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.