Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Small Fire

"A Small Fire" at Playwrights Horizons, December 21, 2010

Adam Bock returns to Playwrights Horizons' main stage with this story of a callous construction contractor as she deals with unexplained health issues.  Emily (Michelle Pawk) thrives in the rough and tumble world of commercial construction.  She seems most comfortable with her employee Billy (Victor Williams).  Her connection with her husband, John (Reed Birney) has reached a working balance of love and dysfunction, but the same can't be said for her soon-to-be-married daughter Jenny (Celia Keenan-Bolger).  A prophetic "We'll work it out." repeats over and over on the presumption that there's always time to resolve issues and difficulties.

Mr. Bock's story begins an interesting exploration of connection and senses, but much of the message feels forced.  The detachment he imbues in Emily comes across as pretty harsh.  As Emily's sensory factors diminish, John's intensify.  Jenny, already feeling estranged over Emily's disparaging comments about her fiance', pulls further away as Emily's ability to interact declines.  Mr. Bock has missed an opportunity to really explore the issue of role-reversal that many children face, trying to help aging parents manage their lives.  There's a brief mention of it, but it's quickly tossed aside.

Ms. Pawk, remarkably talented, never really inhabits Emily's tough shell.  Part of her struggle is in the writing, but the other part is a feeling she is miscast in this role.  Mr. Birney gets the best of this play, exemplified in a monologue during the wedding reception as he describes the action and images for his now-blind wife.  The joyous picture he paints is touching and heart-breaking.

Director Trip Cullman facilitates some compelling moments, but seems constrained by some elements,  the sub-plot of Billy's competitive homing pigeons and a gratuitous sexual interaction between Emily and John.  Many might describe Ms. Pawk as "brave" for the partial nudity, but I found it more sensational than plot-driven.

Loy Arcenas has created an excellent set, conveying the temporary sense of life with unfinished drywall elements, nicely complemented by David Weiner's lighting.

A Small Fire runs through January 23, 2011.  Check below for discount ticket information.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Playwrights Horizons Discount Offer - A Small Fire

Special A SMALL FIRE offer for Third Row, Mezzanine blog readers!
Order by December 31 with code SMGR and tickets are only:
·        $40* (reg. $70) for all performances December 16-30, 2010
·        $55 (reg. $70) for all performances January 1-23, 2011

·        Order online at Use code SMGR.
·        Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
·        Present a printout of this blog post to the Ticket Central box office at 416 West 42nd Street (Noon-8pm daily).

*A limited number of $40 discounted tickets will be available for purchase. Subject to availability. Valid only in select rows.

Friday, December 10, 2010

More Problems with Spiderman?

The news crawler on the Today Show announced that producers of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark have canceled previews, apparently immediately.  No explanation has been given, however the coverage has been pretty extensive about cast injuries in the past couple of weeks.

UPDATE: 12/16/2010

Seems the cancellation was not extensive, though the NY Times now reports that opening night scheduled for January 11 has been pushed back to sometime in February.  Check the story here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short

"Colin Quinn: Long Story Short" at the Helen Hayes Theatre, November 15, 2010

Transferring after a relatively successful off-Broadway run earlier this year, Colin Quinn spends a little more than 75 minutes tromping through the history of the world.  Skipping around the globe, his attempt at a sardonic, cynic's view of how we got to where we are boils down to a simple concept.  There are two kinds of people in the world, smart guys and tough guys.  Smart guys best represented by the Greeks, tough guys by the Romans.  The influences of each are omnipresent today, but overall the tough guys generally win.  He summarizes, "We're the descendants of the pricks."

There are quite a few laughs, particularly his descriptions of the Holy Roman Empire as the children of alcoholics, and the Incas' under the influence of cocaine producing the best and worst ideas: architecture and science, vs. beheadings and cannibalism.

In the end, there's not much to learn about history, nor does Mr. Quinn share much profundity of his own thoughts about how the world evolved.  If anyone remembers Mr. Quinn's time on the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live, there won't be any surprises here.  This is a Comedy Central late night stand-up special.  Jerry Seinfeld directs, but his impact seems minimal. 

Most impressive is David Rockwell's set and video projections, though portions of the set appear leftover from Xanadu.

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short runs through November 9.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Notes from Underground

"Notes from Underground" presented by Theatre for a New Audience at Jerome Robbins Theatre, November 13, 2010

Adapted from the Dostoevsky novella by actor Bill Camp and director Robert Woodruff, Russian existentialism returns to the New York stage.

In this production, the unnamed Man (Mr. Camp) has withdrawn from society resigning his civil service job after receiving a sizable inheritance.  Torn in a paranoid struggle to accept his mediocrity vs. the noble life for which a man should strive, he confesses his insecurities via webcam alternately whining at his weakness and railing against others.  It starts out like a 19th century Spalding Gray but spins quickly off that track.

Mr. Camp's brings us a Man very much like his Misanthrope in Ivo Van Hove's production at New York Theatre Workshop a few years go.  He screams and sobs, slovenly slurping down drinks like an undiagnosed diabetic.  The use of the web cam and other strategically placed cameras projects close-ups and visual angles across the stark white set.  This technique provide dramatic effects unachievable in standard theatre craft.  Still, despite the clever use, it feels like more of a distraction from the theatricality rather than an enhancement.  Mr. Woodruff directs the action like Italian cinema with extended pauses and ponderous moments, underscored with odd musical tracks. 

Perhaps the event might have made more sense as a film instead of a play.  The material, with its focus on the working of the Man's mind might have been better served in that format.

Production values are strong.  David Zinn's white set, layered in snow (it is set in St. Petersburg, by the way) creates a sterile cave into which the Man has sentenced himself.  Mark Barton's lighting plays on the set to morph the cave into a cage as  the Man devolves.

Notes from Underground runs through November 20.

Monday, November 08, 2010

After the Revolution

"After the Revolution" at Playwrights Horizons, October 29, 2010

Amy Herzog's tale of a family's struggle between ideal and reality centers around the legacy of the late Joe Joseph, a Communist Party member who stood up to the McCarthy hearings, refusing to name names during one of the darker political periods of our nation's history.  The story explores idealism vs. reality, truth vs. money.

(Spoiler Alert)

Ben (Peter Friedman) and Leo (Mark Blum), Joe's sons and both committed Marxists themselves, have learned that a book is about to be published identifying Joe as a Soviet Spy during WWII.  Turns out Ben had a pretty good idea it was true, though he never shared it with his idealistic daughter, Emma (Katharine Powell), who runs a defense fund in Joe's name, fighting for equal justice for the questionably accused.  The news turns Emma on her ear, questioning the foundation of her beliefs.  At the same time Emma's major donor, Morty (David Margulies), announces his plans to leave his entire estate to the fund, leaving Emma torn between the opportunity that such money would provide for her cause and the contradiction of doing so in the name of a traitor. 

It's a top-notch cast for the most part, supported by Mare Winningham in a sweet turn as Mel, Ben's well-meaning if not quite as intelligent wife and the inimitable Lois Smith as Ben and Leo's step-mother Vera.   The ironically named Vera is the least ready to reveal the truth about her late husband since it would negatively affect "the cause."  Mr. Friedman maintains the strongest performance, wearing his heart on his sleeve and flagellating himself once Emma learns the truth about Joe.  Ms. Powell, in the pivotal role, suffers from inconsistency.  Some moments are full of truth, but get undermined by moments of self-consciousness.

Director Carolyn Cantor keeps things moving, but the script could stand a trim of 15 minutes or so.  Clint Ramos' set morphs well to serve the multiple locations.

After the Revolution runs through November 28, 2010.  Playwrights Horizons offers the following discount:

Order by November 9 with code ARGR and tickets are only $45 (reg. $55) for all performances Oct. 29 – Nov. 28

·        Order online at Use code APGR.
·        Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
·        Present a printout of this blog post to the Ticket Central box office at 416 West 42nd Street (Noon-8pm daily).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Playwrights Horizons Discount Offer - After the Revolution

Order by November 9 with code ARGR and tickets are only:
·        $40* (reg. $55) for the first week of performances Oct. 21 – Oct. 28
·        $45 (reg. $55) for all performances Oct. 29 – Nov. 28

·        Order online at Use code APGR.
·        Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
·        Present a printout of this blog post to the Ticket Central box office at 416 West 42nd Street (Noon-8pm daily).

*A limited number of $40 discounted tickets will be available for purchase. Subject to availability. Valid only in select rows.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Divine Sister

"The Divine Sister" at the Soho Playhouse, September 20, 2010

Charles Busch returns to the NY stage with his latest effort, leading his mash-up tale of nuns in a Pittsburgh convent.  The Divine Sister plumbs the borders of The Sound of Music, Agnes of God, Doubt, Song of Bernadette, and Nunsense wrapped up in  a strong dose of Where Angels Go Trouble Follows

The jokes are broader than the Hudson, and the "broads" are among the widest Mr. Busch has written to date.

The absurd plot, of a convent/school in early 1960s Pittsburgh on financial skids includes a new member, Sister Walburga (Alison Fraser), imported from Germany to help with fund-raising )or does she have a plan of her own??).  Mother Superior (Mr. Busch) and her BFF and second in command, Sister Acacius (Julie Halston) have decided to approach the rich Jewish, agnostic widow, Mrs. Levinson (Jennifer Van Dyck) to donate her home to the order until a new school can be built.  One problem facing the order is that the postulant Agnes (Amy Rutberg) has a tendency toward miracles, healings and stigmata-ism, bringing unwanted publicity.  Like any good catholic story, there are multiple mother-child relationships hidden behind secret adoptions, accented by occasion musical numbers dubbed as badly as any Italian western out there, and a couple of flashback scenes to Mother Superior's previous life as a crime reporter in the 1940s.  Plots twist and all is revealed to a comic effect only conceivable by Mr. Busch  - a lost book of the bible, the Gospel of Saint Gladys which tells the story of the Jesus' sister Joyce - the titular Divine Sister.  Brilliant!

As the Mother Superior, Mr. Busch is in his highest Rosalind Russell form - an Auntie Mame in a habit.  Ms. Halston has a bit more stretching to do but pulls it off as Sister Acacius, MS' closest ally and confidant.  Ms. Fraser is all but unintelligible as the overly accented Teutonic sister.  Her attempted seduction of Sister Acacius is hysterical.  When Acacius talks about spending time with her husband (Jesus, y'know?) before bed, Walburga suggests luridly, "Perhaps ze sree of us should get togezzer sometime."

Director Carl Andress manages to keep the larger than life performances within the confines of the small Soho Playhouse stage, but one can tell that was not an easy job.  He never shies away from a bawdy choice, or bathroom humor - Noel Coward, this ain't.

The Divine Sister is on an open-ended run, but don't wait to see it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


"Orlando" at Classic Stage Company, September 21, 2010

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Virginia Woolf's tale of an Elizabethan nobleman, who lives as a man until age 30, then wakes from a 6 month coma to find he has become a woman who lives another 370 years without aging comes to Classic Stage Company care of Sarah Ruhl.  It's an aggressive challenge to take on a work that Ms. Ruhl herself describes as " exquisite it would have seemed like a terrible bastardization to just leave the narration behind and make up dialog."  Despite the over theatricality of the novel's premise, that quality doesn't guarantee great theatre.  Ms. Ruhl, in apparent deference to Ms. Woolf's erudition, gives us an evening that is part acting, part exposition where the characters recite their activities in third person more often that portraying a role.  In the end, it feels more like a writing exercise than a play.

The performers are, however, committed fully and this eclectic cast does their best to rise to the challenge.  Francesca Faridany gives a true image of Orlando as a callow youth, carrying the discomfort through the transformation from man to woman, though the full nudity that ends Act 1 seemed completely gratuitous when a mere revelation of the curve of her breast and hip could have communicated the transformation equally.  The three-man ensemble of David Greenspan, Tom Nelis and Howard Overshown ebb and flow in their effectiveness portraying the various characters both male and female including Queen Elizabeth (Mr. Greenspan) and the man Orlando eventually marries (Mr. Nelis).

Visually, the production is excellent.  Allen Moyer's lush green lawn platform, accented with gilt chairs and an oversized ceiling mirror reflects Christopher Akerlind's thoughtful lighting.  I particularly liked Anita Yavich's costume concept which suggested the various periods of history in a timeless white palette, accented by simple add-ons (or not so simple for Queen Elizabeth).

Director Rebecca Taichman, a frequent collaborator with Ms. Ruhl tries to play along, bringing in some clumsily executed choreography from Annie Parsons, but the results are less than successful.

"Orlando" runs through October 17, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

American Idiot

"American Idiot" at the St. James Theatre, September 12, 2010

Green Day comes to Broadway with this staging based on their 2004 album of the same title, broadening the original concept into a story of three friends, Johnny (John Gallagher, Jr.), Will (Michael Esper) and Tunny (Start Sands) who plan to abandon their small-town, suburban upbringing for the bright lights of the big city.  Will gets shot down before the trip begins when he learns his girlfriend is pregnant.  Johnny and Tunny make the trek, but Tunny joins the military in the aftermath of September 11 and ends up in Iraq.  Johnny falls victim to the lure of drugs under the spell of his dealer, St. Jimmy (Tony Vincent).

Each in their own way become the American Idiot they so much long to avoid, by the poor choices they make in their lives.  Will's marriage disintegrates before his eyes as he refuses to grow up and accept the responsibility he's put upon himself to raise a family.  Tunny, severely wounded in a roadside bombing, falls for a military nurse.  An aerial effect works nicely to convey the drug-induced dream sequence as he recovers from his injury.  Johnny falls in love with the oddly described Whatsername (Rebecca Naomi Jones) only to fall more seriously under his own drug addiction.

In the end, all three end up back in their small town to heal their wounds and try to figure out how to grow up.

Mr. Gallagher gives his role much more than the script does, a testament to his talent.  Mr. Esper's Will has the least to do of the three, other than sit on the couch and crack open another beer.  Mr. Sands finds a nice humanity in his character's conflicted spirit.  Mr. Vincent's St. Jimmy, a cross between the devil and the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang slinks about and vamps it up for everything he's worth - a relative highlight of the evening.

Director Michael Mayer, well-acquainted with the rock musical concept keeps things moving, but has little to work with from his own thinly drafted book.  Steven Hoggett's "choreography" looks more like a suburban "broadway bound" beginner dance class.

The band is terrific, however, and the voices and visuals are good.  It's anything but a traditional musical, but it could stand a few more characteristics of one to strengthen the storytelling.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cabfare for the Common Man

"Cabfare for the Common Man" at The Crowne Theatre at The Producer Club, September 16-18, 2010

I'll be appearing in the last act of the first half, a piece called "Passed Hordes" with the lovely and talented Sandy Trullinger, directed by the lovely and talented Brad Caswell, courtesy of Sweet & Tart Productions.  Tickets available at

Bring your friends and neighbors!

Friday, September 03, 2010

NY International Fringe Festival, 2010

New York International Fringe Festival, August 2010

I managed to get to three offerings in this year's Fringe, Rites of Privacy, 3boys,  and Open Heart.

True to Fringe form, they were all very different, both in premise and quality.

Rites of Privacy, at the Here Arts Center, August 28, 2010

Written and performed by David Rhodes, this one-act series of confessions patches together a range of tales, personal to Mr. Rhodes and a number of seemingly created characters.  One isn't sure if the various tales are people Mr. Rhodes knew or not.  Among them are a Jew who escaped the Holocaust, a southern matron who allows her abusive husband to die and a particularly upsetting doctor who performs an abortion on herself.  Mr. Rhodes slides into each character easily enough and masters sufficient mannerisms to keep them from running together, but his own confession at the end didn't feel particularly revelatory.  I find his title misleading in that there were no tales of secret habits or practices.  All were tales of past events - - confessions.

Director Charles Loffredo keeps the pace up, but seems as unsure of the point as I was.  Greg Emetaz' projections add a bit of cinematic atmosphere, but it's not enough to carry the show.

3boys, at the 4th Street Theatre, August 28, 2010

I didn't really realize that this show was about dogs I arrived to find two of the actors tumbling about the stage like puppies.  Or at least one was tumbling about.  The other was more like a bored babysitter.  Zip (Patrick Horn) is the newest addition to the household, joining Lee (Alex Engquist and Comet (Matt Brown).  Who knew that creatures of the emotional equivalent of a 4 year old knew such worry?  Comet is sad and angry though I was never really clear as to why.  Maybe it was having been put out for stud.  Lee wants Comet to be happy again.  Zip just wants to play with the ball.

Becca Schollberg's script plumbs the depths of canine angst, going well beyond any anthropomorphizing ever attempted by Disney.  These are woeful pups.  Mr. Engquist comes off the strongest of the three, but it's a fairly low threshold.  Director Madeleine Rose M. Parsigan pulls emotion from the three on occasion, but it comes across like an acting exercise a la Viola Spolin.

Open Heart at LAMAMA, August 29, 2010

Crediting Anna Deveare Smith, playwright Joe Salvatore has continued his work in "the verbatim interview theatre process" with Open Heart, an exploration of monogamy among gay male couples.  This verbatim process, similar to the work of Moises Kaufman in The Laramie Project, and Doug Wright in I Am My Own Wife, pulls the text directly from recorded interviews.  The stories from these interviews get woven into an interesting picture of how gay men from small towns and big cities deal with the issue of monogamy in a committed relationship.  With all the political furor surrounding same sex marriage of late, Mr. Salvatore manages to present multiple perspectives without showing favor for any one.

Mr. Salvatore directs his work and has assembled quite the capable cast of five to create  the fifteen men sharing their views and experiences, including Chris Bresky, Stephen Donovan, Daryl Embry, Nick Lewis and Karl O'Brian Williams.  Mr. Bresky was excellent, moving smoothly from a 50ish man from Queens to a stammering Irishman.  Pace was brisk and the staging very clever, making excellent use of Blake McCarty's projections.

Of the three plays above, Open Heart was the one to have seen.  Mr. Salvatore would do well to contact David Drake about producing a run in Provincetown next summer.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Canned Ham

"Canned Ham" at The Art House, Provincetown, MA, August 15, 2010

Like every good actor in New York, Tom Judson has written a one-man show based on his life as an actor in New York.  He does have a good gimmick, particularly suited for this summer run in Provincetown, that he spent a number of years as a gay adult film star under the suitably butch name of Gus Mattox.

There are elements of Mr. Judson's story with a sad, but familiar note - his lover fell victim to AIDS in the mid-90s.  This becomes part of his road to porn.

The script itself, is still a work in process as Mr. Judson has published on his own blog promoting the show, Canned Ham.  Mr. Judson, remarkably handsome as you can see here, is a capable actor and a talented musician (which you can't see here).  The story provides an opportunity to demonstrate his skill one a number of instruments from the accordion to the clarinet, sometimes simultaneously.  In this, he seems to be trying just a bit too hard.  Moments described of significant pain come across occasionally glib, whether from him not wanting to make the audience too sad, or just spilling all the words out to get to the next line.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of laughs and he certainly enjoys that part the most.  This is when he is the most charming.

Credit to William Ivey Long for selecting the jockstrap and wifebeater.  Credit also to David Drake for producing this engagement.  It's excellent summer fare at the "gay national park" that is Provincetown.

Canned Ham runs Sundays and Mondays through September 6, 2010.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side

"The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side" presented by The Amoralists Theatre Company at PS 122, July 31, 2010

(photo: Larry Cobra)

Returning to the NYC stage after an earlier successful run, The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side tells a tale of a poly-amorous foursome led by an ersatz Che Guevera wannabe, Billy (James Kautz).  His housemates/lovers include Wyatt (Matthew Pilieci), Dawn (Mandy Nicole Moore) and Dear (Sarah Lemp).  Dear and Wyatt run a vegan restaurant on the street level of the building in exchange for free rent of the apartment.  Dawn was accumulated by the three others when living on the street, singing songs for tips.  She continues this as the group's only source of cash.  Billy's brother Evan (Nick Lawson) turns up for a visit, bringing an added level of chaos to the proceedings.

The story is ultimately a bit of Rent retold when their landlord/benefactor Donovan (Malcom Madera) shows up to announce he's sold the building.  They have 2 weeks to move out.  Presented in three (long) acts, playwright (and director) Derek Ahonen hedges his bets as to whether this play is a political statement, demonstrated by Billy's revolutionary and communistic tenets of equality and freedom from class structure.  Or is it a farce?  The plot includes ridiculous encounters, such as Evan's first meeting of Dear, Dawn and Wyatt as the latter three exit a shower menage a' trois naked, Wyatt fully erect.  Or is it a satire?  Billy talks at length of a revolutionary group in Mexico, in which his involvement made him an assassination target.

Since I'm not sure after an almost three-hour performance, the weakness is in the writing.

The performances are fully committed and admirable.  Mr. Kautz' addicted and alcoholic Billy is as manic and earnest as any pseudo-revolutionary I might imagine.  Mr. Pilieci's Wyatt is long on passion (as it were) but maybe just a bit short on brains.  Ms. Lemp's Dear is the coolest head among the four, trying to mother her lovers into well-meaning actions.

Mr. Ahonen's direction keeps things moving, though his own script drags the pace from time to time.  I could almost smell Al Schatz's stale LES apartment, piled up with its collected detritus and trash.

The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side closed on August 9.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

A Little Night Music (revisit)

"A Little Night Music" at the Walter Kerr Theatre, July 30, 2010

(photo: Joan Marcus)

With an impressive pair of replacements, I returned to see ALNM.  I'm so glad I did.  As much as I enjoyed the original cast (review: here), it is so nice to see how a change of actor can enhance a show.

Taking on the mantle of Madame Armfeldt from Angela Lansbury, Elaine Stritch gives a two-level performance, though perhaps unintentionally.  It reminded me a bit of when I saw the revival of "Nine" a few years ago and Eartha Kitt had taken over the role of Liliane LeFleur from Chita Rivera.  Then, Ms. Kitt as Ms. LeFleur was dreadful, BUT Ms. Kitt as "Eartha Kitt as Liliane Lefleur" was fabulous.  The effect is similar here with Ms. Stritch.  Her classic deadpan line readings don't quite deliver the sophistication one expects from Mme Armfeldt, but taking the performance as a whole, she does make a success of it.  There were a few bumpy moments along the way in "Liaisons" but only the truest fans who have the score memorized would have realized it.

Replacing Catherine Zeta Jones, Bernadette Peters as Desiree performs as though she's studied the role for years.  Her Desiree is quite a bit more world-weary than her predecessor.  She sees that not only is her beauty on the brink, so is her time to fill the rest of her life.  Ms. Peters does all this without coming across as jaded or cynical, but still hopeful that her chance exists.  At the moment when she thinks all is lost, the classic "Send In The Clowns," she sings through tears with heart-breaking emotion.  It is a masterful performance.

The rest of the cast remains strong overall. A few notes: Miss Mallory's Anne has taken on something of an odd drawl in her speech that feels a bit anachronistic at times, but her performance has grown during the run.  Miss Davie, too, has grown, finding nuance at opportune moments.

Miss Peters and Miss Stritch are on contract through November.  It will be interesting to see if the producers can come up with another pair of replacements this interesting when the time comes.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Banana Shpeel

"Banana Shpeel" presented by Cirque du Soleil at the Beacon Theatre, May 23, 2010

Cirque du Soleil, having turned the concept of circus on its head, creating a international brand and establishing permanent productions around the world, has finally opened its production of Banana Shpeel for an open-ended run at the gloriously restored Beacon Theater on the upper west side in New York.  Cirque has, of course, visited New York regularly with its traveling productions.  Given the opportunity to attract the tourist dollar, it's easy to see the advantage of a site-specific production here.

Cirque's productions all follow the same general concept of various acts of contortion, juggling, and acrobatics interspersed with a running clown theme, accompanied by ethereal, new age-style music and singers.  For NY, they took what might have been an interesting concept of a vaudeville theme to form the arc of this production.  Vaudeville has been dead for a long time, and it's dead for a reason.  Writer and director David Shiner is unable to revive it in the not funny framework he has created.  As production problems leaked to the press earlier this year, several show doctors reportedly came through to fix the issues. 

Based on what I sat through this afternoon, this piece is DOA.  Cirque seems to have made the mistake of forgetting what the do well and throwing away a lot of time and money on what they don't.  I get the idea of trying to create a "Broadway-style" version for NY.  But, I don't get why they didn't realize it isn't going to work.  The actual acts are up to Cirque's usual standards: interesting and unique, impeccably performed by visually attractive artists.

Further, the show is billed as "family-friendly," with which I must disagree based on a handful of off-color lines including, " a can of shut the f*** up,"  bleeped perhaps, but fully recognizable nonetheless.  The clown wearing the trenchcoat and only red briefs underneath is flasher-perv creepy, not comic relief. The Cirque website says, "This show is not recommended for children under eight years old. Children under the age of five are not permitted in the theater."  Apparently, no one told the staff at the Beacon.  I saw plenty of kids under 8 and heard what sounded like at least one infant in the audience.

One more gripe about the Beacon staff - inexplicably, the entire audience was forced to exit the building through a single back door onto Amsterdam Avenue.

Still, I like the idea of a presence for Cirque in New York, much in the sense of the permanent productions in Las Vegas and Orlando.  Hopefully they will be back with something that works next time.  As my friend R quipped, "Cirque has slipped on its own Banana Shpeel."

Banana Shpeel is scheduled to run through August 29.

Friday, May 21, 2010


“Restoration” at New York Theatre Workshop, May 18, 2010

(photo: Joan Marcus)

Claudia Shear’s latest play is a funny and thoughtful story of an art conservator who restores more than just the appearance of the objects on which she works.  Returning to NYTW, where her last success “Dirty Blonde” began its journey to a 2000-2001 Broadway run, Ms. Shear’s new protagonist is quite the polar opposite from Mae West. 

Restoration explores the politics of art, beauty, love, fidelity and redemption.  Giulia (Ms. Shear) moved from Italy to Brooklyn with her family at the age of 8.  Now writhing through middle age, she remains single because, as she herself tells it, “I’m weird, aggressive and successful.”  As the play begins, she has lost her position in the art world following the insults over a peer’s restoration technique that resulted in a lawsuit against her.  Her life-long mentor/father-figure Professor (Alan Mandell), who abandoned her during the trial has arranged for her to restore Michelangelo’s David for its 500th anniversary.  Museum security guard Max (Jonathan Cake) becomes her unlikely friend.  Hot and handsome with an archetypal married man’s Italian roving eye, he quotes poetry and classical literature as he flirts with all visitors skirted.  Museum board member Daphne (Tina Benko) blond, beautiful and intimidating, challenges Giulia personally and professionally, testing her knowledge, skill and self-confidence.  Museum director Marciante (Natalia Nogulich) is generally supportive, but circumspect.

Ms. Shear’s Giulia is a plain, frumpy fireplug, focused only on and in love with the statue.  As she and Max banter about life and art, he continually corrects her use of “him” to “it” when referring to the statue.  Her Giulia turns out to be more than meets the eye.  Truly, she is as Max describes here, “…so gentle with the statue, so abrasive with everyone else.”

Mr. Cake’s Max, a living David himself, despite a bad leg which is explained in a late plot twist, oozes sensuality and life.  It’s too bad his shirt stayed on the entire performance.  His accent spends a good bit of time near his birthplace in Britain, but it’s not a terrible distraction.

Director Christopher Ashley has used an even hand to let the story come through without force or contrivance, pulling fully realized performances from his cast.  Scott Pask’s set opens in layers, like old varnish on a painting revealing the rotunda gallery.  The abstract display of the statue literally pushes the action up the surrounding scaffolding as tension builds and the events unfold.

Be sure to check out the discount offer for tickets here.

Restoration runs through June 13.  Don’t miss it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Burnt Part Boys

"The Burnt Part Boys" at Playwrights Horizons, May 14, 2010

Playwrights Horizons brings their first new musical since 2008 and it's a welcome offering..

This new musical tells the emotional story of Jake and Pete Twitchell, brothers who lost their father in a coal mine explosion in 1952, the titular "burnt part."  Ten years later, 18 year old Jake (Charlie Brady) has dropped out of high school to work in the mines, while still taking care of his 14 year old brother since their mother has withdrawn from life with a bottle.  Pete (Al Calderon) lives in the fantasy of movies at the local drive-in, conjuring fatherly images of John Wayne as Davy Crockett in "The Alamo" along with Jim Bowie and Sam Houston (all Michael Park), since he can't really remember his own father.  Pete and his buddy Dusty (Noah Galvin) begin a quest to stop the mining company from reopening the burnt part, meeting up with Frances (Molly Ranson), a girl from their class whose father also died in the 1952 explosion.  Frances has exiled herself to the forest after the "scissor incident," involving the shorn locks of a taunting classmate.  The quest takes a predictable turn as Jake and his buddy Chet (Andrew Durand) follow the boys in an attempt to stop Pete from his plan.

Mariana Elder's book is functional, supported nicely by Chris Miller's score, less so by Nathan Tysen's greeting card lyrics.  It is Joe Calarco's direction and musical staging that hold this show together.  He elicits moving performances from his cast, superseding the material.  Standouts are Mr. Park in his multiple roles, Mr. Durand as Chet, Jake's best friend, and Mr. Calderon as Pete.  Brian Prather's simple set flexes well for the multiple location requirements, fully complemented by Chris Lee's lighting.

The Burnt Part Boys runs through June 13.

Discount offer from Playwrights Horizons:

A New Musical
By Mariana Elder, Chris Miller, and Nathan Tysen
Direction and Musical Staging by Joe Calarco

Blog reader DISCOUNT! Use code “BPGR”
Limit 4 tickets per order. Subject to availability.

Order by May 24 with code BPGR and tickets are only
·        $45 (reg. $70) for all performances April 30 – May 9
·        $55 (reg. $65) for all performances May 11 – June 13

HOW TO ORDER: Order online at Use code BPGR.
Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
Print and present this blog post at the Ticket Central box office, 416West 42nd Street (Noon-8pm daily).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NYTW Discount Offer - Restoration

Two-time Tony Award-nominee, playwright and actress Claudia Shear reunites with acclaimed director Christopher Ashley to create and perform in her new play Restoration. Shear plays the lead role of Giulia, a down-on-her-luck art restorer from Brooklyn who receives the possibly career-reviving job of “refreshing” Michelangelo’s sculpture David in time for its 500th birthday celebration in Florence.

Tickets for performances on Now through May 18 are just $42 (reg. $65) each.
Performances May 21 through June 13 are just $50 (reg. $65).
* Tickets must be purchased by May 19, 2010.

Use code RBLNY when ordering.

To purchase tickets, call (212) 279-4200 or visit

Click here to watch a short video about RESTORATION.

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.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Forest

"The Forest" at Classic Stage Company, May 1, 2010

Early Russian dramatist Alexander Ostrovsky's time spent translating Shakespeare is evident in Kathleen Tolan's adaptation of his play, The Forest.  It captures the classic elements of Russian drama - money, class structure and romance, combined with the Shakespearean elements of misrepresentation and star-crossed lovers.

This is the story Madam Raisa (Dianne Wiest), a vain and selfish woman who runs her household and the lives of all in it through her tight-fisted control of the purse strings.  Hoping to marry off her destitute niece, Aksyusha (Lisa Joyce) to a young and callow, but penniless nobleman, Bulanov (Adam Driver), another lodger at the estate. Raisa's nephew Gennady (John Douglas Thompson), whom she owes money, turns up after a 15 year absence.  A vagabond tragedian posing as a gentleman, Gennady seeks to recover the debt and perhaps a bit more from his aunt, accompanied by his comrade, the comedian Arkady (Tony Torn). Confessions of love for those unexpected and/or unintended turn the wheels of the story.

Ms Wiest manages to find some humanity in the mercurial Raisa, at times as kopeck-pinching as a miser, at times as shallow as a school-girl and at times as cruel and cold as a dragon.  She bellows and flirts, decrees and submits from moment to moment. Her household views her as all-powerful, yet in the presence of other men, she fawns and demures.

Mr. Thompson's Gennady postures and poses, actually winning the bellowing contest with Ms. Wiest. Overall though, it's a merely a serviceable performance, much like the rest of the cast.

Director Brian Kulick, after a slow first act, gets things moving through the sometimes clunky plot in the second.  Santo Loquasto's set harkens back a bit to his last Russian entry, CSC's Uncle Vanya, with a large open staircase of timbers, this time sponged green to invoke the oft-referred to forest.  Marco Piemontese's costumes are appropriate and for Ms. Wiest, gorgeous.

If your interest is in Russian drama, this is a good opportunity to see work that probably wouldn't come along otherwise.  Shakespeare scholars may also find interest here.  As for the rest of us?  Go to see Ms. Wiest rise above her material.

The Forest runs through May 30.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Family Week

"Family Week" presented by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, April 9, 2010

Beth Henley has revisited this work from 2000 courtesy of Jonathan Demme, making his theatrical directing debut.
It is familiar ground for Ms. Henley, this high-estrogen tale of an emotionally shattered mother Claire (Rosemarie DeWitt), self-admitted to "the best facility in the country" to come to terms with the unsolved murder of her son.  Coming in to assist during family week are her mother Lena (Kathleen Chalfant), sister Rickie (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) and daughter Kay (Sami Gayle).

This production is something of a rework from earlier productions of this story, though I think there's still a good bit of work to be done.  Ms. Henley's knack for finding humor in the darkest of moments doesn't ring with the same intensity as found in other works, such as Crimes of the Heart, and  The Miss Firecracker Contest.

Mr. Demme has assembled a talented cast.  Ms. DeWitt gives an admirable performance as the unbalanced Claire, intoning the various mantras of the institution's psycho-babble-double-talk.  As we are continually reminded, it is "...the best treatment facility in the country," though no one ever supplies the credentials that Ms. Chalfant's mother of the patient demands.  Ms. Chalfant, ever professional, does seem to bridle a bit under the two dimensional character who seems as interested in maintaining a calm facade than opening up enough to help her struggling child.  Ms. Bernstine, playing Claire's (inexplicably black) sister, Jessica, has a grand time. Navel-gazing and self-important, she floats along for as long as she can bear it, finally abandoning the "healing" effort for another hare-brained, get rich quick scheme.  As Kay, Sami Gayle poses but never quite lands credibly as the surviving daughter, who has only attended after accepting a bribe from her father.

With this talent, however, Mr. Demme has fallen into traps that many film directors tend to when first attempting the stage by reaching for cinematic moments when a theatrical one is called for.  A prime example of this was one of Claire's emotional tirades staged such that she faced the stage left wall, closed off to most of the audience.  Film-wise, such a scene of the two characters in profile would be quite effective.  Here, we only lose the effect of Claire's emotion as we watch the back of her head.  Still, I hope he will keep at it.

Kenneth Posner's dry lighting emphasizes Derek McLane's desert spa-like setting.

Family Week runs through May 23.

Sondheim on Sondheim

"Sondheim on Sondheim" presented by Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, April 3, 2010

In a continuing year of celebration of Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday, the Roundabout presents a new revue of his life and works.  Frequent collaborator James Lapine conceived and directed the event, including songs from his earliest to the most recent efforts, combined with a series of recorded video clips of various interviews with the man himself.

Mr. Lapine has assembled an attractive, if uneven, cast for the show, including Barbara Cook in her first extended Broadway run in almost 30 years.  Vanessa Williams also returns to the boards, along with Tom Wopat, Euan Morton, Leslie Kritzer, Norm Lewis, Erin Mackey and Matthew Scott.

The songs are wide-ranging, covering stage and television musicals from 1946 By George, written while a student at the George School, to 2008's Road Show.  The early work reflects the period, at times Porter-esque, though Oscar Hammerstein was as much a father figure as he was a mentor and teacher.  There are also a couple of numbers that were written and cut, including "Smile Girls, Smile" from Gypsy, "Invocation/Forget War" and "Love Is in the Air" from ...Forum and "My Husband the Pig" from A Little Night Music.  ("Invocation" turned up later in The Frogs, which was otherwise unrepresented during the evening.) 

Performance-wise, this is Ms. Williams' evening.  Nearing the painful beauty of Catherine Zeta Jones, her impeccable presence captivates the audience.  Ms. Cook, frail, but in fine voice comes in a close second, reminding the audience of her unmatched skill as a singing actress.  Mr. Wopat, however, is only occasionally serviceable. His discomfort, most particularly in "Soliloquy" from Sweeney Todd is painful to watch. The other songs are better, but not by much.  It's Mr. Morton who stands out among the supporting performers.  He finds interesting and distinct characterizations, notably in the Merrily We Roll Along sequence.  Mr. Lewis sings well, though comes off a little bland.  Ms. Kritzer also finds a few nice moments, but felt a little restrained as Mary Jane Moore in the Assassins segment.

Mr. Lapine's compilation of songs are interesting, even puzzling at times.  The materials is good, but I think there have been better arranged revues of Mr. Sondheim's work.  His direction is simple and elegant, though Beowulf Boritt's set pushes Dan Knechteges' musical staging toward the awkward on occasion.

Sondheim on Sondheim runs through June 13.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The 39 Steps

"The 39 Steps" at New World Stages, March 27, 2010

The transfer from it's two-year run on Broadway, including stints at the Roundabout's American Airlines, to the Cort, to the Helen Hayes is starting to show its wear now that Maria Aitken's skillfully and cleverly directed farce has moved off-Broadway to New World Stages.

I had hoped to find this production as tight as the transfer of Avenue Q a few months ago, but such is not the case.

John Behlmann certainly has the requisite movie star looks of protagonist Richard Hannay, though he looks a bit young for the role.  Kate MacCluggage also falls just a hair short of the Hitchcock blonde.  It's still quite funny, but some of the sophistication seems to have been lost along the way.

I still think this is the right venue for this production.  I hope the producers will give the audience enough time and direction to find it in its new home.

Click here for my original review.

Time Stands Still

"Time Stands Still" presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, March 24, 2010

Donald Margulies continues his successful relationship with MTC in his latest work, Time Stands Still, an exploration of two war journalists trying to survive the aftermath of recording the gore and horrors in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Jamie (Brian D'Arcy James) brings home long-time girlfriend, Sarah (Laura Linney), in the last stages of recovery from injuries by a roadside bomb.  Her scarred and broken body belies her passion for the value of her photography as a means to expose the injustice and cruelty of war.

Tightly directed by Daniel Sullivan, the able cast brings us a compelling tale of a warrior who can't stop fighting despite the love she receives.  Ms. Linney is, as always, clear and focused in her portrayal of Sarah.  Mr. Bogosian and Ms. Silverstone support very well as Jamie's editor/publisher and his new, young girlfriend, respectively.  It is Mr. D'Arcy James who carries the evening.  His Jamie is exhausted from the real battles that he and Sarah cover, the battle of her infidelity as well as the battle to get Sarah to leave the danger of that life behind.  He's always first to reach out and always ends up rejected.  It's a remarkable performance.

Time Stands Still closed on March 27.

Starwatch - Mary Louise Parker was in the audience (scouting for the movie, perhaps?).

All About Me

"All About Me" at Henry Miller's Theatre, March 25, 2010

It's as odd as you might imagine.  Michael Feinstein and Dame Edna Everage have combined forces for an evening of music and Dame Edna.

Mercifully, it has closed, but one can't help but wonder if Max Bialystock was a part of this bizarre mash-up.  The wannabe Vegas style set, complete with 12 piece band and a white grand piano filled most of the stage, shoving the unfortunate action to the apron.  Why Christopher Durang allowed his name to be associated with this travesty is beyond me.  It must have been an impressive check that arrived with no performance clauses in the contract.

Alas, maybe the third time will be the charm for this newest house on Broadway, now named the Stephen Sondheim.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Lend Me A Tenor

"Lend Me A Tenor" at the Music Box, March 13, 2010

I have always thought Stanley Tucci was a very smart actor.  Making his directorial debut on Broadway, he has only proved that theory by reviving a war horse of a play, Ken Ludwig's Lend Me A Tenor.  On top of that he has assembled, for the most part, a most excellent and talented cast to carry out this farce of egos and ambitions courtesy of the fictional Cleveland Grand Opera. 

World-class opera star, Tito Merelli (Anthony LaPaglia) has arrived to sing the title role in Verdi's Otello for the company, with his wife Maria (Jan Maxwell) in tow.  CGO assistant Max (Justin Bartha) is under strict orders from general manager Saunders (Tony Shalhoub) to keep Signor Merelli from wine and women until after the performance.  The entire city is eager to meet the star, including Max's sometime girlfriend and Saunders' niece, Maggie (Mary Catherine Garrison), her aunt Julia (Brooke Adams), company soprano Diana (Jennifer Laura Thompson) and the Bellhop (Jay Klaitz).  As befitting a farce, mistaken identity, false deaths and bed-hopping all follow in due course.  All that's missing are the Marx Brothers, whom surely must have been in Mr. Ludwig's mind as he wrote.

Beyond intelligent selection of material and cast, Mr. Tucci guides this production with a sure, if sometimes heavy, hand.  Not to discount, by any means, this is a farce, for which a heavy hand is often called.  I'm sure this was also necessary in the rehearsal room, combining the skills and talents of the likes of Messrs. LaPaglia and Shalhoub and Ms. Maxwell.  Each bring larger than life attention to their respective roles.  Mr. Shalhoub's Saunders simmers continually with occasional boil overs as the story unfolds.  His intensity is masterful.  Mr. LaPaglia isn't a world-class tenor, but the singing moments are few and far between.  His Tito, however, is a world-class spoiled star, red-faced and alternately barking and pouting.  Ms. Maxwell's Maria sweeps in and snubs all around.

As Max, Mr. Bartha also doesn't quite have the vocal chops purported to his role, but he's nonetheless endearing and adorable.  Ms. Garrison has managed to get herself cast in another period piece.  This time, however, she is a bit more serviceable though still not quite on the mark.  Ms. Adam (Mrs. Shalhoub) comes off a bit young for her role and doesn't get all that much to do, other than point out that Mr. Ludwig is a Mel Brooks fan. "How do I look?" she asks Saunders. "Like the Chrysler Building" he replies.

Mr. Tucci wraps up the evening with a Buster Keaton style pantomime that retells the whole story.

John Lee Beatty's hotel suite set is gorgeous, with all the requisite doors to accommodate the farce. Kenneth Posner's lights complement nicely.  Martin Pakledinaz' costumes are equally gorgeous.

It's a great evening, and one I recommend.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


"Red" at the Golden Theatre, March 18, 2010

The Donmar Warehouse has transferred its latest London hit to Broadway, creating the story behind Mark Rothko's creation of the murals commissioned for The Four Seasons restaurant in 1958.  In this two-hander dramatization by John Logan, Rothko (Alfred Molina), once l'enfant terrible of the modern art world has just accepted the commission and hires Ken (Eddie Redmayne) to assist him in the project.  Ken, an aspiring young artist himself from Iowa, is looking to learn from a master with hopes of jump-starting his own career.

Mr. Logan's script creates lots of tension and drama as Rothko rants, raves, mocks and insults with total disregard, while expounding his own bloviations of how the younger generation doesn't "get" the meaning of his art, convinced that those who don't are too stupid to realize true genius.  Ultimately, Ken has had enough abuse and speaks out for the first time, declaring Rothko's movement as obsolete just as Rothko himself once declared of the cubists.  Ken plays the final straw as he accuses Rothko of selling out with the commission.  Rothko rescinds the commission and keeps the art for himself, firing Ken to push him forward in his own career.

As Rothko, Mr. Molina delivers.  He stalks the stage, berating and brutalizing everything and everyone around him, yet we still see just how much of his posturing is simply that each time Ken "passes" another test.  The nuances are well-played.  Mr. Redmayne's Ken is passionate and driven, though he has not mastered a flat midwestern accent - his brogue rings through frequently, occasionally disrupting the fourth wall.  I'm at a bit of a loss to understand why Actor's Equity felt it necessary to grant a waiver for Mr. Redmayne to accompany this transfer.  He's obviously a talented actor, but I found nothing in his performance (or the role for that matter) that required his presence in this production.  Surely there are a dozen young actors in New York alone who could have offered as much or more as Mr. Redmayne.

Mr. Grandage keeps the tension high, making clever use of music for old-style crossovers between scenes.  He keeps up the choreographed approach when Ken and Rothko prime an oversized canvas, the two splashing almost as much paint on themselves and the stage as they do on the canvas.  He may have been going for a parallel effect that was used in "Pollock" when Ed Harris recreated a full painting onscreen.  Many in the audience were more impressed than I was with the demonstration.

It's a compelling production, well-acted and solidly directed but I didn't quite see the reputed brilliance from its billing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Playwrights Horizons Discount

By Kia Corthron
Directed by Chay Yew

Blog reader DISCOUNT! Use code “CDGR”
Limit 4 tickets per order. Subject to availability.

Order by March 28 with code CDGR and tickets are only
·        $30 (reg. $50) for all performances through March 21st
·        $40 (reg. $50) for all performances March 23 – April 11
HOW TO ORDER: Order online at Use code CDGR.
Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)

Sunday, March 14, 2010


"Looped" at the Lyceum Theatre, February 24, 2010

Tallulah Bankhead is the center of Matthew Lombardo's play about a recording session to correct one line from Ms. Bankhead's final movie as it goes through its final editing stage in 1965.

At this late stage in her life (Ms. Bankhead died in 1968), she has ruined her career with drugs, alcohol and sex.  Her film has all signs of being a flop and the creative team has all but abandoned the project. Left to handle the recording session is the film editor Danny (Brian Hutchison).  Tallulah (Valerie Harper) shows up several hours late and already drunk.  What follows is two acts of cat and mouse as Tallulah chases Danny's secrets down and drags them out.  Along the way are a multitude of one-liners and quips, some of which are pretty funny, but eventually they get very predictable.

As Tallulah, Ms. Harper achieves a respectable impersonation, but doesn't seem to have the material to really reveal anything about her that we didn't already know.  She swears like a sailor, drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney, yet still sees her only value in her sexuality, which she foists like a weapon.

Mr. Hutchison suffers under his poorly written role, having to play straight man setting up the endless bon mots for Ms. Harper.  The back story Mr. Lombardo has created for Steve is particularly contrived, with a couple of revelations telegraphed early on.  As Steve, the sound engineer, Michael Mulheren floats through with little to do other than set up a few of the jokes along the way.

Mr. Lombardo based this play on the tape from the actual recording session, some 45 minutes' worth.  He seems to have reached a little too far in stretching the piece out into two full acts.  The flashback of Tallulah's failed and only performance of "A Streetcar Named Desire" in Florida takes up a good bit of time to poor effect.  Sadly, he reverts Tallulah to no more than a wannabe Mame Dennis as she wanders about the pieces of Steve's life she has tossed to the floor.  The only line missing as she attempts to pull him back together is "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death."

Director Rob Ruggiero keeps things moving, but can't get the performances to rise much above the two-dimensional writing.  There are some laughs to be found, but the piece is not really ready for Broadway.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Pride

"The Pride" presented by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, February 28, 2010

(photo: Joan Marcus)

The Pride tells two stories of Oliver, Philip and Sylvia, the first set in 1958 London and the second fifty years later.  The play opens in the earlier time when Sylvia (Andrea Riseborough) has invited her boss, Oliver (Ben Whishaw) over for drinks with her husband Philip (Hugh Dancy) before dinner out.  Tension builds quickly as Philip finds himself attracted to the not-so-closeted Oliver.  Jump-shift to 2008 and the triangle has shifted.  Oliver (sharing only the same name as his 1958 counterpart) is not dealing well with his recent break-up with Philip, the two of whom were introduced by mutual friend Sylvia. 

Each character is full of issues in both periods, creating a compelling set of tales.  Overwrought with guilt, 1958 Philip breaks off the brief, if torrid affair with Oliver and longs for "normalcy" in his life, seeking psychiatric help, including aversion therapy to overcome his sexual orientation.  2008 Philip has also broken off the relationship with his Oliver over the latter's compulsion for anonymous sex.  Sylvia stands by in relative support in both eras, ultimately setting 1958 Philip free after coming to terms with her own denial.

The stories aren't exactly parallels, but both spend a little time at the self-hatred table.  1958 Philip can't come to terms with his sexuality, longing to make it go away.  2008 Oliver's version comes in the form of his inability to reconcile his promiscuity.

The performances are fairly even, but it is Mr. Whishaw who has the meatiest roles.  His hopeful hopelessness as 1958 Oliver is tender and touchingly vulnerable.  His inner struggle as 2008 Oliver is more complex, flailing between pining for the lost love of his life and succumbing to his desires.  Mr. Dancy's Philips are significantly more reserved, one more painfully so than the other.  Ms. Riseborough's Sylvia's separate the most, proper and withheld in 1958 and a total free spirit in 2008.  Picking up the most fun is Adam James, playing an assortment of supporting roles, from a hilarious turn as a role-playing rent-boy, to a psychiatrist bordering on the sadistic.

Director Joe Mantello seems to be back on his stride in this play, using clever and thoughtful staging, almost choreographing the overlaps of period shifts from scene to scene.  He elicits strong performances with a nice focus on character.  David Zinn's functional set serves both periods nicely, avoiding any potential anachronism.  Paul Gallo's lighting evokes an effective noir-ish sensibility to the earlier period.

The show runs through March 20.

Saturday, March 06, 2010


"Race" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, February 25, 2010

(Photo by Robert J. Saferstein)

David Mamet's latest effort in provocation is now running on Broadway in the form of Race.  The story swirls around the law firm hired by a very rich, white man to defend him against charges of rape, leveled by an African American woman.

The defendant, Charles (Richard Thomas) has already fired his attorney once and is shopping his case around.  Law partners Jack Lawson (James Spader) and Henry Brown (David Alan Grier) get roped into taking the case when their clerk Susan (Kerry Washington) mistakenly gets copies of the indictment and police reports from the district attorney, constructively making them the attorneys of record before they've had a chance to actually make a decision on it.  Mr. Mamet metes out plot twists and revelations a bit obviously at times, but manages to keep the tension high as the white and African American characters examine and expound upon their own views of race in contemporary society.  Mr. Mamet has toned down the volume of f-bombs, but plugs in the n-word as a substitute.

Mr. Thomas plays Charles so simpy and passive that I fully expected one of the plot twists to be that Charles is gay. (he's not, btw)  Beyond that, Mr. Thomas suffers from "Jasmine Guy Syndrome," his presence practically sucking all the energy out of the theatre as he makes his entrance. (so named by a similar situation in Richard Greenberg's The Violet Hour from which Miss Guy resigned due to "health issues" during previews in 2003).

As Susan, Ms. Washington wavers between capable and self-conscious.  Sometimes she gets the "Mamet patter" and sometimes she doesn't.  Mr. Grier fares better, but doesn't have much to do, other than prompt tension among the characters onstage with him. 

It is Mr. Spader, making an impressive Broadway debut as Jack, who carries the weight of the evening.  He certainly has experience playing a clever lawyer from his years on TV's "Boston Legal" and it shows.  He also adapts well to the language and rhythm of Mr. Mamet's writing.

Santo Loquasto's law library spills the story forward on the raked stage, serviceably, if unexceptionally lighted by Brian MacDevitt.

It's a better entry to this year's play season than last fall's "Oleanna" but there are similarities to "Speed The Plow" which keep this play from feeling wholly original, particularly a woman in a subservient position who may or may not be working from her own agenda.  Still, it's at least another new play, versus yet another revival.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Signs of Life

"Signs of Life" presented by Amas Musical Theatre at The Marjorie S. Dean Little Theater, February 21, 2010

(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The horrors of the Holocaust are again fodder for a new musical that explores the lives of the Jews sent to Terezin.  Composer Joel Derfer sums it up as:

Signs of Life is the story of a young girl who comes of age in the Czech ghetto Terezin, rechristened Theresienstadt by the Nazis, who filled it with Jewish artists, musicians, and intellectuals and turned it into a propaganda tool. Once she and her friends and family realize what lies in store for them, they begin to discover that some truths might be worth dying for.
As a freshman effort, Mr. Derfner shows promise with his score.  His is a more heavily sung-through approach to story-telling, first explored with composers like Richard Rodgers, and more recently with Boublil & Schoenburg, and Adam Guettel.  He hasn't mastered their finesse, but is on his way to finding his own musical voice.

The story told is compelling, of 19 year old Lorelei (Patricia Noonan) studying art and discovering boys, whose life is tragically interrupted and forever changed by the Germans.  Peter Ullian's book is functional, but does have a few burps here and there.  One is when Lorelei, who has obviously met her love interest, Simon (Wilson Bridges), instead trades a dumpling to the pan-sexual cabaret star, Kurt (Jason Collins), for her first kiss.

Ms. Noonan makes a noble effort to carry the weight of the proceedings.  She gets nice support from Mr. Collins, less from Mr. Bridges. Erika Amato as Berta Pluhar, a former Jew abandoned by her Christian husband sings well, but falls victim to poor direction and comes across as overplayed.  Allen E. Read's Officer Heindel provides a short-lived glimpse of humanity behind the torture of the Nazis.

Director Jeremy Dobrish has staged the show for a much bigger house than one as intimately sized as the Deane Little Theater.  From a clunky series of silhouette images at the opening (which looked more like lighting mistakes) to oversized emoting that might work in an 1500 seat Broadway house.  He would have done better to rely on the strength of the score and the story instead of inflating the staging beyond the scope of the hall.

Alexis Distler's sets of stacked suitcases effectively provides the reminder of all the bags that were packed by the doomed to be hauled off to their deaths.  Jennifer Caprio's costumes function well, as do Michael Gottlieb's lights.

The show runs through March 21.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Next Fall

"Next Fall" at The Helen Hayes Theatre, February 20, 2010

(Photo: Francesco Carrozzini)

Transferring from an Off-Broadway run last summer, Geoffrey Nauffts' play is a touching and provocative story of religion and homosexuality.

Working back and forth in time, we learn the tale of how Adam (Patrick Breen) and Luke (Patrick Heusinger) met, fell in love and struggled to work through the issues of Adam's agnosticism versus Luke's Christian faith.  Since that's not enough, Adam is also roughly 20 years older than Luke, though emotionally they are much closer in age.

As the play opens, Luke has been hit by a car and is hospitalized in a coma.  His divorced parents Arlene (Connie Ray) and Butch (Cotter Smith) have arrived along with Luke's boss Holly (Maddie Corman) and college friend Brandon (Sean Dugan).  Adam arrives late, having been out of town for a class reunion.

Arlene and Buddy have instilled their faith in Luke, and still carry it openly, increasing the tension when Adam expresses his secular beliefs.

Mr. Nauffts has written a very intelligent story that actually manages to explore the issues of faith and science.  Both sides get full measure to present their respective cases.  The heart of the problem between Adam and Luke is that Adam doesn't understand why Luke can't see the missing logic of faith, where Luke doesn't understand why Adam can't take the leap and believe.  During one of their arguments, Adam accuses Luke of loving God more than him.  Luke doesn't respond.  Without spoiling it, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by the choice in the final scene.

Don't be mistaken, as somber as this may sound, there are plenty of laughs to be found.  Mr. Nauffts has assembled a slew of one-liners and quips that keep the audience bright.  While the parents are out of the room, Adam, Holly and Brandon are discussing how to handle his relationship with Luke, who hasn't come out to his family yet.  Adam says, "You don't see me in a thong on a float, but I'm still a fag!" 

Having seen The Boys in the Band within a few days of this show, it was interesting to see how the openly vicious self-hatred of that story has modulated only a little into a more quiet version. This is noted particularly in the character of Brandon, who can hardly bring himself to say out loud that he's only attracted to black men.  Luke suffers similarly, praying for forgiveness after each time he and Adam are intimate.  Luke is also afraid of his family's rejection, specifically that his father will cut him off from contact with his little brother.  "Next fall" he says, "that's when he'll be off to college, and I'll tell them then. He'll be old enough to decide for himself."

In Arlene, Ms. Ray has managed to take hold of a Julie White character and truly make it her own. Arlene was a confused and unprepared young mother who ended up in prison for marijuana, leaving the care of Luke to his father, who remarried shortly thereafter and had another son.  Ms. Ray enters like a tornado and takes control in a touching yet hilarious performance.  Mr. Cotter's Butch is a father in denial, both of his son's sexual orientation and the severity of his condition.  His emotion is palpable during a climactic scene in Act II.

Mr. Heusinger's Luke is earnest, hopeful and occasionally callow - appropriate for a young man who dropped out of law school to move to NYC to chase an acting dream.  Mr. Breen's Adam does most of the heavy lifting in the play, balancing the feelings of Luke's family and friends against his own.  When he's told he can't see Luke in ICU because he's not "family," you can see his heart drop in his chest. Ms. Corman, and Mr. Dugan get little to do, more than sit around suffering supportively over Luke.

Wilson Chin's set flexes easily into the various locations, hospital waiting room, Adam's apartment, a bench in the park, all service-ably lit by Jeff Croiter.

This is a powerful and emotional play, beautifully written, directed and acted. It's another one not to be missed. 

It got a rare standing ovation from me.