Saturday, August 08, 2009

Summer Shorts 3 - Series B - 59E59

"Summer Shorts 3 - Series B" at 59E59 Theatre, August 8, 2009

After the disappointment that was the majority of Series A, Series B held up noticeably better, overall.

The four offerings were:
  • Carole Real's "Don't Say Another Word"
  • Keith Reddin's "The Sin Eater"
  • Roger Hedden's "If I Had"
  • William Inge's "The Killing"
Guess which one was the best?

In "Don't Say..." Stephanie D'Abruzzo's Laura carries Any Grotelueschen's Josh for the seven minutes of "reasons to be pretty" NOT written by Neil LaBute. No anger, angst, scheming or outrage - just one scene of a man repeatedly shoving his foot in his mouth while dining with his girlfriend - all fluff and totally inoffensive. Totally.

Mr. Reddin seemed to have lofty hopes for his offering - none of which were even approached. Badly written, badly cast, badly staged and badly acted, the audience suffered through this pointless attempt at Greek tragedy set in a contemporary African-American suburban household. Only Rosalyn Coleman's efforts as the doomed mother came close to presentable. Mr. Reddin has officially updated the trite "Webster's Dictionary says..." to "If you Google revenge..."


The second half offered a bit more to hold one's interest.

Roger Hedden's "If I Had" sets up a bit of class conflict as the landscape maintenance guys Slim (Shane McRae) and Augie (Andy Powers) ponder life in a service class business, while Audrey (Emily Tremaine), the daughter of the homeowners suns herself sipping on an umbrella drink. The dialog is clever and real, though the three scene division felt a bit choppy. Director Billy Hopkins redeems himself here for the unpleasant product of "The Sin Eater" which he also helmed. It's an interesting premise with some things that feel worth exploring.

The final offering is a late one-act from William Inge. Mac (Neal Huff - not naked onstage for the first time I've ever seen him in a play) has brought home Huey (J. J. Kandel) for more than conversation. Huey, who's been around the block a couple of times, thinks it's for "queer stuff" which he's done before because the money was good, but he's wrong. Mr. Huff's Mac is a lonely, miserable Catholic who can't bring himself to commit suicide, so he wants Huey to do the job. Mr. Kandel's Huey finally succumbs to Mac's pleading and answers his wish. Some nice moments here.

Sadly, the two geese in the row in front of me, found such a concept hilarious, tittering and laughing inappropriately throughout. Mr. Inge's play, though not his best, certainly stands head and shoulders above anything else presented on the program and deserved a more serious response.

There could have been one decent night of theatre pulled from the two series.
  • "Don't Say Another Word"
  • "A Second of Pleasure"
  • "If I Had"
  • "The Killing"
Still, credit to Mr. Kandel for producing a couple of vehicles for himself. I'll be interested to see what is on the schedule for next summer.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Summer Shorts 3 - Series A - 59E59

"Summer Shorts 3 - Series A" at 59E59 Theatre, August 7, 2009

In its third season (as indicated by the title of Mr. Pedantic's review here), 59E59 Theatre presents four new one-act pieces including:
  • Nancy Giles' "Things My Afro Taught Me"
  • John Augustine's "Death By Chocolate"
  • Neil LaBute's "A Second of Pleasure"
  • Skip Kennon and Bill Connington's "The Eternal Anniversary"
Ms. Giles' piece (which she also performed) felt like a CBS Sunday Morning feature that went on 10 minutes too long. She's personable and pulls few punches, but the result is an affable, if ineffective, attempt at theatre.

Mr. Augustine's "Death By Chocolate" seems to be a continuation from last year's Summer Shorts offering of "PeopleSpeak." Here we have a recent widow on her 50th birthday with a developing case of agoraphobia, a needling sister-in-law, and an institutionalized twin. Supposedly, hilarity should have resulted.

It didn't.

Mr. LaBute's offering is the most interesting of the four, mainly because it's a contemporary riff on the playlet from Noel Coward's "Tonight at 8:30" which became the film, "Brief Encounter." Margaret Colin and Victor Slezak play the lovers whose affair comes to an unexpected halt on the platform at Grand Central. Ms. Colin is lovely and nuanced, carrying easily through the bumpy transitions. Director Andrew McCarthy did well to not get in the way of such talent. Her performance alone is worth the price of admission (love you, TDF!).

The final piece, a chamber (soap) opera spins a variation on Puccini's "Il Tabarro" with a jealous chef celebrating his 20th wedding anniversary, joined by the ghost of his dead wife, whom he poisoned after suspecting her of infidelity. She ends his torture once he discovers her note explaining her absence at the time, poisoning him with his own food. The score was lovely and interesting, but the book was particularly weak, cramming too much plot and exposition into a 20 minute scene.

I'll be seeing Series B on Saturday - wish me luck!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Sweet Storm

"Sweet Storm" presented by LABrinth Theater Company at the Kirk Theatre in Theatre Row, August 1, 2009

On an early September night in 1960 in Lithia Springs, Florida, Bo (Eric T. Miller) brings his new bride Ruthie (Jamie Dunn) to the tree house he's built for their wedding night and filled with gardenias. He's as sweet, simple and thoughtful as he can possibly be. Eager to please to a fault, this young preacher only wants to start his new life with the love of his life. This new play by Scott Hudson is his first effort and shows promise.

Ruthie brings more baggage than just her suitcase to the proceedings. Inexplicably paraplegic, she's more than fearful of what her future will hold. Bo's tree house is only the first of several romantic surprises, but her fears prohibit her from appreciating them, and him.

As Ruthie, Ms. Dunn has moments of truth, but those are only scattered through her performance. I really wanted to like her character more, but her and her character's choices prevented that, more often than not. Much of the time, it was unclear why Bo was so drawn to her and often seemed that he didn't really know all that much about her despite having been seeing each other for over a year.

Mr. Miller's Bo, so painfully earnest, good-hearted and good-looking, carries the evening, just as he (literally and figuratively) carries Ms. Dunn. His Bo is much like the Bo from "Bus Stop" but with much more depth of feeling and thoughtfulness. The tree house is built in the tree that he and Ruthie had climbed together a year before, on the spot in that tree where they shared their first kiss.

Director Padraic Lillis manages well with the slightly clunky script, keeping things moving and somehow managing to work through not one, but two, moments with Ruthie on a bedpan. Mr. Hudson works in some interesting points about maintaining faith in a crisis as Bo tries to help Ruthie come to terms with her disability. Lea Umberger's platform set is a nice mix of textures of real and faux.

Vanities, A New Musical

"Vanities, A New Musical" at Second Stage Theatre, July 31, 2009

Sometimes, it's a great idea to turn a really good play into a musical. Think "Mame" or "My Fair Lady" for example.

Then, there's the musicalization of "Vanities" with the book by Jack Heifner, the original playwright. By adding a fourth vignette to the story, he sets the piece as a memory play. For me, this made for an awkward opening as the three women enter as adults then start changing clothes in the middle of the opening number, reverting to high school. (Spoiler alert)

From that point to the end of the third scene, Mr. Heifner stays true to the original concept. The new ending brings a contrived tidiness to wrap up the show with the three friends walking off together into the sunset (literally).

Anneliese Van Der Pol's Kathy gets stuck with the heavy lifting of telling the story, without revealing much of herself. Kathy goes from head cheerleader, to sorority leader, to mysteriously living in a "friend's" NYC penthouse with no apparent means of support. Other than seeing she can't really find a purpose in her life, Mr. Heifner never really tells us why she's lost her way. She's a strong singer who could have used better songs.

Lauren Kennedy's Mary doesn't quite hit the mark and feels miscast. Her arc from flippant to bitchy is more annoying than interesting. It's too bad she didn't take better advantage of her slightly better drawn character.

Sarah Stiles is most successful as the prim Joanne. It isn't until the third scene that she really shines. It's a big funny number and about the only one that really adds to the show.

Musically, the generic score and greeting card lyrics by David Kirshenbaum don't do what they should in a musical - either expand a moment, or further the plot.

Kudos to Anna Louizos for the elaborate sets and Joseph G. Aulisi's costumes, carrying us from 1963 to 1980 (or thereabout).

Director Judith Ivey seems to have done as much as she can to overcome the weaknesses in the cast and material, keeping things apace for the 100 minute, intermissionless production. I can't help but wonder what might have been different had this production made it to Broadway as originally intended. Second Stage has had good luck with transfers ("Little Dog Laughed" "Metapmorphoses"), but I don't think this will be another one for them.