musical went from mild amusement to annoyed tolerance to outright loathing within 20 minutes. Is there a reason we have been asked to watch a snarky, cartoon-thin spoof of the Manson Family murders in which everyone, criminal and victim alike, is turned into an object of snickering mockery? There's stage craft and songwriting skill on display, and many performers giving their fully committed all, but the material is bad taste for its own sake. The use of a square law-and-order narrator recalls the Jack Lord character in the in every way superior Manson Family Opera - here the character is eventually cross-dressed as Tiny Tim to infiltrate the cult for no apparent reason but convenience. The mocking caricature of Sharon Tate, the cult's most famous victim, is a new low in cynicism: are we really being cued to laugh at what a Hollywood bimbo she was, when we all know how viciously she, and the baby she was carrying, were murdered?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

May-December With The Nose And Clammy

I'm hard to please when it comes to romantic comedies, but I was instantly won over by this one-act which keeps the light comic tone of the genre but gives its couple true-to-life rather than easy-to-solve problems. The heroine (played with irresistible charm by Naomi McDougall Jones, also the co-writer) laments early on that in movies the girl has to choose between the guy who is clearly great and the one is clearly an asshole, but in real life guys are a combination of the two. She can't make up her mind if she wants to stick it out with Noah (Craig Waletzko, also perfect for this material) and enlists us in direct address to help her decide as they re-enact the highs and lows from their relationship. Their conflicts aren't glamorous - she says he turns into a "swinging dick" when he's around his friends, and he says the accusation reminds him how young she is, 15 years his junior. He's insecure and clingy, she won't make him the only important thing in her life as he has made her in his. We all know problems like these and that recognition helps to make the show consistently engaging and memorable.

Two On The Aisle, Three In A Van

photo: Patty Wall

No one will claim that this backstage comedy (by Mary Lynn Dobson) breaks new ground - you know every "type" in the beleaguered community theatre troupe from their entrance line, from the spoiled diva (Natascia Diaz) to the egomaniac artistic director (John Dowgin) to the seasoned seen-it-all veteran (Terri Sturtevant). But the yuks and gags are nearly relentless and, apart from some wheel-spinning at the top of the tad-too-long second act, the show undoubtedly works and is broad, old-school funny. My favorite running joke involves a desperate, overeager performer (Stephen Medvidick) who keeps trying to grab the spotlight - he thinks as the Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie he should launch into a tap routine. While the show doesn't give Natascia Diaz the chance to sing and dance, it does give her a terrific showcase for her unerring skills as a comedienne. As always, she's captivating and reason enough to see any show.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Harold Pinter Pair

The Lover, the first of the two Pinter plays in this double header, is pitch perfect, from the chime-like Beatles instrumentals that play over the scene changes, to the color of the furniture, to the choice of each cocktail glass. Most importantly, the direction (by Patrick McNulty) is right on point and the actors (Chris Thorn and Juliana Zinkel) are keenly attuned to each other and expertly maintain the chilly tension in Pinter's dialogue. Similarly astute choices mark the second play in the show, Ashes To Ashes, and the performances (by Allen McCullough and Christine Marie Brown) are quite good but I must admit a hard-to-ignore bias here: the play - more grave and enigmatic and with a wider narrative reach than the first - is much less to my personal taste. Nonetheless, both Pinter newbies and devotees are urged to see the pair.

Gutter Star

Gay women are under-represented on stage compared to gay men, so it's especially regrettable to report that this musical - about a screen star in "golden age" Hollywood whose lesbian affair threatens to destroy her career - is disappointingly bland and often inept. The show's synopsis promises "a trashy tale of forbidden love from the tawdry pages of pulp fiction" but the show lacks not only the heightened style needed for pulp but any style at all. Plot holes and contrivances are plentiful - you wonder why the studio chief goes to all the trouble of having his male assistant dress in lesbian drag to spot the screen star in the all-girl Coconut Club when he's just going to rip up her contract anyhow, and why he says things to the star like "We don't tolerate that sort of thing in this day and age" as if toleration used to be policy.

How Now Dow Jones

It's a mystery what this earnest 70 minute revisal of this dusty old musical is doing in the Fringe: did the York pass? The show was already last-gasp in 1968 when it debuted, a throwback to the template in which every secretary's default dream was to find a husband. Ben West has dug it out of mothballs and done a commendable job of trimming and re-shaping the material, but he's basically spruced up a yellowed museum piece. It's an irrelevant, standard issue musical comedy of yesteryear. Presumably the reason is the show's score (music by Elmer Bernstein, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh) which has more than a couple of square charmers, but since when is the Fringe a try-out for Encores? Undoubtedly there is some appeal in this enterprise for devotees of old musicals, but that enjoyment is likely to be mitigated by the production's lack of attention to design and production value (yes, even by Fringe standards) which summons the feeling of a community theatre rehearsal. In the plus column are the instantly likable and charismatic leads (Colin Hanlon and Cristen Paige) who are so much more skilled and entertaining than all else on stage that I've no doubt I'll be seeing each of them in many other things in the future.


photo: Inverse Theater

Early on in this intense 90 minute solo show (written and directed by Kirk Bromley) performer Dan Berkey makes hand-to-hand contact with most of the people in the audience. That moment of connection is a shrewd, brilliant move, because it guards against us distancing ourselves once the calm, lucid man we've met transforms into a full-blown schizophrenic. The harrowing, claustrophobic show plays like a series of his psychotic episodes during which we're inside his often incoherent stream of consciousness - it feels like a terrifying, violent freefall into insanity. The playwright has very definitely organized the show into distinct vignettes and themes - a section in which a slidehow of graphic pornography segues into candids of non-sexualized female faces is the most wrenching, while a section where schizophrenia proves helpful for the make-believe needed for stage acting is downright funny. Despite the organization, the playwright has done all he can to erase his hand and let the show feel chaotic and random and the performer convinces at every single moment. The result is a one-of-a-kind, undilluted and unforgetttable trip into the crazy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Reviewed for Theatermania.

A Time to Dance

Photo: Damon Calderwood

In her wonderful new solo show (part of FringeNYC), Libby Skala channels her great-aunt, Elizabeth ("Lisl") Polk, who experienced just about all of the 20th century – both in timespan and in all it had to offer. As Ms. Skala tells it, before becoming a dance therapy pioneer in New York, Lisl grew up in Austria, was sent to Denmark for safekeeping during World War I, contracted and beat tuberculosis, got kicked out of a modern dance studio for the sin of studying ballet, and managed a harrowing (and apparently also magical) escape from the Nazis. That Ms. Skala is a confident and graceful dancer is clear from the nearly constant movement she weaves through the hourlong monologue. But what makes the show such a charming entertainment, aside from the meat of the story itself, is her remarkable skill as a comic actor, and the way character and actor fuse until we just about believe that Lisl herself, thick Austrian accent and all, is before us, telling story after story for us to laugh and wonder at. A Time to Dance is truly uplifting without being at all saccharine, and that is perhaps the greatest miracle of all.

Look After You

photo: Antonio Minino

When you learn early on that the protagonist (played by Louise Flory, also the playwright) has recently survived a brain aneurysm, you might be led to expect a tearjerker of the tv-movie variety. But the playwright isn't exploitative; her thematic focus is more true-to-life and her writing shows more curiosity than that. The play is really about the shifts that occur in the character's relationships after her mortality has seeped into everyone's consciousness. The play does have a sneaking cumulative emotional payoff but it's delicate and unforced. I wasn't totally convinced by the dialogue in the couple of scenes between the play's two male characters - it just didn't sound to me like the way men talk to each other - but the writing is otherwise solid throughout, distinguished especially by a sureness of tone and a keen understanding of the drama that builds incrementally with deceptively small events.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


In this "rock concert musical" (part of FringeNYC), five middle-aged suburban moms form a band for fun, only to be bludgeoned by unexpected success. The concert format, in which the women tell their raunchy tale through songs, narration, and just a couple of dramatic scenes, is both a strength and a weakness; it enables a direct connection with the audience, but the stage set, loaded with instruments and pedals, limits the possibilities for movement and drama. Though some of the cast members are musicians as well as actors, as a band their musicianship is generally hesitant. (It would probably improve with more rehearsal.) This works fine for the first half of the show, when they are meant to be amateurs playing the local high school, but less well later on when they are supposed to be legitimate rock stars. What makes MoM an ultimately winning proposition are certain strong acting performances, especially from Stefanie Seskin and the magnetic Jane Keitel, and the singing. Mr. Caliban can be prone to writing juvenile lyrics of the "some make us happy, some make us sad" ilk. But the hooks and punchlines are infectious and amusing, and the cast executes multi-part harmonies superbly. On a purely musical basis, then, there's much to enjoy in this show, and since it's loaded with songs, it's hard to go wrong.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Willy Nilly

Photo: Ken Stein/Runs With Scissors

The first few scenes of this extravagant musical (part of FringeNYC) promise an amusing send-up of both the hippie generation and the "squares" who feared them. Aiming to skewer the Sharon Tate-Roman Polanski circle as well, the show follows the familiar story of the Manson Family and their eventual victims, but with Charles Manson himself flattened into an evil-free, comic character. By the time the Tate-LaBianca murders and the subsequent trial roll around the play has long since fallen apart. At the climax, intended (I think) to suggest the media frenzy around the trial, characters are desperately leaping about, even undressing, amidst a cacophony from the overly loud band — anything to find a way out. There are some effective comic bits, but neither the mostly solid acting nor the vigorous, clever choreography can save this exercise in futile exuberance.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Boys Upstairs

photo: Samantha Souza

A "Sex And The City" peopled with martini-swilling gay-fabulous twenty-somethings, Jason Mitchell's The Boys Upstairs could be adapted right this minute into cable TV's next hit series. The three gay male friends of the title are privileged sitcom-ready examples of, to quote the play, "the generation of gays that have had it too easy", but the playwright's clear affection for the characters (as well as endearing portrayals from a group of winning, appealing actors) makes it near impossible to resist them. The well-paced, often hilarious comedy has more heart than might be first thought - its softly-sold message is ultimately about the importance of friendship - and there's something fresh about the play's youthful nothing-to-prove attitude: it's not only post-tolerance, it's post-assimilation.

Mary Stuart

photo: Alastair Muir

Although I never technically wrote a proper review of the Donmar Warehouse's production of Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart, which closes at the Broadhurst today after a four-month run, I cannot think of a recent Broadway show more deserving of praise. This past season was a watershed for both original dramas and revivals on the Great White Way, but none came close to moving me, thrilling me, or touching me as this 200-year-old German play about two strong-willed female rulers. Will we ever see the like of Janet McTeer's Mary--proud, fierce, even sexual--in New York again? When was the last time a contemporary actress so freshly and fearlessly embodied a classic role on stage? (Oh, right--it was McTeer herself, in Anthony Page's benchmark production of A Doll's House, back in 1997) Still, even though she is larger than life, McTeer's Mary never overshadows Harriet Walter's elegant Elizabeth I. Watching Walter, I felt both empathy for the hard choices that only Elizabeth could make and the true faith and doubt with which she appeared to make them. Each of the six times I saw the show, the actresses complimented each other beautifully, and I was happy to stand and applaud their joint bow each time. The production itself was smartly directed by Phyllida Lloyd and featured an estimable ensemble that boasted Maria Tucci, John Benjamin Hickey, and the brilliant Chandler Williams, one of the finest young actors currently working in New York theatre. However, the images that will remain indelible to me will always center around the two queens: the one on the throne and the one in the prison cell. Goodbye, Mary Stuart. We truly shall not see your like again.

A Streetcar Named Desire

Photo: Kevin Sprague

Marin Mazzie may seem an unlikely choice to play Blanche DuBois. Mazzie is tall, strong, and sexually confident--not the first traits that come to mind when describing the damaged, desperate Blanche. However, in the excellent production of A Streetcar Named Desire at Barrington Stage Company, beautifully directed by Julianne Boyd, Mazzie makes Blanche her own, using her strengths to make Blanche's unraveling particularly poignant and heartbreaking. Christopher Innvar's fascinating Stanley, rather than a simple animal, is a complicated man whose feelings can be hurt--an interpretation that brings fascinating textures to the play, particularly when Stanley is going head to head with Mazzie's Blanche. Kim Stauffer is superb as Stella, struggling between loyalty to her sister and loyalty to her husband. Considering the many annoying revivals of the classics of the past few years, where the directors were more interested in expressing themselves than respecting the writing (for example, All My Sons and the Roundabout's Streetcar), this production is a particular treat: while done with complete allegiance to the text, it offers a fresh point of view of a sturdy masterpiece.


Uncompromising, provocative and often bitterly funny, Mac Rogers' Viral is the first must-see of this year's Fringe Festival. In lesser hands the story - of a suicidal woman who consents to let three fetishists videotape her death - could make for nothing more than lurid, soulless shock, but the playwright uses it as a high-stakes example of the potential for dehumanization in both fetish and in Internet culture. The play's suspense, as well as much of its pitch black comedy, comes mostly from the tension of whether close personal contact will thwart the suicide. As with his Hail Satan! two years ago, Rogers approaches edgy relevant topics with a probing intelligence and a wicked sense of humor and the result is an absorbing, thought-provoking entertainment. The cast effectively form a tonally cohesive unit but Amy Lynn Stewart, compelling as the suicidal Meredith, and Rebecca Comtois, vibrant as one of the fetishists, stand out in the show's most pivotal roles.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fringe Preview '09

It isn't humanly possible to see every single one of the 201 shows in this year's Fringe Festival. That won't stop some of us theatre junkies from seeing as many as we can, hoping that what awaits at the top of the stairs at The Player's Loft is as captivating as Zombie or The Amish Project last year, or that one of the musicals at The Minetta Lane or Dixon Place will be as fresh as BASH'd or as fun as Perez Hilton Saves The Universe from festivals past. Maybe we'll be turned on to a theatre company we didn't know about, as I was when I saw Riding The Bull from the Flux Theatre Ensemble a couple of years ago.

Here's an index of the Q&A's I just completed to preview two dozen of this year's most promising Fringe shows. In addition to these, I'm hoping to also see Esther Steeds, His Greatness, Remission, Citizen Ruth, Alvin Sputnik, Dolls, Some Editing and Some Theme Music, Gutter Star, Complete and Two On The Aisle, Three In A Van.

Quick Q&A: FringeNYC#1 - Dramas Part 1
Michael Edison Hayden, The Books
Daniel McCoy, Eli and Cheryl Jump
Louise Flory, Look After You

Quick Q&A: FringeNYC#2 - Comedies Part 1
Jason Mitchell, The Boys Upstairs
Naomi McDougall Jones, May-December With The Nose and Clammy
Greg Ayers, John and Greg's High School Reunion

Quick Q&A: FringeNYC #3 - Musicals Part 1
Ren Casey, Graveyard Shift
Phil Lebovits, Dancing With Abandon
Ryann Ferguson, VOTE

Quick Q&A: FringeNYC #4 - Dramas Part 2
Monica Flory, Afterlight
Andrew Unterberg, The Crow Mill
Jonathan L. Davidson, Victoria and Frederick For President

Quick Q&A: FringeNYC #5 - Solo Shows
Elizabeth Audley, all over
Matt Oberg, The Event
Libby Skala, A Time To Dance

Quick Q&A: FringeNYC #6 - Musicals Part 2
Paul Schultz, Eat Drink and Be Merry
Ben Knox - For The Love Of Christ
Michael Chartier - Far Out

Quick Q&A: FringeNYC #7 - Comedies Part 2
Erin Judge, The Meaning Of Wife
Jon Galvez, 30 Minutes Or Less
Tim J. MacMillan, Photosynthesis

Quick Q&A: FringeNYC #8 - Dramas Part 3
Nicholas Gray, Population 8
Mary Adkins, The 49 Project
Mac Rogers, Viral

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Bacchae

photo: Joan Marcus

I cannot imagine an actor less suited to the role of Dionysus--the vicious, sexually charged god of wine--than Jonathan Groff. In Joanne Akalaitis' sterile new production of The Bacchae at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, Groff cuts an attractive figure in his quasi-Jim Morrison jeans and bejeweled denim jacket, but whenever he opens his mouth to deliver Euripides' poetry, the battle is lost. That almost nothing in this production works is both terribly sad (considering the lack of major classical theatre productions in New York City) and not entirely unexpected, given Ms. Akailitis' history of putting her own directorial intentions above textual accuracy. She has set a large part of the Chorus text (in a new, serviceable translation by Nicholas Rudall) to an original score by her longtime collaborator and former husband, Philip Glass, that lacks any semblance of cohesion or tonality. The Chorus itself, often perched on a set of bleachers that act as the only real set piece, never seem entirely together throughout the proceedings. Among the principle actors, only Joan MacIntosh's Agave approximated the correct tragedian style. Her anguish upon discovering that, under Dionysus' spell, she murdered her own son, Pentheus (Anthony Mackie, still finding his footing), registers as the only truly thrilling moment of the evening.

Note: I attended the first preview of this production, so my opinions reflect something that is obviously still very much a work in progress. However, considering the abbreviated length of the run (it closes August 30), I felt that it was better to publish my thoughts now, rather than waiting until the production officially opens on August 24.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Burn The Floor

photo: Donna Ward

Dancing With The Stars sensations Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff may be the "guest stars" (through August 16th) but they have a surplus of what this dance revue otherwise lacks: personality and sex appeal. Certainly there are plenty of talented dancers on stage but the moves rarely allow them to express anything interesting; the show is ballroom dancing as if by boy/girl cheerleading squad: athletic, energetic, soulless. The artless presentation, which includes two generic singers who could easily be imagined working a wedding reception, is Vegas on the cheap.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


photo: Joan Marcus

Capping 80 some odd minutes of "Lifetime movie"-sized doings with a "shock" ending (which I won't give away), Lila Rose Kaplan's Wildflower turns out to be a cautionary tale that seems to warn about the danger of not talking frankly with kids about sex. But what the painfully shy new boy in town does to the irritatingly precocious virgin in the play's final scene isn't merely misinformed - it's downright insane. The play's argument makes as much sense as saying that if you don't warn kids to wash their hands they just might stick them in a light socket. Most of the play's action is so bland that there's plenty of time for nagging questions - I wondered how a single mom could afford an indefinite stay at a bed and breakfast with her son on what she makes answering phones in a flower shop. The actors do what they can - Ron Cephas Jones comes off best, and Jake O'Connor is radar-worthy - but the play doesn't do them any favors.

Being Patient

The wordplay in the title of Kelly Samara's engaging one-act isn't just a wee trick; it's an example of the play's wisely crafted language. "Amusement," she philosophizes, is just a cleaned-up word for "distraction." Common words take on entirely different casts when contemplated by a terminal patient confined to a hospital. Ms. Samara trusts the audience to follow her, through words and movement, along her squirming evolution from impatience to eternal Patient. This trust makes the play (which features music and dance as well) an intensely satisfying experience (or "amusement"). So much so that the one time she doesn't trust us – when she concludes a monologue about iguanas and the difference between camouflage and invisibility by stating the obvious – is the one moment she disappoints a little. As part of Manhattan Repertory Theatre's Summerfest 2009, Being Patient ran for three performances only. A powerful and well-tuned fusion of the many talents of a very crafty artist, it deserves further development and a longer run. In any case Kelly Samara has earned some significant attention.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hey, stranger!

I've gotten a couple of emails asking why I haven't been writing lately. The answer is that I haven't been writing *here*, at Showdown, because nearly everything I saw in July - six plays at the SPF, a couple of workshops, some festival shows - wasn't open for review. I've been writing lots of interviews over at my site in the meanwhile. Once the Fringe Festival kicks up on August 14th, I'll have plenty to cross-post here.