Thursday, September 29, 2011
(photo by Richard Termine)
My experience with the Keen Company has usually been very good - solid productions and strong scripts. This production is a tribute to the late Lanford Wilson in this autobiographical play. This is the first time they have missed the mark for me.
17 year old Alan (Keith Nobbs) has traveled west to live with Douglas (Kevin Kilner) his estranged father who has remarried and has two sons by his second wife Ronnie (Kellie Overbey). Douglas is eager to make up for lost time, and Alan is at first receptive, but as time passes, Doug's old habits resurface. Complicating the matter are the two foster daughters, Penny (Amie Tedesco) and Carol (Alyssa May Gold), who bring in needed cash to the household budget with their monthly state allocation.
Director Jonathan Silverstein has some strong actors among the uneven cast, but doesn't maximize their strengths. Mr. Nobbs, last seen in a similar part as narrator/character in Broadway's Lombardi admirably carries much of the load, sharing lots of exposition in direct-address monologues, then quickly stepping into a scene as a confused high school graduate in the early 70s trying to figure out what his life will be. Ms. Overbey also steps up to an underwritten role.
Scenic designer Bill Clark makes excellent use of space for the California suburban ranch house setting, complemented by Josh Bradford's unobtrusive lighting.
Mr. Wilson has many other better-remembered titles in his canon. Other than the autobiographical nature of this play, it's unclear what drew Keen Company to select it.
I'm hopeful for better results with their next production.
Lemon Sky runs through October 22.
Writing a play is a daunting task. Getting a new play produced takes "daunting" to exponential levels.
Danny (Jonathan Groff) has been writing for a couple of years, trying to get established on the new play festival circuit. In a unexplained fit of inspiration, he writes a fresh, powerful and highly provocative tale of a young African-American trying to escape from the life his family has led for generations. He shows it first to his best friend Trevor (Will Rogers), an aspiring actor, who gives him the first inclination that he's written something very special. Danny finally shows it to his boyfriend Pete (Eddie Kaye-Thomas), who echoes the praise.
Danny, however, has already made submissions to several new play festivals and has just been accepted by the renowned Humana Festival. All sounds good, looks positive - except for one thing: Danny has submitted under a name that suggests a woman of recent African-American extract. He justifies the action on the rationale that no festival committee would take him seriously as the author of such a play. With the pseudonym, the subject matter doesn't conflict with its source, and it seems to have worked.
That is, until he realizes the playwright is part of the staging process at Humana. He hires Emilie (Rutina Welsey) an aspiring actress to play his playwright and channel information to and from him as the production comes to life.
Playwright Jeff Talbot has taken this Cyrano concept and given it enough twist to make it work. Along the way, he starts a really interesting dialogue on the comparison of discrimination among two disparate groups, gays and blacks. His characters of Danny and Emilie are better drawn than the supporting roles of Pete and Trevor, and interestingly, none of them are thoroughly likeable. Each presents a bristle or mean streak at one point or another. He has a tendency to beat a dead horse, as Emilie and Danny repeat the same argument at least three times. The first time is riveting, the last - deafening.
Mr. Groff is effective as the young man getting a little long in the tooth to be so callow. His Danny rationalizes and justifies each miscalculation as immature young adults do. Ms. Wesley matches him well as Emilie evolves from playing the role of the playwright to developing a real affection and feeling of ownership of Danny's script. Messrs. Rogers and Thomas support well.
David Zinn's set functions well, serving the multiple locations and is suitably complemented by David Weiner's interesting lighting.
Director Walter Bobbie gets caught up in the argument scenes where a bit of trimming would have better served the play, but otherwise keeps things moving well.
The Submission runs through October 22.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Stephen Sondheim's 1972 musical returns to Broadway via the Kennedy Center transfer from a successful run this summer.
It's got star power with Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell as Sally and Phyllis, respectively. There's some depth in the cast as well, with Danny Burstein, Jayne Houdyshell and featuring Elaine Paige as Carlotta.
Director Eric Shaeffer creates an aptly dark mood with a ghostly chorus line of deco-clad follies girls haunting the stage, already in motion as the house opens pre-show. His sound designer carried it a bit too far, employing effects from Disney's Haunted Mansion before the show begins. Derek McLane's sets also straddle the line of success. The crumbling proscenium and brick-walled set, with iron catwalks and stairs evoke nicely, but draping the entire theatre in dirty oil cloth pushes too far.
Performances are strong. Ms. Peters excels as Sally, though she's a bit too pitiful at times. Still, her "Losing My Mind" pulls the heartstrings, and in "Buddy's Eyes" she matches the emotion of her "Send in the Clowns." Mr. Burstein's Buddy was as usual a bit more fey than necessary, a habit that was better controlled in South Pacific. Ron Raines as Ben fills the bill.
It's Ms. Maxwell's Phyllis that clinches this production. Icy, aloof and piercing, she clips and quips through Phyllis' bitter facade. The highlight is "Could I Leave You" when the bile and resentment of 30 years of an unhappy marriage spew out. She's electrifying.
Follies, on a limited run, has just announced an extension through January 22, 2012. This is one to see.