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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Brooklynite

There's a little slice of Brooklyn invading Manhattan at the Vineyard Theatre near Union Square in Manhattan.  Fear not.  The invasion is merely a riff on chemistry, superheroes and saving the world.  (Spoiler Alert:  Brooklyn survives).

It's an energetic, endearing, engaging, and enthusiastic undertaking by Michael Mayer and Peter Lerman.  Serious, not a chance.  Lively, funny, silly - all that and more.  Steven Hoggett's choreography  keeps the performers on their toes and moving all over the stage from beginning to end.  Mr. Mayer's additional role of director makes much sense.  He tells us his story, his way.

Helming the production is the deliciously nerdy and uber-talented Matt Doyle (Trey Swieskowski).  Supporting him are the suave and handsome Andrew Call (el Fuego) and the hunky Gerard Canonico (Kid Comet).  Stunning beauties Nicolette Robinson (Astrolass) and Grace McLean (Blue Nixie) both showcase their star powers and both blow the roof off the theater nightly.   Rounding out the cast is the stalwart Ann Harada (Professor Whitman) and powerhouse "goomba" Nick Cordero (Avenging Angelo).

There are plenty of riffs on Brooklyn - perhaps a few too many given the fact that nobody outside NYC would even know what the jokes mean (read a tour or regional theater is not in the cards for this one).  El Fuego awkwardly even says "I put the wick in Bushwick". (get it?  he's a flame and he's talking about a candle....ok).   The show runs 2 hours which isn't too bad, but I'd say maybe another 10-15 minutes could be shaved off the show to punch it up to the max.  Maybe cutting one too many of the ballads might work in this area.

It's not too easy to make a silly show based on superheroes work but this team has, at least the best they can given the subject matter.  In the end it's a love story,  a comic book like caper,  and a save-the-world story all rolled up in one.   For an off-Broadway, Not-For-Profit theater it's a bit of a coup to get such heavy talent to don capes and tights for 2 hours 8 shows a week (seeing Andrew Call in them and ripping open is shirt was worth the price of admission alone).  But he heart and soul of this show is inherently good and audiences will ultimately appreciate it - if not love and rave about it.  After all - saving Brooklyn is high on everyone's list - right?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Placebo

There's a new play over at Playwrights Horizons that in 100 minutes gets you thinking about life, decisions you make, and what those decisions are based on.  While the play is well acted by all 4 of its fine actors, it's writer hasn't put enough meat on the bone to make it compelling.  She leaves paths unexplored, ideas unexplained, and frankly leaves the audience wondering was there a story here or not?

For sure it's filled with the idea of decisions make and the facts and non-facts that lead us to those decisions.   Was it real?  I'm left to guess that she had to throw in the source of the term placebo from way back in time to the fake mourners that were hired to attend and cry at a funeral just to link her material to the idea.  By coincidence one of the characters is a medical researcher doing a trial of a new drug.  Her boyfriend is a PhD candidate at the very end of his thesis.  They have a strained and awkward relationship.  She has a weird but cute co-worker.  It's all very superficial and we never really get to know the characters in any depth yet we are made to sit 100 minutes to observe all these goings on with little to no explanations or conclusions to the entire affair.

Carrie Coon (Louise) is a magnificent neurotic and lost soul despite the fact that we never learn her character's name till about ¾ the way through the play.  William Jackson Harper (Jonathan) is a pro at the serious academic with a focused mind and serious outlook.  Alex Hurt (Tom) is superb at being aloof and weird all with a sexy and alluring edge.  Florence Lozano (Mary) might have the most fun role in the play as a research candidate in a sex pill study.

All thing considered, it's the lack of focus and depth in the material that damages this play's impact which does have a compelling baseline idea.  It provides food for thought but it's only a snack and you leave the theater wondering if you got the real thing or not.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard

Off-Broadway plays, in my humble opinion, will always be a more visceral, poignant, and biting experience than their bigger siblings on the Great White Way.  Why?  Because they can take more risks, be bolder, and cover those topics that a white-washed, milquetoast Broadway production with it's high-priced tickets in coldly vacuous theaters simply can't.   And I think I like it that way.  Nothing beats a riveting play in an intimate downtown black box theater - and Halley Feiffer's potent new work, I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard, hits this nail squarely on the head and sinks it deeply into the wood beam much like a bullet penetrating a skull.

Reed Birney for whom this fan has noting but praise, once again raises his game and stretches his boundaries with David, a bitter, opinionated, acerbic, highly damaged playwright who maintains what one might categorize as an, abusive, domineering, and permanently corrosive relationship with his impressionable young actress/daughter, Ella (Betty Gilpin).  Up to this point I would never have pegged Mr. Birney for such an aggressive, bear-it-all role but his performance here has placed him in an entirely new category in my book.  For his next role, I can clearly see him playing Roy Cohn in Tony Kushner's Angels in America.  If I were a Tony nominator (and this play were actually eligible), Mr. Birney would get my vote hands down.

In this intimate two-hander at the Atlantic Theater Company - Stage II, we find David clearly dominating the conversation around his Upper West Side kitchen table in Act I.  When the smoke clears for Act II (quite literally), we find a once shy and awkward Ella all grown up and coming into her own in a dark downtown black-box theater mostly holding one-sided conversations on her cell phone.  While she has blossomed in her looks and confidence, what we quickly learn through her actions is a simple, timeless, and chilling lesson  - Like Father - Like Daughter.  

Don't expect a happy reunion between these two in the end.  Like the old phrase goes - What comes around, goes around.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The World of Extreme Happiness

When a play succeeds in telling a political and social history of another people, you leave the theater with a deeper appreciation of the world around you.  Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig has penned a stinging yet touching portrait of China emerging from the old-world countryside into the big urban cities - dirty laundry and all.  

The World of Extreme Happiness is anything but happy in the end.  Jennifer Lim (Sunny) is the country-to-city dreamer of generation X.  She's navigating the tricky class structure and economics of how rapidly China is emerging onto the world stage as an economic powerhouse and provides us a poignant look at her life.  She and her brother (Telly Leung) Pete escape the country and their traditional old-world father (James Saito) to follow their dream of money, power, and the elusive happiness the modern city and the world around them purports to offer.  The tale that unfolds is not unexpected, but nonetheless shocking and sad in its stark reality.  

The play is accompanied by an insert in the playbill which describes the major themes of the play including China's one child policy, The Monkey King, coal mining in China, factories in Shenzhen, The Great Hall of the People, and the self-help craze taking root in the culture.  With a list like this you know the play is going to be smart.  While there are a lot of topics to cover, I believe the fine direction of Eric Ting has focused the play down to an intense and satisfying 95 minutes without intermission.  a wise choice for a very serious story.

In the end, this is a tale of how rapidly a generation has transformed a country and yet how much further they have to go to achieve that elusive dream of happiness and peace.  Theatre is one way to get this message out.  Only time will tell if it helps to change the world.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Between Riverside and Crazy

As its namesake suggests - Second Stage Theater has given a second chance to a first rate off-Broadway production, Stephen Adly Guirgis' Between Riverside and Crazy, originally seen last season at the Atlantic Theater just a few blocks south.

Aptly directed once again by Austin Pendleton and acted by almost all the original cast in it's debut production, this incarnation seems to pick up just where it left off - even growing and gelling as it ages.  The ingenious rotating disk set by Walt Spangler transforms a small stage into an entire apartment plus a rooftop off to the side.  I d not know the history of the production at the Atlantic but would assume, after experiencing it first hand (the second time around), that there was likely much interest in this work and the Atlantic just couldn't house it under its own roof.  I applaud 2ST for snatching it up and extending its life.

Pops (Stephen McKinley Henderson) helms the ensemble piece like a old pro.  The aging retired and injured black police officer navigates his tumultuous life (The Riverside part) after the force with his less-than-stable family situation (The crazy part) ever-present in his life.  Supporting his fine performance are Oswaldo (Victor Almanzar), Detective O'Connor (Elizabeth Canavan), Lieutenant Caro (Michael Rispoli), Church Lady (Liza Colon-Zayas), Lulu (Rosal Colon), and his son, Junior (Ron Cephas Jones).

Mr. Guirgis' characters are real and present.  Most are complex rather than one-dimensional.  The story he weaves is both specific and modern.  However, because Pops is complex, he is able to weave an air of mystery into Pops' motivations and actions which mostly succeeded.  If I had to point out one thing which may need to be improved it is the speed at which the ending comes out of nowhere and concludes the show.  Somehow this probably needs to be slowed down an backed up into the show with a bit more so the effect is smoother.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Delicate Balance

When I returned home from this play I was satiated.  However, In order to not feel like an idiot, I had to something I almost never do - read the other reviews.  Why you might ask?  I was both amazed and confounded at the same time.    This play is a doozy.  Acerbic dialogue.  Seemingly simple characters and one of the most absurd plots I have ever seen is such a seriously dramatic play.   After reading the various reviews, my soul was assuaged.  I had indeed not read too much into the plot and taken away, I think, what was intended despite the absurdity.  I think.

Agnes and Tobias (Glenn Close and John Lithgow) are the Queen and (albeit emasculated) King of their luxurious suburban domain.  They have their issues.  Indeed we get some insight into their issues.  Some of everything about them is a part of all of us.  They are uncomfortably familiar.   Claire (Lindsay Duncan) is the drunk sister living seemingly untethered to money and job for free at home (doesn't everyone have one of these?).  Julia (Martha Plimpton) is the clearly over-privileged 36yo daughter coming home after her 4th marriage has failed to inevitably butt heads with her parents.  Edna and Harry (Claire Higgins and Bob Balaban) are the neighbors/best friends who really throw the whole thing into the shitter when they arrive and announce that out of an undefined fear - they are moving in.  Literally moving in.  Queue to absurdity.

Acting was superb all around although because the story takes an absurd turn you are always reminded that this is acting.  How could this really be natural?  It's not.  But that issue aside (you'll have to take that one up with Mr. Albee) the plot moves along swiftly and with biting purpose a whole lot of love, disappointment, and plenty of vitriol all wrapped up in one 3 act play.

This play has been done before and this cast will inevitably be compared to the past.  While I don't think this cast surpasses the bar set by its predecessors, it certainly succeeds in living up to the high expectations of the author.

The single set by Santo Loquasto is grand, except for the placement that at least ⅓ of the audience can't see - the grand staircase  - as it is set too deep on stage left (hint: if you're in the orchestra, sit center of left).

Left itself is indeed a delicate balance.  Take care not to disturb it.  Your neighbors just might move in.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Into The Woods

With a blockbuster holiday movie on the horizon in just a few days, I am once again bewildered by Roundabout Theater Company's decisions to put plays on the stage.  But despite the much hyped anticipation of the movie, I hope this parallel stage show is going to get its due praise.  The Fiasco Theater Production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's epic musical as interpreted by this artful company is triumphant, theatrical, and simply entertainment at its best.

Fairy tales woven into discordant, staccato music, intelligent and witty lyrics, and artful staging simply dazzles in this two part musical theater lesson on life.  Subscribers and non-subscribers alike should head over to West 46th Street to the Laura Pels Theater to catch a performance by this supremely talented cast.  Ben Seinfeld and Jessie Austrian (Baker and His Wife) anchor the story of their quest for items to be given to Jennifer Mudge (The Witch) in exchange for a child.  They encounter a potpourri of fairy tale characters including Little Red Riding Hood (Emily Young), Cinderella (Clarire Karpen),  and Jack -think bean-stalk- (Patrick Mulryan).

The cast mostly does double and triple duty with characters all the while a few of them play instruments on stage and create sound-effects too!

The show is really a two part tale - is every so slightly long - and wraps up one story in Act I and tells a very different tale in Act II.  Overall - The show is clearly a deeply rich Sondheim work that has a lot to say - both musically and dramatically.

I wonder if anyone will mistake the stage musical for the movie.  If they did, I guarantee they would walk out happily ever-after!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cafe Society Swing

A rockin' live Jazz band on stage, cool-as-cats vocalists, and a wildly true story about the first un-segregated Jazz club in New York City are the ingredients in this impressive walk down memory lane at 59E59 Theaters this month.

Creator Alex Webb takes us on a tour of the talents and musicians who pass through the doors of this magical club at #1 Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village in the early 20th century when it wasn't fashionable for blacks and whites to mix, wasn't fashionable to be a liberal (read "red") but it was a time of incredible music and musicians to make their debuts and first grace the world's stage.

All that said, there are some adjustments I think need to be made here.  The musicians and vocalists are magnificent - embodying every character they are there to showcase - such as Billie Holiday, Sara Vaughn and many more.  Unfortunately, the show takes the form of a narrator walking you through the history (as a few different characters).  The script is thin and the actor who portrays this narrator is even thinner. It certainly detracted from the speed, the energy, and potency of the show.  Re-cast with a much more dynamic individual and punched up execution, I think this show as the potential to WOW audiences from beginning to end.

If you like Jazz and want to hear a little-known true story about an incredible club at an historic time in NYC - don't let the narrator issues sway your decision.  Most certainly you'll enjoy the musical performances and learn a tad bit too!

Musicians Alex Webb (Piano/Creator), Mimi Jones (Bass), Shirazette Tinnin (Drums), Allan Harris (Guitar), Camille Thurman (Tenor Sax), Bill Todd (Alto Sax/Clarinet) Benny Benack III (Trumpet), and Brent White (Trombone) - will all knock your socks off.

Vocalists Cyrille Aimee, Allan Harris, and Charenee Wade will transport you back in time with their silky smooth voices.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Constellations

For 80 minutes on a Broadway stage, Roland (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Marianne (Ruth Wilson) manage to thoroughly engage you in a pastiche of possibilities, multiple dimensions of the universe, unlimited possible outcomes, and a world of possibilities that just may exist all at the same time.

Although a bit brief for the Broadway stage, the theatricality of the interactions and such well rehearsed and brilliantly executed vignettes captivate your imagination and keep the gears of your mind churning from the very first to the very last minute.

On a good day, theater is supposed to make you think and challenge your beliefs.  This play by the brilliant Nick Payne, first presented in London in 2012, succeeds wildly on both fronts  - and you may just leave the theater believing that there is still some wonder left out there in the universe. Blinking lights and white balloons included in the price of admission!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pocatello

There's a new play on at Playwrights Horizons and it has a little bit of sexy-star-sizzle.  The always adorable and boyishly handsome T.R. Knight  (Eddie) takes the helm of Samuel D. Hunter's Pocatello along with the always divine Brenda Whele (Doris).

Unfortunately, this is not one of Mr. Hunter's best thought out plays. Yes, the idea is laudable - a man is lost in his very own hometown and searching for himself, his place, and his sense of family in an ever evolving landscape of unemployment, strip malls, fast food, and ATMs.  I get it.  I actually like the idea.  Mr. Hunter has appropriately captured the anger, character, and lost dreams of middle America in his dialogue.  For this I applaud him.

However, Mr. Hunter seems to have peppered the cast with characters that are all too interesting to not have developed.   Cameron Scoggins (Max) and Elvy Yost (Isabelle) both brilliantly acted, but their characters failed to advance the story.  Jonathan Hogan (Cole) is an older actor who just hit it out of the park with his onset of Alzheimer's affliction, but was this just for sympathy?  Leah Karpel nailed her performance of the angry young vegetarian-i hate my parents-nobody gets me routine, but do we really need one of these in every play?  Danny Wolohan (Troy) and his unhappy wife, Jennifer Dickey (Tammy) had the requisite bad marriage involving alcoholism, depression and the aforementioned angry daughter.  Cliche?  And what specifically was so emotionally visceral about that cheese-wiz casserole that Brett Hutchison (Nick) almost threw up on stage?  It just seemed to me that Mr. Hunter poured all the Lifetime movie characteristics into this play about middle America - the flyover states- middle of nowhere America.  All these characters distracted from the main character and his sense of loneliness and isolation from family.

The deepest sadness of the plot was therefore under-represented - -why exactly was Eddie so hell bent on keeping these mis-fit toys together?  We are not sufficiently introduced to his motivations, only his vague actions.  This becomes frustrating as you are constantly trying to figure out "why".  It is only at the very end that you learn a very tragic and sad fact about his mother, her motivations, and feelings about her gay son (yes, he threw this in for effect too).

You end up leaving the theatre with a deep sadness about family failings.  Perhaps Mr. Hunter succeeded in making us sad, but how or why we got there is at times a mystery - much like the pasta of the week on the menu.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Invisible Hand

A force to be reckoned with, Ayad Akhtar has penned yet another powerful drama now playing out on the stage at New York Theatre Workshop.  He's currently on Broadway representing his Pulitzer prize winning work, Disgraced.

This time around he has infused cultural anger and religion in a new way - a kidnapping of an American banker in Pakistan who has to literally trade his way out of captivity.   Potent, riveting, intelligent, and well explained, (I felt like i needed to short a stock after I left the theatre!) the show succinctly laid out our different religious and societal beliefs between the west and east and proved through plot twists and revelations throughout the show how money and power corrupts and just how absolutely it does so.
Photo from Seattle Production

Justin Kirk (Nick Bright) must have taken a crash course in the stock market and its various economic theories in order to master this role - and master it he did.  He was quite literally like the play's namesake - an Invisible Hand - guiding us through the technicalities of the market. Part sheepish boy, part super-intelligent banker, his character seemed at ease with this tough role.  Dariush Kashani (Imam Salem) walked a tough line between religion, beliefs, and corruption with his tragic character.  Usman Ally (Bashir) portrayed his character with zeal, zest, and power.  Young, eager, and possibly the most corrupt and most compassionate at the same time.  His word, in the end, was his most honest trait.

The brutal honesty of this play told through the lens of a kidnapping and the captors lends new credence to the idea that we really don't know the power of our respective cultures and when they meet the consequences can be explosive.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

On A Stool at the End of the Bar

A new play by Robert Callely had its debut over at 59E59 Theaters.  I always enjoy seeing different things over on the east side in the intimate theaters.  The productions that grace the stage are usually unique, provocative, or just a different and interesting theatrical experience.

Last night's opening, however,  of On a Stool at the end of The Bar left me feeling a bit empty and somewhat puzzled.  Mr. Callely wants to convince us of something that simply seems preposterous (not only to the characters in the play).  When the entire premise of the play is suspect, it's hard to really enjoy the general goings-on.  Despite some fairly decent performances, there's not much to salvage from this show.

However, to be applauded are the three young actors who grace the stage - Luke Slattery (Joey), Zachary Brod (Mario), and Sara Kapner (Angie).  Anyone who writes material for such young, eager, and energetic talent is to be applauded.  All three turned in fine performances, with Mr. Slattery and his good college-boy looks taking the pole position.  Robert Hogan (Father Connors) made a fairly impactful cameo appearance in his scene playing and old and old fashioned priest with limited experience in dealing with the issues presented to him.  Possibly the most well written part of Mr. Callely's play.  Timothy John Smith, a Boston native recently transplanted to NYC, has a bright future in front of him here whether in musicals (his bio suggests he has much experience in this area) or dramatic plays - which is what he demonstrates quite nicely in this awkwardly written conflict of this play.

That just leaves Antoinette Thornes, quite a quixotic choice for the leading lady.  She turned in as best a performance she could for the very awkward and poorly written part for her.  She never fought.  She never stood up for herself.  She found herself in quite a pickle and with such a past I would have expected an entirely different, potent, angry, repressed, and strong character.  And since this is the central nerve of the entire play... well, I think u see the problem now.   None of this is Ms. Thornes' fault, of course.  She herself is a rock-band singer/songwriter - and this likely may have been her debut on stage.  To that end, she is triumphant and I applaud her risk taking.  Her character, on the other hand, was likely the most disappointingly written character I have ever encountered.

In the end, direction by Michael Parva was lackluster and lacked any sizzle given the explosive nature of the subject matter.  Actors were angry but that anger was flat and muted.  In such a small theater, sometimes miracles are possible and the show transports you in an intimate setting to an entirely other place.  Unfortunately none of that happened this evening.  We were left in the end with uncertainty, anger, unresolved conflict, and although I believe we are supposed to see a glimmer of hopefulness in the very last line of the script, it was not nearly enough to clear the black cloud of gloom that hung over the entire evening.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Love Letters

A. R. Gurney admits it right up front in his script - "This is a play, or rather a sort-of-a-play, which needs no theatre, no lengthy rehearsal, no special set, no memorization of lines, and no commitment from its two actors beyond the night of performance."

So how on earth can this be good?  Sounds like you slap it together and throw it out there.  Sounds like a reading you're paying Broadway prices to watch - or rather - merely listen to.  So is it worth it?

The answer to this question is a resounding YES provided the actors are ones you want to see - or rather hear.  I suspect the secret to a production of this sort is to cast actors who generally embody the phrase "I could listen to them read the phone book".

The show itself is simply a recitation of various letters and thoughts exchanged between two friends over 40+ years who never quite caught up with each other as their lives slipped away in two vastly different directions all the while clinging to each other's letters for that single thread that bound together over time.

Of all the announced couple pairs there were a few individuals in each pair I wanted to see perform but the only pair I wanted to see BOTH was the current cast of Candice Bergen (Melissa) and Alan Alda (Andrew Makepeace Ladd III).  Yes, I could listen to them read the phone book and what a joy it was to see them read the love letters over time to each other - according to the stage directions - never looking at each other.  Direction in this case, by Gregory Mosher, is focused on vocal queues, pauses, pace, and rhythm.

This isn't much of a play.  It's a sort-of-a-play.  More like a long bedtime story read to you by two hopefully brilliant actors with irresistible voices.  You'll either fall asleep happy in the theater (hopefully not) or leave the theater with a smile on your face after hearing such cherished actors tell you a story.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

You Can't Take It With You

Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman's stale and dated play is currently exploding (literally) on stage at the Longacre Theatre in a 3rd Broadway revival since it was written in 1936.  This is a commercial run that was somehow caught up in the non-profit theatre vortex of Roundabout Theatre Company at the same time (I'm sure this was another trick up Roundabout's leave to keep costs low by not having to produce an original work this season).  

While the plot is madcap (frankly, crazy), the mayhem level and star level on stage is quite substantial.  The only problem is that it's frankly too stupid with a rather banal message of simply "be happy".  There is a love story going on amongst all the hubbub and but the Carol Burnette and Saturday Night-like sketch and physical comedy simply overpowers the message and muscles its way through all 3 acts with laughter often the result but never much satisfaction past that.

The cast is huge and stars abound - James Earl Jones (Martin Vanderhof) could read the phone book and we'd all be happy and the role of the patriarch fit him age wise, but not quite stylistically.  Kristine Nielsen (Penelope Sycamore) simply knocked it out of the park with her physical comedy and infectious personality.  Annaleigh Ashford (Essie) was a bit too over the top for me as the incessant ballet dancing ditsy daughter, Mark-Linn Baker (Paul Sycamore) seemed lost in the overall mix for his talent level, Elizabeth Ashley (Olga) came in at the very end and it seemed her voice was straining to make sound.  Plus by the time she entered, the endless cast of characters parading on stage simply got me tired.  There were no less than 10 other cast members who all looked good and seemed to complement the ensemble but after a while too many characters are introduced.  I applaud a producer who undertakes such an ambitious production and employs such a large cast, but this old firecracker is a dud.  I could go on... as did the play for over 2 hours and 30 minutes over  three acts... but I won't.  

In traditional Roundabout style, the set was magnificent (kudos David Rockwell).  I do not think the actors were mic'd and it was pleasing to hear real people speaking in non-electonicized tones on stage for a play.

You could skip this production, save a few bucks, and leave the audience-going to the Roundabout subscribers who paid good money into their subscription only to find out they were subsidizing a commercial run of a Broadway production.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Found

Just when you thought all the original ideas have dried up and creativity has gone the way of the Ford Packard, along comes Hunter Bell & Lee Overtree (Book) and Eli Bolin (Music and Lyrics) and a fantastic new work appropriately titled Found.  Yes, that's Mr. Bell from [Title of Show] fame.

Scraps of paper floating in the wind, discarded in the gutter, and left for dead.  Well, so we thought.  Mr. Bell and Overtree have constructed a musical entirely from real scraps of paper with musings, jottings, notes, and thoughts.  Literally thousands and thousands.   A virtual potpourri of material and endless shots entertaining and audience.  Indeed this is true.  What struck me most during this entire magnificent production was the sheer enormity of choices the writers had.  They built a basic love story for Generation X, Y, Z, millennials, or whatever we are calling the kids today and peppered it - strike that - iced it from tip to toe - with these little tid-bits.  Entire songs were written around some of the longer more meaningful scribbles - and virtually every 10 seconds or so another one was projected both aurally and visually to the audience.  

So that's what struck me most often - but dare I say - what struck me most deeply was the sheer modernity of the idea behind the musical itself.  It struck a chord of reality in our throw-away society.   In an age of digital our notes and musings often get relegated to post-its and scraps of paper.  Nobody writes longhand and at length anymore.

The always adorably handsome Nick Blaemire  (Davy) essentially helms the fun production and both he and his co-stars (a plethora of unique talent unto themselves) turn frowns from a busy day at the office into double-decker smiles by the time the evening is complete.

Featuring a a rocking on-stage band and racially and ethnically and culturally diverse Christina Anthony (Christina), the handsome and virtually dripping-with-sex Andrew Call, TV's funny man Danny Pudi (Danny), Betsy Morgan (Kate), and Cabaret diva Molly Pope (Molly), and Orville Mendiza (Orville),  I found myself leaving the theater thinking that I have never seen a show where the actors had so much fun entertaining me!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Grand Concourse

What we have here is one of the most realistic and naturally constructed plays I have seen in a long while.  Heidi Schreck writes like people speak, and think, and wonder.  Kip Fagan has done a marvelous job at "keeping it real" on the stage.  Playwrights Horizons presents yet another  provocative, thought provoking discussion pieces on the small stage upstairs.

Shelly (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) is a soup kitchen manager struggling with God and religion.  Emma (Ismenia Mendes) strolls into her life and turns it upside down - or perhaps you'll think right side up by the end).  Ms. Bernstine is magnificent in her struggles and in her overall performance.  Bobby Moreno, Oscar, a relatively young, talented, and often type-cast janitor, turns in yet another solid and loving performance.  Lee Wilkof (Frog) brightens up the room with his infectious attitude, despite his deep troubles.

Performed without an intermission this 1h:40m production never ceases to entertain and keep your attention.  The characters are provocative, interesting, and quite real.  The title comes from that famous road up in the Bronx where a soup kitchen of no specific identify exists.  The characters aren't made up and in fancy costumes.  The set is a simple, slightly run-down kitchen and the action occurs in several vignettes always coming back to Shelley praying or rather trying to pray at the microwave.

This production has teamed up with City Harvest (soup kitchen in play - food rescue organization - a great pairing) to collect and I assume "rescue" some of the food and vegetables used on stage each night.  Drama for both the soul and the stomach.  Not bad for a Tuesday night at the theatre.