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Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Prodigal Son

In likely his most personal work, John Patrick Shanley bring us his own coming of age tale in a touching, moving story of his years in attendance at a small private school in New Hampshire. "Do you remember 15?",  he innocently asks at the beginning of the play - only to circle back to that same line at the very end to emphasize the quality and clarity of his own memories. Indeed Mr. Shanley does remember quite well.


Sharing the stage are both veteran stage actors as well as a new, fresh face who himself might be destined for greatness.  Robert Sean Leonard (Alan Hoffman) and Chris McGarry (Carl Schmitt) deliver solid performances but it is Timothee Chalamet, a 20 year old, fresh-faced talent who has the run of the stage the entirety of the performance.  Aptly cast at his delicate age, Mr. Chalamet seems to have already mastered the art of dialogue, humor, and on-stage charm that only a young boy can.

One has to presume that most of what is told on stage indeed occurred in some form in Mr. Shanley's life.  In true form, the entire story was not laid bare.  Hints of story lines not explored only added to the mystery.  Much of the play is exposition - as it likely should be.  But for a play without much of a twist or gotcha moment, it tended to drag at points.  Regardless of whether it did occur or not, was it really necessary to include the Catholic-isms of the New Hampshire schoolmaster?  Did we need to explore the professor's attraction?  Couldn't that be left to his likely abusive family in the Bronx?  We really never did find out what was so anathema about the prospect of going back to the Bronx but one can assume.  Might a rational person assume an overlap with Doubt here?

Overall, learning about a living, breathing person is a bit awkward.  He could be sitting right next to you during the performance.  Awkwardness aside, this top notch cast turns out an excellent story which will linger with you - just like it has for the real life author.  And for the author and director to be watching his life story told back to him - that must just be mind-blowing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hughie

The bad ones are easy to write.  The worse they are the easier it is.  This one is simple.  Do not pay Broadway prices (the box office lists the ticket prices for REGULAR seats - $25 to $149!).  Folks this is a two person show that lasts 60 minutes!  You pay the same price for a 2.5 Hour musical with 25 cast members, an orchestra, and multiple sets!  This is a RIP OFF of grand proportions.

Forest Whitaker enters the elegantly designed set (clearly some money was spent on this) and he rambles for 60 minutes.  Then the show ends.  This is all.  I didn't have a clue why we were watching him, why he was there, and frankly was bored and disgusted at his pointless babbling.  He's supposed to be a drunk and he recounts the ups and downs of the dead guy who used to helm the front desk of the hotel, (the play's namesake), Hughie.  The new hotel clerk is "played" (i use quotes because the 14 words he uttered were such a waste) by Frank Wood. 

Dumb, Expensive, Meaningless.  This was my waste of a Wednesday night at the Theatre.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Smart People

Second Stage has chosen to present likely the most self-absorbed, un-interesting, and indulgent play by what can only be described as a bitter, angry, ivy-leaguer stuck in academia-land with no real connection to the real world where us normal folk live.

With a "smart" connection to racism that likely nobody except a few in the theater might even appreciate, we get Barak Obama's election thrown in our face even tho it has nothing to do directly with the story of the four unrelated characters.  But of course it was there because everything in this playwright's universe probably revolves around Barak Obama and his historic presidency. It is central to the quintessential millennial's storyline.

One would expect that the actors on the stage might have salvaged the material.  Unfortunately, there wasn't a stage actor anywhere to be found.  TV-land has invaded all four of the characters.  Overall the actors were too loud, too flat, and seemed to be playing to the cameras as they are used to.   It didn't help that the structure of the play was vignette-like often promoting the short burst messages.  I was ready for commercials to roll at some points.

The playwright... oh sorry... the author (she's too good to be a playwright i suppose), Lydia R. Diamond likely identifies closely with this over privileged academic bubble fantasy she portrays as real life.  The truth of the matter is that each of the characters exudes stereotype to the point I wanted to vomit.  The power-Asian academic who secretly loves to shop and screw (Anne Son), the top-of-his-class African American doctor (Mahershala Ali) who still can't get ahead due to his race and associated anger, the over-privileged white professor (Joshua Jackson) who never spent a day in the real world, and finally the broke, idealistic, young, pretty black actress (Tessa Thompson) who smokes and screws the doctor because she might just get her MRS.  And while I am now delighted to know that Mr. Jackson is well endowed, the locker room scene was totally gratuitous and completely derivative.  I suspect it may eventually get cut.

Do yourself a favor and skip Smart People.  You'll save a shoe that you otherwise would want to throw at these over-priveledged loser-characters who think they have a purpose in life you see on stage.

Friday, January 15, 2016

a Man and his Prostate

Over at the cozy stage at the Metropolitan Room, where we usually hear them crooning away into the night, this past weekend saw a giant of TV and Movies get back in the saddle and give a "test run" of a new one man show that seems tailor made for him.  The indomitable and known to be curmudgeonly Ed Asner dives into a role that only a man of his age can.

Written by but performed by Mr. Asner, is the tale of an older gentleman and his bodily functions or lack thereof in the pee department.   It's about the prostate, young man.  You don't know anything about it, but you will.  Trust me.

Although not disclosed except in the very fine print, this is presumably Mr. Weinberger's story, not Mr. Asner's.  But you sure as heck wouldn't know by listening to him weave his tale seated in a simple director's chair on a bare stage dressed in traditional Florida retiree garb.  After all these years, Mr. Asner still has it.  Nobody can tell a story like that big old bear, Ed.  Not much has changed since his days on Mary Tyler Moore.  He's a hard hearted yet totally lovable lunk.

With slides loaded in the deck to project at various points and his cane in hand to point out the finer details of an anatomy diagram (yes, this one isn't for the kids),  Mr. Asner takes you on a journey to Italy and back - less a few bladder stones, of course.

Lovable, Curmudgeonly, Cantankerous, Tender, and Honest - Mr. Asner has it all.  And you'll leave rooting for him and his penis too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Noises Off

In what might be the most anticipated production of the season, Roundabout's 50th Anniversary, Noises Off hits the boards this week at the American Airlines Theatre.

I saw the last NYC incarnation of this gem 14 years ago - Click Here - with Peter Gallagher, Patti Lupone, Katie Finneran, TR Knight, Faith Prince, and Edward Hibbert.  Needless to say I have fond and vivid memories of the hilarity that ensued.  Of course when I saw the show for the first time I had no idea what was going to happen - this time around, I sort of knew what was going to play out.

This time around, the indomitable Andrea Martin (Dotty) brought her physical comedy to the stage.  Campbell Scott (Lloyd Dallas), tackles the prickly and frustrated director. David Furr (Garry Lejeune), Megan Hilty (Brooke Ashton), Kate Jennings Grant (Belinda Blair), and Jeremy Shamos (Frederick Fellows) tackle the interlopers.  Tracy Chimo (Poppy Norton-Taylor) and Rob McClure (Tim Allgood) tackle the stage crew roles and Daniel Davis (Selsdon) is the bungling alcoholic burglar.

Anyone who knows anything about Nothing On (the play within the play) knows it is a physical comedy inside the physical comedy Noises Off - Three progressively "worse" acts repeated with disastrously funny consequences.  Timing is more than half the battle and tuning the characters just right is the rest.  I'd say they did a great job at the first part - the timing and physicality was nifty. The set (Derek McLane) was quite literally exactly what I remembered it to be - as if they pulled it out of storage.  What the production lacked, I thought, was a sense of mad-cap pace and hilarity.  It was almost very deliberate and plodding.  Certainly Ms. Martin had moments of glory - mostly in Act I as she labored over the sardines and later when she got tangled in the phone cord.  I remember TR Knight having a bigger part than Mr. McClure - and I don't know why.   Ms. Hilty delivered those stilted and quite literally memorized lines perfectly - and by perfectly I mean at just about the most incorrect time and always mugging to the audience like her character is supposed to.   This time around Mr. Scott walked around the entire theater including the mezzanine with his booming director's voice and I don't remember Mr. Gallagher doing the same except for right down front.  There were plenty of stars in this production although none of them shone overly brightly.  There was plenty of talent and great timing in this production, but nothing transported me.  That could be a bit of the 2nd time around syndrome, or it just might possibly be that the production seemed a bit more farcical and deliberately physical than it needed to be.

In the end, it doesn't much matter.  The family behind me had no idea what was going to happen and half my fun was listening to their reactions in Act 2.  I enjoyed this production but not quite as much as I enjoyed my first one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Skeleton Crew

Doing what they do best, The Atlantic Theater Company is beginning a run of what might be the most compelling and culturally relevant play of the season.

Written by Dominique Morisseau, Skeleton Crew gives us a glimpse into challenges of very blue collar workers at a car manufacturing plant in Detroit.

Life is tough.   Life makes you tough.  Who is your family and to what extreme will you go to protect them and their livelihood?   These tough, poignant, and in-your-face questions are all asked and answered by the suburb actors on stage.  Lynda Gravatt (Faye) is the stalwart veteran of the plant.  Jason Dirden (Dez) is the young wild-child, Nikiya Mathis (Shanita) is a young expecting mother with a lot of pride in what she makes, and Wendell B. Franklin (Reggie) is the plant manager torn between the white collar world he now lives and the blue collar world he grew up in.  This ensemble was as tight, on-point, and incredibly credible.

Between the rumors of the plant closing, thefts at the plant, a pregnancy, homelessness, and a gun, to say where there's smoke there is fire is the understatement of the year.   Sparks fly.  Pride is always in the way.  Tempers flair.  This riveting piece is most assuredly best performed in an intimate black box theater where emotions are high and contained.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Fiddler on the Roof

Over at the gorgeous Broadway Theatre we have another revival of a beloved classic.  I've seen a prior revival - the Alfred Molina production last in NYC. This time around we have Bartlett Sher led revival staring the usually indomitable Danny Burstein (Tevye).

Of course, a revival usually has to add its own take on the style or material.  This revival (in one of the most opulent theaters on Broadway, by the way) choose to employ relatively minimalist sets (most flew in and out) and few props on quite a large empty stage which was alternatively lit up bright for the company and focus spot lit for individual characters.  There was a large hole downstage that supposedly allowed the orchestra and the lush Jerry Bock score waft into the cavernous theater.  Unfortunately that hole served no purpose since the orchestra sounded like it was a rag time band stuffed in a tight box with a microphone that artificially amplified it throughout the theater.   (As a side note, the very cavernous Broadway Theatre curtained off the rear mezzanine to reduce the size of the actual seated theater.  It struck me that I have seen shows here before when the entire theater was full - and this revival clearly new it just couldn't draw such a large audience from the start).

Now as for the classic tale - Mr. Sher chose to begin and end the show with Danny (presumably Tevye's contemporary heir) in a modern blood red winter jacket reading a story from a book which is presumably Tevye and His Daughters which is the actual basis for this play.  Now, not a word was changed but the feel for the opening was flat, uninteresting, as he was literally reading the book to us as he started the tale of this famed musical which leads to the opening number, Tradition.  Interesting choice, but it didn't capture me.   As we get further into the show Mr. Burstein continued to fail at capturing my imagination.  He was too nice, too nebbish, to tentative.  and generally not a bold Tevye.  A great voice, but not deep and booming.  He certainly had moments of brilliance but they were few and far between.  His wife, Goldie, (Jessica Hecht) was equally unsatisfying.  She was too mean, too stern, and not likable,  When we got all the way to Do you Love Me, I was relatively certain that the answer was "No".  Of course the company filled in the blanks along the way - plenty of dancing, hand clapping and foot stomping in classic style.   However, Tevye's Dream and the entire scene seemed to me to be an odd pastiche of monsters straight out of Lord of the Rings.  Of special note (mostly because nobody else earned it), Motel the tailor (Adam Kantor) was a bright spot to the evening having energy, commitment to the part, and a great stage presence as well as a voice anyone would be jealous of.  The 5 daughters, Tzeitel (Alexandra Silber), Hodel (Samantha Massell), Chava (Melanie Moore), Shprintze (Jenny Rose Baker), and Bielke (Hayley Feinstein) were all competent yet bland.   Yes, I felt their betrayals, but just wasn't sold on the consequences.  Even Yenta the matchmaker (Alix Korey) felt too Brooklyn Jewish - which meant she got the audience laughs but wasn't as true to the character as she could be.  Oye!

The only star this evening in the theatre was Jerry Bock's score itself - lush and lovely as ever, we know more of these tunes than almost any other musical out there - Tradition, Matchmaker, Matchmaker, If I were a Rich Man, To Life, Sunrise Sunset, Do You Love Me, and Anatevka.  I felt this show eerily resembled the happening of today in the world with the Syrian refugee crisis and similar societal events.  With the show opening and closing the way it did, perhaps that was what Mr. Sher was going for.  I'm glad I had a really cheap ticket.  It minimized the length of my utter disappointment in this production.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Our Mother's Brief Affair

Hot off the press, Richard Greenberg's tender relatively new work hits Broadway's nail square on the head.  An almost perfect fit for the subscription theater crowd.  An old Jewish mother losing her memories and her two distant, yet loving children tango back and forth seamlessly through the present and past memories and try to bring meaning and definition to their lives, each in their own way.

Linda Lavin (Anna) is the matriarch.  Staunch, ignored, marginalized, Jewish, and mildly bitter.  Greg Keller (Seth) is an obituary writer - lonely, preppy yet schleppy, nebbish, and gay. Kate Arrington (Abby) is the less than happy, hippie, gentle, and lesbian.  Ms. Lavin is the perfect choice to play a Jewish mother lording over her children in a loving yet authoritative and sarcastic sort of way.  Mr.  Greenberg seems well skilled at constructing the damaged, delicate, off-balance, and less than perfect family.   His language is rich and often the choice of words is argued over and debated in the dialogue.  It's smart and swift.  His ability to effortlessly sail through the story-telling is large.  Sometimes it's too large and we get bogged down - such as the latter half of Act II.

It turns out that Anna has indeed had what the title suggests - a brief affair.  Her children may or may not have been aware of it but they are grappling with it now. Her son is having the most difficulty coming to grips with the reality of the beans his mother is spilling.  The affair is quite a shocker.  Well, it's a shocker only after they employ a theatrical device to turn up the lights break the 4th wall and have the two children explain to the audience what their mother just admitted to.  I doubt many people would simply recognize the name David Greenglass.  The use of this abrupt device - is used to a lesser extent throughout the show - as this is really a memory play, a story told by the two children intermixed with flashback scenes from their life.

Tender, tough, heartbreaking, funny, and warm all at the same time.  In the end, the message is summed up by Anna to her son by explaining all she ever wanted was to be remembered.

Monday, December 28, 2015

School of Rock

I may likely have had the most fun at what I perceived as the least anticipated show of the season.  (Ok, The Color Purple may be the actual show at that rung of the ladder, but I digress).   I was indeed 'schooled' by the best on a Monday nite.

Sure, the movie was dumb.  I can't really say the adapted book for this musical was superior in any way.  I was pleasantly surprised that the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself was catchy, upbeat, toe-tappin', and appropriate for the raucous riot that occurs onstage 8 shows a week at the Winter Garden Theater.  I wasn't surprised by talented kids on stage - I expected it.  And my expectations were indeed surpassed.  The talented kids were played like a well tuned Fender by none other than the abundantly talented and uber-energetic Alex Brightman (Dewey). He ran that stage from the first minute to the last with what seemed like endless enthusiasm and boundless charisma.  The story is essentially him and the school kids.


Of course, this is a musical so we have to have other characters. If you want to sell tickets, these other characters must also have songs.  It was a thrill to see Sierra Boggess (Rosalie) on stage, but what a waste she was at the same time.  Of course she had to have a song.  Of course it ran the show longer than it should have run.  Of course this was repeated over the course of a few of the parents and teachers.  In a movie we would not have wasted so much time just to balance out the tickets and justify the lead equity contracts.  But again, I digress.

Parents and teachers were all fine, unmemorable, and frankly could give anyone their "big break" on Broadway and I hope it does.  The show is a big ball of fun and everyone on the stage looks like this is afternoon playtime, not a stressful performance.  Mr. Brightman and these kids are the stars and deserve all the credit to the fun of the evening under the swift direction of Laurence Connor.  Sloppy and abrupt scene changes and a book like Swiss cheese will all be ignored.  Class dismissed.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Humans

The wonderfully talented writer, Stephen Karam, has penned yet another potent work now on stage at Roundabout's Laura Pels Theater.  The Humans is a bare bones expose of the titular condition translated to us via the Blake Family.

Erik Burke (Reed Birney) and Deidre Blake (Jane Houdyshell) are the staunchly middle class parents who raised their kids and go to church.  They seem to be finding the dream slipping away day by day.  Aimee Blake (Cassie Beck) and Brigid Blake (Sara Steele) are their two daughters who seemingly have done better than their parents' generation - college for both an Aimee being a lawyer in Philadelphia.  Brigid is, however, a struggling composer just out of school with a mountain of student loan debt.  Brigid is hosting Thanksgiving in her newly obtained apartment in Chinatown - a byproduct of her and her boyfriend Richard Saad (Arian Moayed) deciding to move in together to save money on the way to seeing if they can make it as a couple.  Mother Blake is, of course, not happy about this arrangement.  You're supposed to get married first.  Accompanying them is Erik's Mother (Lauren Klein) who is completely taken by Alzheimer's.  She's in a wheelchair and is really much out of it.  We learn they really can't afford to put her anywhere for care which makes the disease even more sad for all involved.

As Brigid over-compensates and leads the conversation and tour of her city and neighborhood, we learn more and more about each family member.  Aimee has ulcerative colitis and may be losing her job as a lawyer.  Mom and Dad have worked for the same places with little wage increases over the past few decades.  Brigid is still learning how to "live" with her new boyfriend - what they share, what they say, and what they don't.  It's really a slice-of-life type of a play with the family's dirty laundry being exposed here and there.  Funny, poignant, and sad.  Mr. Birney and Ms. Houdyshell might just be the finest actors on the stage today.  Neither one seems to be able to utter an insincere or unintentional word.  Ms. Steele is annoying and endearing all at the same time.  It's a family,  warts and all.  It's a dumpy New York City apartment Chinatown, warts and all.   It's Thanksgiving, warts and all.

We do learn that Dad has something to tell everyone.  I assumed it was the big C. But it's a twist that you will not expect.  Like many families who don't really talk to each other and ignore most of the not-so-nice things - the Burke's are no different.  The play progresses with light bulbs burning out until we end is total darkness.  A darkness I liken to the lost nature of the entire family and families in general - all bubbly and sparkly on the outside, not so much on the inside.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Lazarus

New York Theater Workshop is known for its bold, interpretive, and artistic productions.  This latest installment is no different.  Based on a 1963 novel, The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis and a subsequent 1976 movie by Nicholas Roeg (and a 1987 television adaption which differed with the original material), this musical by David Bowie (music) and Enda Walsh (Book) is a bizarre, fantastical, and imaginative look in to the mind of a man.

Make no bones about it - this production, by its very nature, is bizarre.  Very bizarre.  It's like Clockwork Orange meets Next to Normal.  The play itself has always been discordant, imaginative, and vague.  It's the nature of dreams, insanity, and mental illness.  Helmed by hot Belgian experimental "it" director, Ivo van Hove, this particular production adds potent, strong, and lavish music to the equation.  The combination is magical.  Throw in a dazzling special effects of a large media screen and magnificent projections and you find yourself immersed in an evening of pure fantasy.

Mr. Newton is the center of our attention - A Mad, deranged, dreamer played by the indomitable  Michael C. Hall.  With the rage and angst of a madman he owned the role from the first maddening minute to the last.  His maid, Elly (Cristin Meloti), was the perfect malleable, innocent companion. Valentine, an incarnation of the devil perhaps, a madman at the very least was played to the hilt by the Michael Esper. A cast of other interlopers contributed to the mesmerizing, magical, and fantastic evening in the theater.  Perhaps the most talented and poignant performers on the whole stage was Sophia Anne Caruso (Girl).  She is perhaps vocal perfection.

And let's not forget the incredible band behind the glass wall,  They rocked.  As a result, we rocked.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

These Paper Bullets

Now rockin' the stage over at the Linda Gross Theater of The Atlantic Theater Company is a play with music that has more effervescence than some musicals.  The title and origins of the show are a bit stuffy being from Yale Reparatory Theater and all.... but that doesn't stop director Jackson Gay from dazzling the audience with his spinning disk stage and scenery (i get it, just like a record, right?) upon which the boys and their fans strut their stuff.


What have we got going on here, you ask?  It's Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing updated to London 1964 and involves a boy band that very closely (*wink wink*) resembles the Beatles.    The Quartos - which in my opinion should be the name of the play - are cute, rebellious, young and horny. (what boy bands aren't?).  Music by Billie Joe Armstrong and orchestrations by Tom Kitt are sure to please.

Don't get me wrong - it's super-smart - although I will admit I have never read Much Ado About Nothing - so much of it was lost on me.  Meanwhile the music has an all-too-familiar sound to it and kept the toes-a-tapping'.   The uber adorable and sexy boys of The Quartos - Ben (Justin Kirk), Claude (Bryan Fenkart), Balth (Lucas Papaelias), and Pedro (James Barry) - croon the night away and take you back a few decades to a more innocent time.

Sub plots develop around the love and revenge story - one might say a few too many however.  Scotland Yard detectives investigating "What is wrong with the youth of our Country" provide some entertaining interludes following the boys - including the incredibly adorable multi-character actor Christopher Geary.  The women who are the object of affection and scorn include Bea (Nicole Parker), Higgie (Arianna Venturi), and Ulcie (Keira Naughton).

Yes, I believe the characters have similar names to the play by the Bard and it's all wrapped in a hip backbeat that will make you smile despite the unnecessarily long tun time (please trim this up, Rolin Jones).  A two hour runtime will likely be the sweetest spot you can find.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Marjorie Prime

Jordan Harrison has penned a compelling futuristic tale where artificial intelligence may just keep us company, attempt to provide comfort, and companionship in our elder years.   But he cleverly explores the depth, substance, and satisfaction this fascinating technology might bring to us - or not give to us, as the case may be.

Lois Smith (Marjorie), an aging mother losing her memories brings in a holographic tool (practically played by an actor, however)  - her husband, Walter, dashingly handsome in his 30's (the dashingly handsome Noah Bean) - to be with her and trigger her memories and provide companionship.   But it seems there is one major flaw - this prime (as it is referred to - Walter 'Prime') only knows what it has been told about the person it is becoming.  Is this a true and complete history?  Might be be whitewashing the past to paint the picture we want to see?

As the play progresses into the future and we see the deaths of other characters, each remaining person is presented with a "prime" of the departed individual. As the final character remains, Stephen Root (Jon)  - we come to see that this technology may not solve all problems or provide complete comfort and satisfaction.  In the final scene, quite brilliantly written, acted, and staged we end up seeing all the primes having a very stilted conversation going round and round on a small turntable around a kitchen table - after all - they only have things to talk about that they were told.  Their existence, indeed, is as stilted and incomplete as the conversation they are having.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thérèse Raquin

Now playing over at Studio 54 - Cousins marrying, murder, ghosts, an overbearing mother, sex, a stroke, and a double poisoning.   Just your average evening in the theatre for the talented cast of Roundabout's latest production of Therese Raquin

Making quite a substantial Broadway debut is the delightful Keira Knightley (Therese Raquin).  The ensemble generously supporting the titular character includes the stalwart Judith Light (Madame Raquin) and adorably obnoxious Gabriel Ebert (Camille Raquin) as the adopted family of Therese - her father died and her aunt and aunt's son became her family at an early age.  Rounding out the ensemble is the hunky and handsome suitor, Laurant (Matt Ryan).


What we have here is a twisted and overbearing mother who raised a weak, obnoxious, nelly-boy son and married her off to his first cousin who was raised in the same household because her father died at an early age.   Locked in a loveless (and sexless) marriage, the heat turns up when the obnoxious nelly-boy's best friend finds himself intensely drawn to Therese - - that's when the sparks (and sex) fly.  Laurent, Therese,  and Camille all go out on a boat (yes there is a real lake on the stage). Laurent knocks the weak Camille off the boat and he drowns.  After a few months, the two can finally be together - but will Camille haunt them from the grave?  Is the guilt of killing Madame Raquin's only son too much to bare?  When Madame Raquin accidentally finds out (a note for the director here - i thought this part of the show was not as clear as it could have been as we do not actually see her overhear something) will she expose the two for the murderers they are?

On a different note, I suspect this play is based on a bit more detailed source material (novel 1867, play1873) .  However when translating to this stage it seems the the character of Suzanne (Mary Wiseman) must have been more developed in the source material because her character on stage was incomplete.  Did we need to know she had a suitor (happy) and then her father chased the man away (grumpy)?  I saw no purpose to this story line. Perhaps the book elaborates.

Sets by Beowulf Boritt were magnificent - some flying in, a literal lake on stage, one hovering in mid air.  The actors were not mic'd as far as I could tell and it seemed very appropriate.  Sound (Josh Schmidt) , however was ingeniously integrated with tones and ambient sounds during and between scenes.  To find out how all this resolves, head over to Studio 54 and catch these fine actors practicing their craft.  Just don't expect time to pass quickly.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A View From the Bridge

BAM!  What is playing over at the Lyceum Theatre just may be some of the best theatre of the decade.  This is no joke.  The Young Vic Production (straight from the UK) of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge is setting the oldest theatre in Manhattan's stage on fire and leaving audiences stunned night after night.

Belgian experimental Director Ivo Van Hove's minimalist production is ominous and eerily powerful.  The sparse and tiny stage (made tiny mostly by adding 70 stadium style seats on either side of the stage where the wings used to be is part of the reason).  The innovative staging is reminiscent of a cage match where the actors, all barefoot by the way, engage in a brawl for two hours. Jan Verswayveld's set and mechanical box that raises and lowers around the set are a simple and brilliant idea.  Tom Gibbons' sounds reverberate and persist throughout the show adding drama and mystery to the already potent situation.

The mostly-Brit cast does an upstanding job at putting on their Brooklyn-eese.  Even when they slip on a word here or there, you never really mind that much because the tension they are all adept at creating and maintaining is masterful.  Complain if you will about two brothers straight off the boat from Italy who don't have an Italian accent whatsoever.  I don't think this production is much about authenticity, but rather a trimmed down version of the story with a singular focus of intensity, mystery,  and drama.  Mark Strong (Eddie), Phoebe Fox (Catherine), Nicoa Walker (Beatrice) form the core Red Hook, Brooklyn family, torn by traditions and a desire to grow and be successful in America.  The extremely hunky and dashing Russell Tovey (Rudolpho) and svelte Michael Zegan (Marco) are the mysterious interloper illegal immigrants from Italy.  Michael Gould (Alfieri) plays the "Greek Chorus" or narrator by lurking most of the show around the outside of the ring explaining what is going to happen.  When he steps in the ring as a participant in the battle, he, too, removes his shoes.

This production is nothing short of pure brilliance.  The 140 or so people in the stage seating, by far, saw an entirely different play than the people out in the standard theater seats.  Those in the balcony quite possibly didn't even see portions of the play.  Regardless, the bloodbath on W45th will leave you shaken.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Eternal Space

A touching and warm trip down memory lane, both for the actors in the play as well as an audience old enough to have experienced or perhaps only young enough to have heard about it.  The it, refers to the deconstruction of the old massive and grand Penn Station to make way for Madison Square Garden and Penn Plaza.  Justin Rivers has penned a two-hander that will warm your heart over at the Lion Theater.



The playwright was careful not to vilify either side of the argument for or against but rather to tell a tender story that reveals how the grandeur of this building affected the lives of two very different people in this great big city of ours.  Joseph Lanzarote (Clyde Baldo) is an older English teacher - a smart, staunch, art lover and lonely wordsmith who wants to save the grand space. Paul Abbot (Matthew Pilieci) plays a construction worker charged with taking the structure down.  Two unlikely, yet fast friends - Joseph an observer and lover of the architecture, Paul, oddly, a photographer at the same time demolition team member.  They share a common attraction despite being totally opposites in class, education, and life in general.  We find through their meetings and banter over the year that both have a deep connection to the station through family members.

The show features grand projections that turn the stage into the grand station itself from various angles and times.  We'll forever argue about the wisdom of tearing the station down, but one thing is true no matter what - millions passed through the edifice and the edifice affected so many people in countless ways.  This was just one of the millions of stories out there.   A link to the show's website which provides many more pictures and documentation on the show and its subject matter - http://theeternalspaceplay.com


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Important Hats of the Twentieth Century

My reaction after about 10-15 minutes of bewilderment in Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II at NY City Center was one of utter confoundment (if that's a word).  What on earth possessed MTC to choose this play to produce?  It appears to have been written by someone with the mind of a 13 year  old.  Why was I being forced to pay to watch this crap?

Let me be clear here - the actors were magnificent at the character acting contained throughout- not the least of which was the uber adorable and talented Carson Elrod (Sam Greedy) as an over the top fashion designer.  The other actors all played multiple characters - including a single woman who played all the female parts.

The trouble here isn't the lighting (it was great), sound (it was great)  or fairly good direction and blocking (very creative use of the stage) on a small stage with limited scenery (Moritz von Steulpnagel).  It's that the play itself by Nick Jones is a poor rip off of Back to the Future.  Its humor is immature, dare I say childish.  And the story goes on and on like a Saturday cartoon and really ends up nowhere.  It's a silly premise that contains a hairy gorilla and never really gets much resolution - what ever happened to the sweatshirts/track pants that got introduced before their time?  Finally, both the show's marketing and hype about the play gets you to believe it is about actual HATS.  While it is about ONE HAT (that's not really a hat in the way you would think), it's really more about fashion and still time travel in general than hats.

Don't waste your time on this silly play that never should have made it to a stage - unless of course you want to travel back in time to one of your high school productions.  Better the glowing orbs that nobody seems to mind blow it up in the river.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Invisible Thread

Just beginning its run at Second Stage Theatre for the kick off of the 2015-2016 season, Invisible Thread (f.k.a. Witness Uganda) is already blowing the roof off the joint.   Shepherded here from A.R.T at Harvard by a top notch creative team - Diane Paulus (Director) and Sergio Trujillo (Choreographer) - this power-packed show was penned by the power-couple Griffin Matthews and Matt Gould.  In fact, Mr. Matthews does double duty as the show's driven leading man too (Griffin).

The adorably sexy Corey Mach (Ryan) plays opposite Mr. Matthews as his devoted and supportive boyfriend and partner in life.  With an all-black cast the show's focus is the struggles of the kids they meet in Uganda, the Ugandan culture and community, and the struggle to continually support them.   Music and lyrics by Mr. Matthew's real partner in life, Mr. Gould, feature gospel-like numbers, ballads, and rousing, energetic and theatrically staged African dance numbers.  And the band, conducted by Mr. Gould - well - they are part of the reason for the aforementioned roof blow-off.  Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, and more percussion than you thought possible - all elevated above the stage in the former wings of the stage - which, of course, were eliminated to enlarge the performance space. Kudos Jonathan Deans (Sound), Justin Townsend (Lighting), and ESosa (Costumes).

One has to wonder if with such a high-caliber creative team behind this show that there is a desire to transfer a unique, emotional, and high energy musical to the Broadway.  I have mixed feelings about it and not sure it would work - - but it might just.  It has the unique factor.  Tugs on your heart strings, music, dance, colorful costumes.... blink and it fits right in.  A modern boy-loves-boy who needs to find his roots and reason for being who can't let go of what he found.

Get your tickets now as this one is going to be a hot seller into the holiday season.