Monday, May 20, 2013
Alan Cumming returns to the Great White Way, reprising his one-man production of the Scottish Play following last summer's visit during the Lincoln Center Festival.
Under the direction of Once director John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg, it's another riff on Marat/Sade with inmates putting on the play. Mr. Cumming appears to have arrived after an undisclosed traumatic event, bloodied and confused. His caretakers (Jenny Sterlin and Brendan Titley) tend his wounds, collect his clothes and tissue from a cheek swab and under his fingernails. It's something of a next step compared to the 2008 Broadway revival with Patrick Stewart perhaps, but I'm equally unconvinced of this concept as well.
For a festival production, it makes a certain amount of sense, a bravura performance carried by a solo actor for a specific occasion. It's a bit of a stretch to liken that to a limited run on Broadway, in my humble opinion. Had this been a smash with audiences and critics, one could count on seeing it extend. It is selling relatively well, but at a strong discount.
Nonetheless, the upside is that the tale is told in an intermissionless hour and 45 minutes. Once the audience attunes to Mr. Cumming's variations in accent and transitions, the salient elements of the plot come through. He bounds about the asylum basement ward, collecting conveniently placed flotsam and jetsam to assist: an upholstered wheelchair for the king's throne, a filthy and tattered baby doll as Malcolm, a ragged blanket for a uniform. The caretakers fill in for minor characters on occasion. His multiple characterizations do find separation, but most merely float on the surface. The end result is a shout of "watch me ACT!" Fans of Mr. Cumming will be enthralled.
Messrs Tiffany and Goldberg have employed some clever use of surveillance cameras and video screens, particularly to convey Macbeth's visions of Banquo's ghost. Fans of Mr. Cumming will be enthralled.
Macbeth runs through July 14. Tickets available here.
Friday, December 21, 2012
(photo: Richard Termine)
Prospect Theater Company presents a new re-working of the 1978 musical based on Studs Terkel's book, with two new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The streamlined cast of six replaces the seventeen from the original Broadway production, slicing and dicing the remains into a tight 65 intermissionless minutes.
Director Gordon Greenberg has assembled a talented and capable cast to portray the 25 stories, including Marie-France Arcilla, Joe Cassidy, Donna Lynne Champlin, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Nehal Joshi and Kenita R. Miller.
Some moments stand out more than others: Ms. Champlin's Rose Hoffman, an aging and out of step teacher who sadly reflects on the degradation of respect for her role in the lives of children over her 45 years in the classroom with Nobody Tells Me How. She gives another clever moment as the waitress Delores Dante in It's an Art responding to the question, "just a waitress?" Mr. Johnson gets a nice turn as well as pervy UPS delivery man, Conrad Swibel.
The juxtaposition of Ms. Miller's hooker to Ms. Champlin's high society fundraiser points up how the two roles are more similar than different.
My father always said, "if it were fun, they wouldn't call it 'work'," and for the most part he was right. Still, of the 25 working stories, there are remarkably few that really expressed any joy. As much time as we spend working, an uplifting evening of work stories and songs would have more appeal.
WORKING runs through December 30. Tickets here.
Jackie Hoffman's kvetching continues with her new show at New World Stages. "A Chanukah Charol" is her riff on Patrick Stewart's one-man "A Christmas Carol" retelling her trials and tribulations as an actress in New York.
The mood starts with pre-curtain music of a klezmer band playing Christmas carols. She opens by portraying Mr. Stewart as the narrator of her tale, and she gives a pretty good impersonation.
Then, she moves into a mix of her ongoing existential career crisis that she's not Victoria Clark or Gertrude Lawrence, along with some new reminiscences of holiday gatherings with her family. Her Jacob Marley is Molly Picon, telling of incipient visits from the requisite three ghosts, past present and future. The cleverest turn of the three is using Shelley Winters as the Ghost of Chanukah Present.
I've seen just about all of her annual appearances at Joe's Pub and have to say that as much as I liked the concept of this show, I missed her songs that have been part of her cabaret series. At 75 minutes, it's a small commitment for a bit of fun, Hoffman-style.
"A Chanukah Charol" runs through December 29. Tickets here.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
(photo: Carol Rosegg)
There's an intense situation happening at Minetta Lane Theatre, courtesy of Deanna Jent's new play making its New York premiere.
18 year old Josh (Daniel Everidge) suffers with fairly extreme autism. Being over 6 feet tall, weighing well over 200 pounds combined with his occasionally aggressive and violent behavior sets the stakes pretty high. Tami (Julia Murney) and Bill (Daniel Pearce) work very hard to keep their son under control by emphasizing a calm and steady daily routine. Little sister Lisa (Jacey Powers) just wants it all to go away, but what 14 year old wouldn't? When Grammy Sue (Celia Howard) visits, bible in hand, she gets a frightening lesson in the reality of her son's family dynamics. One particularly violent episode sets up Tami to imagine how life with her family might have been different (though its set up could have been a little more clear).
The 75 minute production moves well under the hand of director Lori Adams, handling all the ups and downs of a day in Josh's life. The life is at times shocking, at time mundane, which makes it ever more real. She draws excellent performances from her cast.
Most notable is Mr. Everidge, the mercurial, autistic giant among his caretakers. His Josh is an emotional 2 year old in the body of a full grown man, completely unfiltered and uninhibited. Ms. Murney's Tami verges on exhaustion from the effort it takes to keep herself and her family on track. She struggles a bit in the moments of vulnerability but overall captures the drive to move forward.
John Stark has created a realistic setting for this stressed family, punctuated with the requisite child-friendly elements that would help manage a child like Josh. Tristan Raine's costumes and Julie Mack's lighting support without drawing attention to themselves.
Falling is on an open-ended run. Get tickets here.
Monday, October 15, 2012
(photo: Hunter Canning)
In a new world premiere, the prolific A. R. Gurney returns to The Flea with an overwrought story set in the near future. Mary (Annette O'Toole) and Joseph (Steve Mellor) have come to Homeland Security because their protesting and unseen son, Chris, has been taken into custody during the latest crackdown. It is here that they must put their case before Pontius Pilate (Reg E. Cathey).
They ask to meet with their old college pal Pontius ("don't call me Ponty, it's reductive."), since he's the Prefect of the Bureau and might have information or connections to help. Recording all these events is a uniformed intern, Mark (Tommy Crawford), pedantically contributing bible-like references.
Phyllis, Mrs. Pilate (Kathy Najimy) turns up with her husband for the interview since they all attended college together. The drinks fly but little happens of consequence until Chris' college buddy Pedro (Danny Rivera) enters to keep the painful analogy on track.
Sadly, there's not much to recommend in Mr. Gurney's work beyond the opportunity for Kathy Najimy fans to get a quick fix. She's having a great time in the two-dimensional character she's been given, gad about as the other characters drop the most recent, if ill-placed pop-culture references including the current presidential campaign. Subtletly is not a word this play will evoke. All it raised for me were a few cheap laughs.
Director Jim Simpson seems helpless with the script as well. He corners Ms. O'Toole into little more than one angry tirade after another and does less with the rest of the cast.
Production values are strong. Kate Foster's red, white and blue set evokes the corrupt bureaucracy, though Brian Aldous' lighting has little opportunity in the static, room setting.
Heresy runs through November 4. Get tickets here.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre returns to Broadway with the revival of Edward Albee's play about the battle that is marriage.
It hasn't been all that long since the last Rialto revival with Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin, so I was interested to see what this new production has to offer. What we get is a solid retelling of the play, much like last season's revival of Death of a Salesman, proving again what a well-made play it is. Beyond that, there's not much unique in this production.
One thing I did notice, was that Amy Morton's Martha has acceded some of the power to Tracy Letts' George right from the start. Even though she brays and intimidates, it doesn't land with the same vitriol one usually experiences. With that opportunity, Mr. Letts' George is now free to wield his sarcasm like a sword, slashing at Martha and their guests.
Speaking of, this Nick (Madison Dirks) and Honey (Carrie Coon), fall right in line behind whoever is spewing the venom. Mr. Dirks captures the requisite loose athletic demeanor of Nick's football past. Ms. Coon gives a nice turn as the besotted Honey, though not quite as fragile as other interpretations.
Director Pam MacKinnon keeps things moving fairly well, though there were a couple of slow spots in Act II as the party games transition from "humiliate the husband" to "get the guests."
Todd Rosenthal's large living room set captures the academic environment, but went a little overboard with the stacks of books literally everywhere.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is on an open-ended run. Tickets here.
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
(photo: Carol Rosegg)
I was excited to see this play billed as a peek into the backstage lives of Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, who ruled the English and American stages before, during and after WWII. It seemed great fodder for a clever and glittering evening.
Instead, playwright Jeffery Hatcher brings us a bit of theatre history as Alfred and Lynnie prepare for the 1938 revival of Chekov's The Seagull. Had he done only that, it still could have been that evening of sophisticated for which I had hoped.
What we get is a plodding adaptation of Chekov's The Seagull overlaid onto that preparation. One can't deny that the parallels existed: Miss Fontanne/Arkadina, the aging actress, Mr. Lunt/Trigorin, a bit younger and the love of Fontanne/Arkadina's life, Uta Hagen/Nina, the upcoming starlet, and so on.
The notion that Chekov referred to some of his plays as comedies is generally a dubious concept when compared to the western idea of what comedy means. Mr. Hatcher writes in the same ambivalent manner, even giving Miss Fontanne a line about Chekov's comedies that rang closer to home than he might have intended, "When the Russians say comedy, they don't mean funny." Sadly, neither does Mr. Hatcher, leaving the audience with a mopey melodrama, punched up with an occasional laugh line.
The very talented cast never overcomes the weakness in the script. And, if you're looking for a clever tie-in to the play's title, keep looking because I could identify one.
Having admired Mr. Jennings' performances in several divergent stage appearances over the last several years, I was a bit disappointed in his interpretation as Alfred. Gentlemen of that period, certainly his close friend Noel Coward, exhibited a sophistication which might appear fey to less wordly eyes. Here, Mr. Jennings fails to walk that fine line and falls to feminine caricature. Carolyn McCormick fares no better as Lynne. Even in the rehearsal scenes where such a large persona should fill the theatre, she never takes command of the stage, minimizing her performance with focus only on her fellow actors. Her diction is also lacking, tossing away a significant number of lines for such a skilled character. As the young Uta, Julia Bray gives merely a bland portrayal of the actress about to burst onto Broadway and impact acting for her generation and beyond.
Director Dan Wackerman shares some of the responsibility for their performances, not finding a better pace or approach to shore up the flaws in the script. There was enough history to keep me there for the second act, but I did notice more empty seats after intermission than before.
Ten Chimneys runs through October 27. Tickets are available through www.ThePeccadillo.com or by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
(Looking back, I found this post never got published.)
If you're looking for a bit of cool summer froth, head downtown.
Mixing the metaphors of Gregory Maguire (Wicked), Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis (Urinetown), and Douglas Carter Beane (Lysistrata Jones), creators Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz and Stephen Wargo spin the tale that "...is not Jurassic Park..." from the perspective of the dinosaurs.
Silliness abounds alongside cartoonish concepts of religious foundations as our cast of three Velociraptors, two T-Rexes and a "Mime-a-saurus" recount Michael Crichton's story of creation, fatal flaws and chaos. (In their world, they refer to their creator as Lab instead of God, setting off a series of nonsequiturs that could be funny with a bit more refinement.) And, since all the dinosaurs were created female so there would be no offspring, all the characters are played as women.
Leading the charge is Morgan Freeman (a very funny and very white Lee Seymour) as the narrator, providing exposition and spoilers ( "It's the frog DNA!") as the evening progresses. Velociraptor of Faith (a most hunky Wade McCollum), Velociraptor of Innocence (an awkwardly androgynous Alex Wise), BFFs T-Rex 1 (a belting Shelley Thomas) and T-Rex 2 ( hot pink-lidded Claire Neumann) who speak in unison, Mime-a-saurus (an also hunky Brandon Espinoza), and the exiled Velociraptor of Science (a very funny Lindsay Nicole Chambers) round out the cast as they invent creationism for themselves to explain where they came from and how their world works.
Once the frog DNA surfaces with T-Rex 2's spontaneous genital metamorphosis from female to male. Faith sees it as a demon that should be outcast. Innocence doesn't understand Faith's unwillingness to accept change as natural. She learns then about the existence of Science who lives outside the fence in exile. Further revelations abound along with an under-used goat puppet.
Production values are clever, sets by Cite Hevner, costumes by Dina Perez and lights by Jen Schriever
Wrap all this up in a pop score by Mr. Pailet and run it in 85 minutes, and you get a show full of laughs and energy.
Triassic Parq, The Musical runs through August 5. Get tickets here
Monday, June 25, 2012
Playwrights Horizons is one of the country’s most important incubators of new plays and musicals. Won’t you “LIKE” them on Facebook by June 30, and help them earn a donation of $10,000 when they reach 10,000 likes? While there, you can enter to win a $250 gift certificate from The Apple Store. LIKE now: http://www.facebook.com/PlaywrightsHorizons .
Gina Gionfriddo's RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN has been extended through July 1 on the Mainstage. Tickets and more info at www.playwrightshorizons.org.
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Look, Ma. I'm 6!
It was six years ago today that I made my first blog post with a review of Pig Farm at the Roundabout's off-Broadway house, the Laura Pels Theatre.
Since then I've posted 319 times, a few of which were shameless self-promotion, along with some ticket discount offers.
To the press reps who have hooked me up with seats, I thank you and look forward to reviewing the shows you represent.
To my readers (both of you), thanks for staying with me and keeping me on my toes.
Posted by Mondschein at 5:28 PM