Wednesday, September 30, 2009


"Hamlet" presented by Donmar New York at the Broadhurst Theatre

(Photo by Johan Persson)

In its 66th appearance on the Great White Way, Shakespeare once again proves that good writing gets produced.

It doesn't hurt that the latest version stars Jude Law, directed by Tony Award winner Michael Grandage in a transfer from the Donmar Warehouse production in London earlier this year.

With a production design reminiscent of a Calvin Klein ad (" Calvin Klein" - ok, I might have borrowed that analogy), this dark, dreary and brooding evening in contemporary dress does hold the audience's attention for its 3+ hour running time. I'll dispense with a plot summary and get directly to the performances.

Mr. Law's is a cynical and jaded prince, managing some shades (about four) as he wails and sobs through his manic portrayal. He acquits himself well overall, but comes across a bit self-indulgent from time to time in his direct address monologues. Gugu Mbatha- is a lovely, delicate and fragile Ophelia (though I missed the gossamer gown for her mad scene when she entered in a gray hoodie). Kevin McNally's Claudius was suitably scheming and devious. Geraldine James' Gertrude, tall and elegant, felt a little unsure of herself at times. Ron Cook's Gravedigger fared a bit better than his Polonius, who tossed away several of his laughs.

Mr. Grandage keeps the production moving relatively well, guiding with a thoughtful hand. Christopher Oram's sets saved a buck or two by keeping the upstage wall of the theatre black, left over from the previous tenants at the Broadhurst, Mary Stuart. His costumes I've already commented about. Neil Austin's moody lighting provided ample challenges for the actors to find a place for their faces to be seen.

This limited run closes December 6, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Two Unrelated Plays by David Mamet

"Two Unrelated Plays by David Mamet" at the Atlantic Theater Company, September 26, 2009

It seems as though Mr. Mamet has taken up the economy of writing that Ethan Coen has exhibited at the Atlantic Theatre Company over the last couple of seasons (Offices, Almost An Evening) and presented a similar character study, along with a more fully written one-act play.

In the character study/sketch, "School," Mr. Mamet begins with something of a riff on the old Abbott and Costello "Who's On First" as two school administrators (ostensibly) argue the merits of a grade-level wide project to create hundreds of posters extolling the theme of "Recycle Paper and Save the World." The following stream of concious (or more simply non-sequiturs) run the topic from recycling to the destruction of matter to the destruction of Dresden to the nature of history to the registration of child molesters and then bouncing back through, resulting in conspiracy theory suspecting the Custodial Union of political plotting. We never learn anything about these characters named only A (John Pankow) and B (Rod McLachlan), though the actors do manage to sustain the patter for the full 10 minutes of the piece.

In the second presentation "Keep Your Pantheon," Strabo (Brian Murray), the actor/manager of a Roman troupe, struggles to keep the act booked while lusting after his young protege Philius (Michael Cassidy). Pelargon (John Pankow), the other troupe member hangs out attempting to be a seldom successful voice of reason. Havoc ensues as they search for ways to get the troupe hired, ending up in the wrong house and insulting the General who enlists them to die at Caesar's command following the legion's recent military loss. Toss in a drunken hobo and a lucky (or unlucky) talisman and you end up almost as confused as I was. Beside the convoluted plot, the dialogue is pretty funny, reminiscent of the anachronistic humor of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Mr. Murray's Shakespearean Strabo, replete with an old man's beer gut carries most of the show. Mr. Cassidy's Philius is a Roman twinkie in the truest sense, barely able to speak but a physical beauty. Jordan Lage gives an understated take on Lupus Albus (white wolf) the insulted General reminding me a bit of Patrick Warburton (Elaine's boyfriend Puddy on Seinfeld).

Takeshi Kata's sets are serviceable if a bit spartan, generally complemented by Christopher Akerlind's lighting. Director Neil Pepe uses a heavy hand for the almost vaudevillian proceedings, heavy on the sight gags, stand-up one-liners and double-takes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Royal Family

"The Royal Family" presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's classic play, based on the Barrymores is in a new revival directed by Doug Hughes.

It's a terrific cast with Rosemary Harris, Jan Maxwell, Tony Roberts, John Glover, Ana Gasteyer and Larry Pine.

With Mr. Hughes at the helm of such a talented crew, you'd expect a rollicking evening of smashing theatre.

Sadly, it's merely cute and fun.

I will grant that having seen a preview, there may be some bugs still to work through, but even then the bones should be in place if things are going to work well or not. Mr. Roberts, miscast as business manager, Oscar Wolfe, was still fumbling with lines. Ms. Harris as the matriarch, Fanny Cavendish was regal, as always. Her death scene was remarkable, particularly since she faces upstage at that moment - a tribute to the art and craft of stage performance. Ms. Maxwell, one of my favorite NY actors, felt oddly miscast as the reigning stage diva, Julie Cavendish. She had the patter and flourishes in place, but they somehow felt forced.

It looks as though John Lee Beatty recycled the apartment set from last spring's Accent on Youth, embellishing for the grandness of the Cavendishes. Catherine Zuber's costumes are spot on.

It's certainly a worthy goal get Rosemary Harris on a Broadway stage, but shouldn't the production be worth her time and effort? This traditional staging seems to offer no reasons to explain why this revival has come to pass. It certainly meets none of the points outlined in the MTC mission statement, being neither new nor innovative.

Still Life

"Still Life" presented by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, September 20, 2009

In what will likely be referred to as Alexander Dinelaris' "therapy" play, the playwright attempts to exorcise himself of the demons which lingered after the death of his father. (Spoiler alert)

The result, though it may have been cathartic for Mr. Dinelaris, is an indulgent, bitter and rambling affair surrounding a photographer, Carrie Ann (Sarah Paulson) with "shutter" block following
the death of her photographer father Theo (Dominic Chianese), whom she adored.

Carrie Ann meets Jeffrey (Frederick Weller), a marketing wunderkind who has just saved his slimy boss Terry (Matthew Raush) from losing a major account. Terry, a Neil LaBute character in search of a play, embodies the vapid, soulless nature of "business" enabled by Jeffrey's skill as a trend analyst.

Just as Carrie Ann and Jeffrey fall in love, guess who gets cancer? Carrie Ann gets a gig shooting in Africa for National Geographic, taking along a fawning-and-unconfident-yet-very-talented student, Jessie (Halley Feiffer). Jeffrey, seeing the error of his ways after seeing Carrie's last photo series of dead animals (shot while her father was dying), determines to send his little bird on her way, not telling her of his cancer.

Then there are the subplots:
  • Terry's drinking and drugs leading to an affair with a married co-worker, firing an unseen employee in his own crisis, followed by him debasing a female bartender then almost dying on the floor of the bar.
  • Sarah's job teaching a college photography class in a department headed by a woman who used to date Carrie's father (Adriane Lenox)
  • Jeffrey's doctor-best-friend Sean (Ian Kahn) and his wife Mary (Kelly McAndrew) who tend him through his death.
Sound exhausting?

It was that and tedious simultaneously.

Ms. Paulson warms the writing of this cool and aloof character. She has some tender and vulnerable moments, but can't make the creaky dream/flashback sequences make sense on her own. Mr. Weller is charming and sympathetic. Mr. Rauch is so greasy/sleazy you want to wash your hands at intermission.

Mr. Dinelaris' first act works as well as might be expected, despite the predictable curtain moment. Act II feels more like a screenplay, chopped up into too many short scenes, cutting back and forth between dreams, Africa and NYC. It might work cinematically, but just feels distracting.

Director Will Frears could tighten up the pace a bit, along with some judicious cuts to focus more on Carrie and Jeffrey's story, leaving out a number of the subplot scenes I mentioned above and reconsidering the dream sequences. David Korins' minimal set works well, though I guess David Weiner confirms that all African settings must be lit in a saffron/amber, just like "Impressionism" and "Lion King." Sarah Holden's costumes are serviceable, but the photographer-as-artist torn jeans she's put on Ms. Paulson aren't doing anyone any favors.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Playwrights Horizons Discount

Circle Mirror Transformation

The World Premiere of a new play by Annie Baker (Body Awareness)


Obie Award winner Reed BirneyTracee Chimo • Tony Award nominee Peter Friedman

Obie Award winner Deirdre O'Connell • Obie Award winner Heidi Schreck

Directed by Sam Gold (Jollyship the Whizbang; The Black Eyed)

“If. I. Wanted. To. Become. An. Actress. I. Would. Just. Go. Home.” When four lost New Englanders enrolled in Marty’s community center drama class experiment with harmless games, hearts are quietly torn apart and tiny wars of epic proportions are waged and won. Annie Baker’s new comedy is a beautifully crafted diorama, a petri dish in which we see, with hilarious detail and clarity, the sweet sadness of a motley quintet.

SPECIAL BLOG DISCOUNT (updated 09/29/09):

Order within the next week (by October 6) with the code CMGR to get tickets for only $30 for performances September 24-October 4 (reg. $50), or $35 for performances October 6-November 1 (reg. $50). To order: visit or call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, open daily noon-8:00 pm.

Circle Mirror Transformation at Playwrights Horizons. September 24-November 1. Peter Jay Sharp Theater – 416 W. 42nd St (between 9th & 10th Avenues).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Our Town

"Our Town" at the Barrow Street Theatre, September 15, 2009

With as many plays as I've seen, I had never experienced a full production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. I've suffered through a number of Emilys braying out her good-bye monologue in high school beauty pageants and auditions, so I was...concerned about what the evening might hold. I had read the plentiful praise heaped on this production and, unfortunately, didn't rush to see it earlier in the summer. I say unfortunately, only in that I ran the risk of not getting a chance to see this production at all.

Mr. Wilder's tale of small town life in New Hampshire at the beginning of the 20th century has been stripped to its barest essentials by director David Cromer. The theatre has been reconfigured into a thrust stage with some audience members seated in the middle of the action. The simplest of set pieces, two tables each with four matching chairs represent the homes of the Gibbes' and the Webb's.

Costumes by Alison Siple are contemporary and casual - jeans, sweaters, knit caps, shirts and ties. The effect is totally disarming as these non-descript "modern" clothes enforce the timelessness of the script, rather than undermine it as a choice like this so often can. Also, Heather Gilbert's lighting, a combination of aluminum clip-lights above a matrix of industrial/institutional hanging fixtures keeps the entire house lit, only occasionally dimming for certain scenes. How refreshing to look up and not see a grid of 245,000 instruments threatening a brown-out before pulling down the ceiling as has become the standard of so many productions.

The cast is uniformly excellent. James McMenamin's George is truly the average boy next door, as innocent and callow as any teenage boy ever was, yet sensitive to the point of tears as his father chastises him for neglecting household chores. Jennifer Grace's Emily matches that insecurity of a bright and shy teenage girl. That worn out "good-bye" monologue has been staged and performed with more intensity and emotion than I ever could have imagined. Jason Butler Harner's Stage Manager carries the weight of the show, managing not just the actors, but the audience as well.

Mr. Cromer's elegant and pure approach has breathed life into the play, confirming it as one of the great literary achievements in theatre. His direct, yet tender treatment of the text creates a truer world than I've seen on stage in a long time.

The run has been extended into 2010.

Go see this play while you have the chance.

Starwatch: Leonard Nimoy in the audience.


"Aftermath" at New York Theatre Workshop, September 12, 2009

Continuing their tradition of thought-provoking, contemporary material, NYTW brings us Aftermath, six stories of Iraqi refugees living in Jordan after the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. Their stories are derived from interviews conducted by authors Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen in Amman, Jordan in 2008.

Ms. Blank and Mr. Jensen have compiled these stories into an evening of theatre loosely strung together by a single interpreter, who seems to bear a good bit of disdain and contempt from most of the characters.

Most of them begin their tales with descriptions of Baghdad as a Middle Eastern Paris: beautiful, cosmopolitan and flourishing in spite of the dictator who reigns over them. Quickly the stories share the degeneration of life there as chaos ensues with the bombing. A Christian woman, taking her child to the pediatrician with her husband has her world destroyed by a roadside bomb. Two restaurant cooks, husband and wife, are run out of the country when a friend is taken into custody as a suspected terrorist. A theatre professor/director and his wife flee when his students are confronted by militia in a neighborhood tavern.

The stories are compelling, but the evening is not exactly theatre. It's more like a recitation, similar to Joan Didion's staged Year of Magical Thinking. The events described are horrific, but detached as they are delivered in monologue format. Actually dramatizing some of the action could certainly heighten the theatricality and effect.

Standouts among the cast are Amir Arison and the arrogant and put-upon dermatologist, Yassar and Rasha Zamamiri as Naimah, a cook.

Ms. Blank also directs, and paces the evening very nicely. The horrific moments are balanced with lighter ones to keep the audience from melting into tears or boiling over with rage at the way these people were treated. The political anti-war slant is direct and sharp.

NYTW is offering discounted tickets:

Tickets for performances on September 8 – October 4 are just $40.00 (reg. $65).

* Tickets must be purchased by September 14, 2009.

Use code AMSGN31 when ordering.

To purchase tickets, call (212) 947-8844 or visit

New York Theatre Workshop also offers both Student Tickets and CheapTix Sundays.

CheapTix Sundays: All tickets for all Sunday evening performances at 7pm are just $20 each! Tickets are available in advance but must be purchased at the NYTW box office on a cash-only basis.

Student Tickets: Full-time students with a valid student ID may purchase $20 tickets for all performances (subject to availability). Limit one ticket per ID. Tickets must be purchased in person and require an ID at the box office.

The NYTW box office is located at 79 East 4th Street (between Second Avenue and Bowery) and is open Tuesday - Saturday from 1pm - 6pm.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

9 to 5, the Musical

"9 to 5, The Musical" September 4, 2009 at the Marquis Theatre

Another screen-to-stage adaptation, but using the original screenwriter Patricia Resnick, along with Dolly Parton adding music and lyrics from the 1980 film's title song to flush out the rest of the score.

It's a high energy event, but never seems to find the reason why it was adapted to the stage. Ms. Resnick's book hews close to the original, forcing in a love interest for Violet (Allison Janney) in the form of a junior accountant, adding little to the proceedings.

Ms. Janney, along with Megan Hilty in Dolly's role of Doralee Rhodes and Stephani J. Block as Judy Bernly have a grand time with the flimsy material and forgettable score. Ms. Janney is certainly no singer, but gives Violet what she can. Ms. Hilty and Ms. Block are much more musically successful in their own efforts. Mark Kudisch's Franklin Hart, Jr. is greasy enough to slide across the stage without a shove. (I never realized just how bowlegged he is! He'd be two inches taller if he could put his knees together.)

Scott Pask's sets are a bit overblown, particularly late in the second act when Hart's house becomes a paneled McMansion, even though there have been several scenes in the house already without this bit of scenery. William Ivey Long held true to the period, practically reproducing from the original film.

Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography was frenetic and, surprisingly, sloppy given that the show had been running some 5 months. Director Joe Mantello wasn't able to pull much order out of the weak elements he was given, despite a talented cast.