Friday, October 2, 2015

Cloud Nine

Having seen one of Caryl Churchill's other plays (Top Girls), I was prepared for the jolt of anachronism, intentional gender bending casting, and other theatrical devices.  Ms. Caryl does it well.  Her choices serve to facilitate and highlight her messages.

In the case of Cloud Nine, she casts a white man as a black slave, a man as a Victorian wife, an adult as a child, and young boy as a woman (and vice versa).   Further add the fact that Act I occurs in Victorian times during British colonization of Africa and Act II occurs in 1979 London - with the catch that only 25 years have passed for the characters - who themselves have been "re-cast" as other characters.  This may seem like quite a lot to keep track of, but the effect is subtle, the impact quite large as you begin to see the larger message Ms. Caryl is trying to convey.   What she is effectively doing is showing how the male dominated society and dominant and oppressive nations in the Victorian era (The Brits dominated and conquered the natives in Africa) draw a parallel to the modern society where the gay culture is experiencing the very same treatment - it's a different cultural construct, but the same effective oppression.  At the same time we see the importance and oppression of the female characters both literally and figuratively in Act I by the casting of a man as the Victorian wife.

The actors in this wildly fluid comedy execute Ms. Caryl's message with aplomb.  First and foremost we have the adorable and ethereal Chris Perfetti  is the face of the gender fluidity playing Betty the Victorian Wife in Act I and Edward a softer gay man in Act I.   Sean Dugan takes on the racial fluidity in Act I as Joshua the slave/servant and the dominant gay predator Gerry in Act II like it was a role of a lifetime made just for this handsome and confident ginger.  Izzie Steele takes on double duty in Act I (extra kudos here for all those costume changes) as a rag-tag shy and naive nanny and the powerful (which is unusual for the period) female Mrs. Saunders. In Act II she is a powerful and confident lesbian.  Clarke Thorell is the ultimate patriarch and family leader Clive in Act I and the naughty, loud child Cathy in Act II.  Brook Bloom has the other gender bending role playing young Edward in Act I and older Betty in Act II.  Lucy Owen plays a staunch and comically dry Maud the mother of Betty in Act I and the young Victoria (who as a side note was played by a doll in act I) toying with her lesbian side in Act II.  John Saunders is the suave single explorer Mr. Harry Begley who just might be gay before it was en-vogue to be gay and then plays the suave yet diminished husband Martin who's masculinity is on the decline in the era where women are on the rise.

If you're confused, don't be.  When you watch the action unfold, the character changes start to resonate, the messages start to decode and you will begin to delve into the issues that Ms. Churchill was trying to convey.  As billed, it is a play about power, politics, family, queen Victoria, and sex.  If perhaps Act I was a tad bit too long with a bit of unnecessary exposition and story, Act II was perfectly timed, executed and impactful.  Without a doubt, there was one element of this production that was universally panned by the audience - and that was the seating.   While the idea of placing this show in the round in somewhat of a "boxing ring" where the actors "duke it out" is brilliant - the construction of the flimsy, uncomfortable, and frankly cheap looking wooden bleachers was only made more painful by the 2H:40M run time.  #seatingepicfail 

Despite the extremely uncomfortable and frankly unsafe seating arrangements that were constructed  for this production, the outcome was nothing short of remarkable.  A fine cast and a provocative message makes for an exhilarating evening in the theatre.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Clever Little Lies

Joe DiPietro has penned a remarkable little gem currently running off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre.  It's a clever title because as it turns out not everything that plays out is one.

The incorporable Marlo Thomas headlines the cast as Alice, the matriarch of the family.  Her son Billy (George Merrick) is having a bit of a marital/midlife crisis by having an affair with someone he thinks makes his whole life brighter and worth living again.  This happens, of course, after he just had a newborn baby with his wife Jane (Kate Weatherhead).   He reluctantly confides this little nugget to his father, Bill, Sr. (Greg Mullavey) who of course won't be able to keep it from his wife for more than 3 minutes.  Alice decides to invite Billy and Jane over to sort the whole matter out and keep them together.  She just can't bear to think about the alternative.

What ensures is anything but a clever little lie.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Spring Awakening

Investing in Broadway and an exciting and risky business.  I am hoping my latest investment will attract a new audience to the theater and at the same time entertain existing ones.  I always look for something artistic, entertaining, and unique.  This show is about children who aren't heard.  Bringing the deaf actors from Deaf West Theater Company into the picture ads an a layer of emotion and depth that previously did not exist.

I hope I am correct.  Here are what others are saying on Opening Night:

am New York

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Christians

Lucas Hnath just might have hit the nail squarely on the head with his new provocative and thought provoking work, The Christians now playing over at Playwrights Horizons.

Mr. Hnath was supposed to be a preacher but he felt too much weight of the souls of others on his back.  What he kept with him as he transitioned to a playwright instead was a keen ear for the preacher's sermon and the delivery of a message.

Andrew Garman (Pastor Paul) makes you truly believe he is a devout and earnest preacher. Joshua, the associate pastor (Larry Powell), takes some time to show his power but when he does in a 1:1 confrontation with Paul it's all guns blazing.  An unexpected and potent foil to Paul is Emily Donahoe (Jenny) a simple, common choir member who confronts his message with plain spoken yet biting words.

Words have meaning.  Words are translated and interpreted.  So many viewpoints.  So many opinions.  Who is right?  Is anyone wrong?  If you don't believe what I believe, can we survive together?  These and many other powerful issues are bright up and laid bare before the audience with tender, thoughtful, and intelligent dialogue.  There are many question.  And even more answers.

It's not very often that at the end of the play you really wished the playwright would come out and take a bow but this is one true exception.  His words were a certainly a palpable placeholder for his physical presence.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Old Times

I'm going zero for two here.  This time a 70 minute Harold Pinter play.  I'm all for a mysterious and mesmerizing evening in the theatre, but this play is just flat out obtuse.

The all-British cast (Clive Owen, Eve Best, Kelly Reilly) may add allure and mystery with their fancy accents, but they do nothing for the confounding plot.  I mean it was purposely written to confound and leave the average viewer with a feeling they have no idea what just happened.   I can verify this as I left the American Airlines Theatre and listened to at least 90% of the audience as they shook their head and asked questions like "what just happened here?".  Not being satisfied with these remarks, I went home and read the Wikipedia page about the show and was astounded at what the "experts" purported was going on.  Really?  Was that what we just saw?

Kudos to Christine Jones (sets) and Japhy Weideman (lighting).

I'm all for hoity-toity theatre but this was work neither entertaining nor satisfying for the majority of the audience.  I hope the rest of your 50th Anniversary season is better than this, Roundabout.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fool for Love

For the opening installment of the fall semester of the 2015/2016 season it certainly was in line with my expectations of the overall season - and that would be crappy.  

Fool for Love is Sam Shepard's existing 1985 work which has seen a life on stage and in film before.

It's a cavernous and lonely piece.  It purposely tells you only part of the story leaving you to figure out or just assume the rest.   It's a smart work, but in performance doesn't quite fulfill it's promise and leaves you with more questions and uncertainties than the steep price of the ticket should permit.

Fine performances by Nina Arianda (May) and Sam Rockwell (Eddie).  A handsome Tom Pelphrey rounds out the performances near the end as Martin.  The Old Man (is he dead or alive?) was played with a stoic, lifeless Gordon Joseph Weiss.   Interesting and artistic, yes.  Satisfying, No.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

A heartwarming, brilliantly-executed one-man show about a real topic and a not-so-real set of characters - although we've all probably known one or more of them in each of our lifetimes.

James Lecesne has written and stars in this one-man dynamo at the Westside Theatre.  At first it seems as if his character, Chuck, a tough-as-nails, seen-it-all, been-there, done-that kind of cop, will relay a rather simple disappearance turned murder case.  What we quickly finds out is that Mr. Lecesne portrays with supreme aplomb, the "interesting" characters of the small New Jersey town that Leonard Pelkey, the boy who vanished, lived in.  His ability to make you believe you are observing a 50+ old, wrinkled smoker in the basement morgue of the town is uncanny. He turns from young girl to old German clock-maker on a dime.  He splices and cuts between characters seamlessly and with aplomb.  Drawing on those hard core 'New Yaawker', young kid, and foreign accents and mannerisms alike and the all too typical small-town value systems, Mr. Lecesne draws the audience right into that very town during his 70 minute tale.

The characters in this tale are only half the story.  The other half is the sadness they exude as they talk about the flamboyant boy who probably lived way too far "out there" being himself for this small town to cope with.  What we learn through this tale, too late, as it were, is that Leonard, as different as he probably was, affected this town in the most positive and brilliant way of any of its storied inhabitants.

Too often we criticize in the short run without realizing the extreme joy and beauty a person really brings to our lives.  Stop. Think.  Reflect. Accept.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

King Liz

King Liz is definitely serves a niche market in the theater - basketball or more generally sports fans.  Usually these two don't mix very much at all.  However, thanks to the fine writing by Fernanda Coppel, this play sweeps through the sports industry,  more specifically, the sports agent / player relationship with fervor.

 As you would expect in today's high stakes drafts and team rosters - recruiting young players with raw talent is key.  What happens when that talent is so raw it's actually a danger to itself?  How young is too young?  To what ends will agents and teams to to exploit talent?   These and many other questions are explored in this 2 hour tour-de-force presented at the McGinn/Cazale Theater of 2ST.

Karen Pittman (Liz Rico) dominates the stage with raw power, steadfast determination and a pure strength of will to succeed as a woman in a man's world.  She manipulates and attempts to mold young (very fine looking) and talented high school basketball player from Red Hook Brooklyn, Jeremie Harris (Freddie Luna).  The supporting cast - most notably Irene Sofia Lucio (Gabby Fuentes) and Russell G. Jones (Coach Jones) - fill in the drama and back story quite nicely.

With a quick pace and high volume the characters engage in what can only be described as a war of wills.  Who wins in the end and at what cost?  I leave that up to you to determine.   The oddest moment of the entire play was the bizarre opening lip sync which led me to think this was a drag queen show for about 2 minutes.  Thankfully nothing else in the show was as bizarre and I quickly forgot about it once the real plot began to furiously unfold.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Significant Other

Joshua Harmon has penned yet another "summer play" for all to enjoy.  It is being presented off-Broadway at the Laura Pels Theater at Roundabout and the venue and timing couldn't be more perfect.  It's like those summer beach books - not to complex, not too long, and a touch of serious but not too much that you're talking about the issues for days.  It's the perfect summer indulgence.

Trip Cullman has finally made his rounds complete at all the non-for-profit theaters in NYC and Roundabout is now finally the recipient of his fine directorial skills.  The show centers on the millennial, Jordan Berman, who is played with pitch perfect looks and tone by the adorable Gideon Glick.  He's cute, shy, and gay.  In this case it seems to mean he doesn't have any male gay friends.  This is a bit annoyingly unrealistic for the setting of NYC, but we'll go with it.  His BFF girlfriends are all growing up and one by one getting married.  Poor Jordan is being left in the proverbial dust because he just can't find anyone (again, in NYC I find this and odd premise).

Exposition reveals that each girl is herself quite a different character and Jordan gets something different from each of them.  Laura (Lindsay Mendez) is perhaps his closest and most sincere soul-mate from his youth.  Kiki (Sas Goldberg) and Vanessa (Carra Patterson) both play slightly more wild BFFs.  Together all 4 make up quite a bunch of fun loving friends.  As a foil to his youth, Jordan also has a close relationship with his grandmother (Barbara Barrie) who we are lead to believe is old, spry, perceptive, OK with him being gay, and slowly losing her memory but holding on to life itself. (i thought it odd that his parents are never really mentioned from what i recall).

Act I was long and contained perhaps a bit too much exposition than needed to get the basic point across.  Act II was much more confrontational and emotional which culminated in a scene in which Jordan basically unleashes a lifetime of pent up anger, frustration, and angst (about being gay, being a gay BFF and a lot of other baggage) on Laura in a very long and emotionally played rant that in itself deserved a round of applause when he was done.  

The play, like life itself, just moves forward and ends.  It's up to you to decide if it is hopeful, sad, inspiring, or depressing.  I suppose everyone can see a lot of character traits of both themselves and various friends in many of the characters - so everyone will take bits and pieces that suit their experiences away and it will be up to them to decide how they feel about the whole thing in the end.  I happen to see it with a bunch of single folks and I am left wondering if some of my married straight friends might take something different away from it than me.  I bet they do.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Of Good Stock

Melissa Ross seems to be under the delusion that messed up and messy people who were born to cheating and unhappy parents are considered to be born "of good stock" or are "good stock" themselves.  The funny, poignant, and slice of life production by Manhattan Theater Club on the City Center Stage I by its title seems to suggest so.  Hardly the case, although the production itself is quite good and for too many probably cuts quite close to the bone.

Although the headline name seems to be Alicia Silverstone who aptly plays the Legally Blond type sister (Amy), in fact the entire cast is quite delicious.  There's a flavor of some affectation for slight control freak with cancer (Jennifer Mudge), lost and young (Heather Lind),  cute, cuddly, and genuine boy from Montana (Nate Miller), Northeast "good guy" (Kelly AuCoin) and uptight trapped groom to be (Greg Keller).

I'm not sure if we are supposed to like any of these people or just see some reflection of ourselves in any one of them but the story unfolded mostly as expected and maybe took about 15 minutes too long.

Families are mostly complicated and according to this version, messed up.  It's mostly true but do we need a play to remind us of this fact?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Airline Highway

Talk about the down and out - this play delves into the lives of the residents of The Hummingbird Motel in New Orleans - for the good, the bad, and the ugly - and it's mostly ugly.

Julie White (Tanya) is the deficit lady-in-charge at the motel.  Despite the fact that she's a prostitute, she's loved, listened to and respected.  Her friends care so much about her and each other.  One of the other residents even tries to keep her off the pills.  With a great ensemble cast, this show socks you with a 1-2 punch.  It ain't a happy time, but at their core these down and out people have a whole lotta heart and soul.  K. Todd Freeman (Sissy Na Na) takes second position as the transvestite resident with a whole lotta sass.  Hunky Joe Trippett (Baid Boy) strolls into town after he has "escaped" to marry a wealthy woman but as they say - You can take the boy out of the ghetto but you can't take the ghetto out of the boy.

An interesting choice for a late spring show, Lisa D'Amour's work is a frank and honest look at what makes good people - and in this case, it just ain't money.  Joe Mantello's direction is a healthy dose of fun, frivolity, and honesty.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Qualms

From a master of dialogue and interesting, quirky, provocative topics, Bruce Norris has shared a slightly uncomfortable, marvelously funny, and touching story that delves into the lives of swingers!  Yes, you read that correctly - Swingers!

The cast of couples is superbly unique, extremely diverse, and wonderfully talented.  The story centers around newcomers to the swingers group - upscale couple Jeremy Shamos (Chris) and Sarah Goldberg (Kristy).  The group starts out with the host couple - the mature John Procaccino (Gary) and younger and ditzy Kate Arrington (Teri) and grows more eclectic with each completely different couple that arrives - heavyset firecracker Donna Lynne Champlin (Deb) and hunky handsome, likely gay Andy Lucien (Ken) and exotic Chinasa Ogbuagu (Regine) and white bread American-as-can-be Noah Emmerrich (Roger).   What a wild mix and what a wild ride they are in for.

Ruminating on faith, love, commitment, religion, and everything related to the meaning of life itself, this group of swingers go on one wild ride this evening.  The audience is along for the ride the entire time - but I must say that the play slowed to an unbearable crawl about 2/3rd of the way through as if Mr. Norris just couldn't wrap it up cleanly enough.  The penultimate scene pertaining to statistics in a large metropolitan city should really have ended the play so cleverly but he needed a comforting reconciliation scene around the gun they brought out in Act I - the banana pudding.

And finally, I love a play that features what is likely to be a new actor - in this case he doesn't even have any lines - but the expression on his face was worth 1000!  Kudos to Julian Leong (Delivery Boy). And Kudos to writing such roles into plays to let everyone get their start!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What I Did Last Summer

A.R. Gurney's new work over at the Pershing Square Signature Center is a hidden gem amongst the pile of off-Broadway plays out there. From it's construction to its unique music and rhythm to its cast - this show shines as bright as the north star in the evening sky.  Jim Simpson's fine direction appears delicate and purposeful without being overly obvious and heavy.

First off, it's not "I know what you did last summer".  That is whole other genre and ball of wax.  This show is a family drama and is touching, tender, and uplifting.  It rings true and honestly portrays a family struggle at the tail end of WWII.  No punches pulled.  No fancy stage tricks, but plenty of innovative and unique theatrical presentation techniques - most prominently - the typewriter projection on the back wall and the percussion rhythms and sounds quietly but effectively matching the rhythm of speech and motion.

Most certainly the divine Kristine Nielsen takes the show instantly to a higher level.  She is a consummate character actress and fits the bill perfectly for Anna Trumbull (a.k.a. The Pig Lady).  Carolyn McCormick (known for her recurring role of Dr. Olivet in Law & Order) was the perfectly flawed and loving mother, Grace.  Despite his tender age, the lead character, Charlie, the confused, energetic, every-day kid, was played with wild abandon and tremendous heart by the young and talented Noah Galvin (last seen in The Burnt Part Boys).

The entire play is enjoyable but when it wraps up - actually the very last line - you will leave the theater with a heart slightly warmer and full than when you entered.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Way We Get By

Neil LaBute certainly has an ear for contemporary, young characters in real situations.  Mr. LaBute is no stranger to the off-Broadway stage and his late incarnation at Second Stage Theater is about to be a late-season off-Broadway hit.

Cast with two highly sought after young actors, Thomas Sadowski (Doug) and Amanda Seyfried (Beth), the story portrays two young individuals awkwardly and cautiously navigating the "morning after" throwing in a whopper of a twist.   The twist, at first seems dark, but is quickly explained away as what might be perceived as a rather typical problem for 2nd (or 3rd) marriages with kids.

Mr. Sadowski is about as handsome as they come. (swoon).  It seems that he is, as of late, is a pro at playing awkward, nervous, and smart  - and Doug in this story is no different.  Ms. Seyfried is young, bubbly, and equally awkward - all in a good way.  She seems to have mastered the tortured, beautiful, and lost young woman out in the world today.  Together these two ultimately rip up the stage and humorously dance around the issue at hand - a relationship.

I'll let you see for yourself how these two resolve their issues.  For now, just know that your attendance at this 80 minute-no intermission play will leave you smiling long after you leave the theater.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Another self-absorbed, publicly financed purportedly cathartic psychotherapy session - live - and on stage for a limited run at the New York Theater Workshop where you can waste 80 minutes of your life suffering through someone else's perceived problems and maybe even tick off the last box of your theater subscription thinking about how this is not even close to theater so why did I even join this season?

Yes, you too can have the joy of listening to Dael Orlandersmith's abusive childhood and her generally unhappy adulthood mostly because of her mother.  What a shocker - someone's mother treated them badly and died they way she lived - bitter, mean, and un-loved.  Never heard that one before.  And of course, the production is written and performed by Ms. Orlandersmith.  Of course it was.  Who else would want to?

Do yourself a favor.  Don't encourage this type of performance art in paid theatrical subscriptions and stay away from this performance at NYTW.  Go watch paint dry.  It will be more fulfilling.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Visit

Another opening.... another show.... and this one is another chosen investment.  No matter what they say, I could not be prouder of this production.  Here's what all the real critics are saying...
























Wednesday, April 22, 2015


They're either really good or... well, they aren't.  In this case it really, really isn't.  little i.  @ sign instead of a.  I should have known it was a dud just from the dumb symbolic title.

Poor constructionJenny Schwartz. Poor direction Ken Rus Schmoll.  A play with more music than some musicals (Todd Almond). Frankly just a stupid idea all around.  The talented actors actually seemed uncomfortable at times at the sheer stupidity they were employed to spew.

The stupid idea?  A play that screams endlessly at you and has not a single cohesive idea (yes, we get it too - life today is filled with meaningless connections and a general lack of communication and genuine understanding).  This play is filled with such crap and meaningless, unconnected, and disingenuous jokes that it was frankly insulting, trite, annoying and might just be a complete unmitigated disaster on stage.

I will purposely laud the actors on stage - all of whom smiled through the pain and genuinely churned out top notch performances despite the material.  Cindy Cheung, April Matthis, Annie McNamara, Karyn Quackenbush, Carolina Sanchez, Lee Sellars, Jill Shackner, and Colette Tetlow all deserve polite applause and recognition.

I bet they didn't even know what they were getting into when it started.  After all, nobody communicates anymore, right?