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Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Oslo

It's official - I just saw the Tony award winning play of the year.  Oslo, a new docu-play by J.T. Rogers being presented at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center is a bold, crackling, and humorous new play about the back-channel peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis in the early 1990's told with humor, charm, heart, and brutal honesty.

Jefferson Mays (Terje Rod-Larsen) and Jennifer Ehle (Mona Juul) headline the cast as the brains behind the entire idea and operation - an effort in secret to get the two parties to a secret negotiating table Norway where they could exchange real ideas, thoughts, and feelings - not the tried and failed methods of public posturing sponsored by the Americans and others for years.

The cast of characters is broad - heads of state, secretaries of state, foreign ministers, and negotiators - and even a housekeeper and butler.  Top notch performances were turned in by Michael Arnov (Uri Savir - Israeli) and Anthony Azizi (Ahmed Qurie - Palestinian).  Even a worthy Shimon Peres (Daniel Orestes) graced the stage.

The play sweeps through 3 hours before you know it.  Act I is a clever flashback to the origins of the talks that ends where it started - and sets up Act II - the actual peace negotiations.  At times tense, at others humorous, the play effortlessly glides between the two states often and sometimes unexpectedly.  The play sweeps past the accords, reveals video of the actual signing and hand shaking at the White House among all the parties and goes on to provide you with an abbreviated version of events that occurred post-accord all the way up to today.  Jefferson Mays ends the play on an uncertain yet positive and hopeful note.

Award winning performances, direction, and dialogue all combine to make this sleeper that moved upstairs from the Mitzi Newhouse Theater (off-Broadway) a hit that will inform, entertain, and remind us all just how far we've come and how much work is yet ahead.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Baghdaddy

Now playing over at the basement black box Theater at St. Luke's - Baghdaddy. This show has a bit of a split personality disorder.  Act I - over the top silliness and slap-stick comedy.  Given the subject matter - it walks a fine line but gets the job done.  Act II - substantially more serious - to the extent that one of the characters in the show even asks if this is funny anymore.  And in general I'm in agreement with the marketing people - It's a good show with a bad name...

For sure, Marshall Pailet (Music and Book) and A.D Penedo (Lyrics and Book) have a gem on their hands.  Too soon?  Not at all.  We all recall the discussions and debates about whether there were actually weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and why we invaded when clearly the 9/11 terrorists came from other places.   This show re-hashes the facts, adds a few twists, and shines the light on bureaucracy and mistakes and egos involved such that we just might conclude the unthinkable - there wasn't really a real reason to invade.  *shocker*

This magnificently rehearsed and talented cast adds energy, enthusiasm, heart, and soul to the script.  Uber cute Brennan Caldwell (Richard Becker) plays the German investigator (without the German accent he does not have and points out). That neon dance outfit was a charmer too.  Brandon Espinoza (The Man) is possibly the hardest working actor on the stage and shirt off works very nicely i must say.... (and they all work hard already).  Joe Joseph (not exactly a middle eastern name) plays Curveball, the Iraqi informant who may or may not have told the truth.  Claire Neumann is possible the funniest person on the stage with her all her different personas and characters.  Ethan Slater (Jerry Samuel) is absolutely the most adorable character (and actor) who wins your heart in about 2 minutes.  Jason Collins takes on the role of Tyler Nelson who is one of the only people who isn't blaming himself.  This is quite possible the cutest and youngest entire cast I have seen long time (Ethan, did you hear that? cutest....)

Speaking of blaming himself, the show is basically a support group for people who think they started the Iraq war.  The support group phases in and out as the show takes over telling you the story.  Did these people really start the war?  In once sense they all were at fault - in another - none of then can be blamed for the juggernaut known as our government.

The play suffers split personality as I previously mentioned.  It has not quite worked out which persona (Act I or Act II) is the better one to go with.  It's a bit all over the map but gets the point across.  I think it needs some fine tuning and could really be a powerhouse as the concept is really serious and absolutely something that needs to be shown.  This was it's second run and I think if someone really sunk some money into a production - you would see vast improvements.  For now, trust me it's worth the price of admission and you'll likely walk out shaking your head in agreement with the outcome we all know quite well.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Derren Brown: Secret

Oh, I'm keeping this one a secret for sure.  You see, when I subscribe to a theater company, a non-profit theater company like the Atlantic Theater Company, I expect to see theater.  (Funny how it works like that).   In this case, the allure of magic and illusion and chicanery has sullied the mission and goals of The Atlantic.  This is not theatre!  It's pure entertainment - and it's only interesting if you like magic and tricks and being fooled by a con man.

Derren Brown is indeed an illusionist.  He claims he is not a psychic but then does the things a psychic would do.  He's very good at what he does, but theatre this is not, fooled i was not, and entertained i was not.

Please bring back real theatre - instead of a circus side show - to the Atlantic!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Hamilton

With all the hype this will be quick.  Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius.  To be fair I did not pay $800 for a ticket.  I waited and waited and finally won the lottery!  My ticket - in the first row - cost me $10 and a lot of daily disappointment leading up to now.

For $10 this was THE most amazing experience.  If I had paid $800 I may have been more critical, but there is very little to be critical about.  This show, despite a major cast change, is a 10 out of 10.  It's crisp, loud, and strong.  I saw the swing cast - and even with these 3rd stringers - the show was magnificent and I cannot imagine it being better.

To be fair - it's dense - very dense.  I think most people who pull up in the big white busses just see it because they are told to.  Even I didn't get everything and I paid close attention.  You have to be a real history buff to really understand everything.  I suspect many on those busses are not history buffs and probably walked out checking a box and emptying their pockets but when asked, couldn't really tell you what went on.  Hamilton (Jevon McFerrin) was magnificent as was Aaron Burr (Nik Walker) as was the rest of the cast including James Monroe Inglehart as Layfayette/Jefferson and Brian D'Arcy James as King George.   Of special note, I think the ensemble may just be the hardest working ensemble on Broadway today.  My eye caught one of them who was especially delicious (Thayne Jasperson) and he held my attention the entire show (those arms!) - which is how I actually noticed how incredibly hard working they all were.

It's a bona-fide hit and I am incredibly thankful for the ticket and will treasure my experience even more because of it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Her Portmanteau

This is Part II (actually we skip a few of her plays to #4) of Mfoniso Udofia's The Ufot Cycle - Her Portmanteau.   On a creative note - the title is a word that means both a large suitcase (such as one that both a mother and daughter may have traveled to America with) - AND even more interestingly - a word that means the combination of two other words such as brunch (breakfast and lunch) or podcast (iPod and broadcast).  Very creatively both are relevant here because this is a story of two families who will come together from very different sets of circumstances and that piece of luggage you see will be very meaningful too.

We've skipped a few years ahead. Abasiama (now Jenny Jules) has married Disciple and started another family in America.  The baby, Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Adepero Oduye), she gave to Ukpong to raise back in Nigeria (because he had to leave America when he messed up his education) is now an adult and wants to come to America to see her mother and the rest of her family.  Abasiama arranges a meeting in New York City at her American daughter's, Adiagha Ufot (now Chinasa Ogbuagu's) apartment.  Everyone is on pins and needles.  Sparks are quickly extinguished when they start to fly, tensions are high and years of unspoken words come pouring out from all parties.

This play is much more intense, direct, and shorter than the first and even as short as it was there are two scenes that are needlessly long and drawn out.  This one could be approximately 85-90 minutes max and could really pack a punch.  I think the creatives love their words and drama a bit too much and need to trim things down for a focused, powerful, and punch-to-the-gut two part series.  


Sojourners

NYTW has chosen a multi-part play by Mfoniso Udofia as its final installment of the season.  After much debate we decided to see the "marathon" presentation on a Sunday - the two parts played in sequence 1-3pm and 5-7pm.  We figured, in the end, the stories are related so why not just blow an afternoon and get it over with.  Seeing them apart we might forget small details. So off we went for a day at NYTW.   What a great decision this turned out to be.

Part I - Sojourners - is your introduction to Abasiama Ekpeyoung (Chinasa Ogbuagu) and Ukpong Ekpeyoung (Hubert Point-Du-Jour) and their immediate life post immigration from Nigeria to the USA - Houston, Texas, to be precise.  It's a tough time, adjusting is hard, working for low wages and long hours is tough - and Abasiama is pregnant - very pregnant.  They have goals - get a great education (the reason for immigration) and start their family and eventually return home.   As with all of the best laid plans - things don't always go the way you intend.  Some rather tough decisions need to be made.

We are also introduced to a character that is much more pivotal to the second play (the actual 4th play in the series) - Disciple Ufot (Chinaza Uche) and a rather sad character named Moxie Wilis (Lakisha Michelle May).  As a side comment - this play is the first of SEVEN and NYTW is only presenting two of them - I wondered if Moxie is explored in any of the other plays?  Upon some further research, only time will tell, as plays 6-9 are not yet completed but I think time will pass her over as the plays seem to be written sequentially.

Performances are top notch.  Mr. Point-Du-Jour is charming and lovable despite his shortcomings and you can just see how anyone could want to start a life with him (their marriage was arranged).  Ms. Ogbuagu was magnificent in her portrayal of Abasiama - strong, touching, and human.

My only complaint is that there was not enough exposition as to whom these characters were.  We went almost 75 minutes without ever being told who the man at his desk was (Disciple) and how he fit into the story.  Perhaps one mysterious scene is theatrically effective but repeated scenes with a man who has no connection to the story is a bit much.  This happened a few times throughout the first play in other areas and it was quite noticeable that you had to figure out (i.e. GUESS) a few of the circumstances rather than be sure through dialogue or story what exactly was going on.  Thankfully things cleared up by the end but a few frustrated audience members left at the intermission.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me

In it's latest installment, it seems that Second Stage Theater either had a "budget gap" that they couldn't afford to produce their own show or just saw an opportunity to bring someone else in to produce a show during their season.  Sticks to me... but maybe there's a better explanation.

As far as the production they brought in - quirky - is the word that comes to mind.  It's a musical where one of the writers is also a performer.  Some would say vanity project or she didn't trust anyone with her baby just yet.  Quirky - yes the leading man comes out of a refrigerator in her apartment.  OK, it's a dream sequence/fantasy show.  Quirky - Ernest Shackleton (Wade McCollum) is a real life explorer who went to Antarctica.  An odd choice for leading man.  However the leading lady (Valerie Vigoda)  can strum the electric violin like nobody's business while she's going along on her excursion with Ernest.  Quirky - they fall in love.  Quirky - it's just weird, silly, a bit absurd but at least it was quick.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Her Opponent

In today's political environment, I'm surprised this show is not getting more airtime and exposure.  Part experiment, part theatrical experience, Her Opponent seeks to open eyes and get you thinking about gender and your biases.

Joe Salvatore and Maria Guadalupe reverse the gender of the actual candidates and reenact select debate dialogue verbatim.  Sounds like a snooze fest? Or does it sound like you'd throw your shoes at the stage?  Well, I think you might be fairly engaged mostly because a woman is saying the things Mr. Trump said. Equally, you may be unpleasantly surprised at a man acting the way Hillary Clinton did.  I warn you now, you may still agree or disagree with WHAT the candidates said but you will see the message from an entirely different perspective.

Rachel Tuggle Whorton tackles quite accurately of Mr. Trump.  Daryl Embry equally aptly tackles the persona of Mrs. Clinton - both nailing certain mannerisms, patterns of speech and general stature. Only the pronouns (he/she) were changed to make sense in this environment and the names were changed but maintained the same rhythm - Brenda King and Jonathan Gordon. Andy Wagner plays the moderators who in all honesty were not really mentioned or identified, except for a passing mention of Anderson Cooper that I can recall.

For a mild jolt and passing identification of your own biases, head over to the Jerry Orbach theatre at the Snapple Center today.




Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation

I just had to see the first preview of John Guare's theatrical classic, Six Degrees of Separation on Broadway. After all, I never saw the movie and knew almost nothing about it except the vague notion we all know about everyone being connected and somehow that connection being approx 6 people.

Aside from the few very minor late entrances and missed queues which are inevitable at a first preview, this unexpectedly large cast performed like a well oiled machine.  The modern set (kudos Mark Wendland) was intriguing especially when i sat off to the side at the end.  The two sided Kandinsky painting was a magical centerpiece, rotating high above.

Allison Janey (Ouisa) mastered the script with aplomb and seemed to be the perfect fit for the intelligent, slightly overbearing, and confidently funny and sarcastic wife.  John Benjamin Hickey (Flan) seemed to exude art-dealer and all the eccentricities that go along with that job. Corey Hawkins (Paul) seemed to be born to play the role of con-man - devilishly handsome and debonair, intelligent, well spoken, and slick as all heck.  What I didn't really expect were the neighbors, the neighbors children and a few others like a doorman, and a police officer to fill the cast to such a degree.  For a 3 person play, the cast of 18 filled the stage occasionally.

Trip Cullman's direction seemed to embrace the large stage and use it effectively - keeping the back area a bit fuzzy and unclear which fit the mood perfectly.  Deconstructed in a large Broadway house but not too deconstructed as to be barren.

So what did I think?  It was a bit confusing to follow at times - dialogue is snappy and crisp and if the actors speak over a laugh you might miss a few lines.  This will resolve over time for sure. The full frontal nudity may turn a few people off (certainly not me in any way) - I don't know what the script requires vs what the director interprets.  I was mostly surprised that I really wasn't going to experience a direct "Six Degrees of Separation" - like a trail of person 1 connected to person 2 connected to person 3 etc.... but more the general concept about strangers and how they can be inter-twined in our lives and connected to our friends and we don't even know it- or them - sometimes until it's too late - or sometimes we never really know what happens at all.  I was struck that the central lines of the play fit the concept but not exactly what was happening on the stage.  I guess I am a very linear thinker.

"I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet. The president of the United States. A gondolier in Venice. fill in the names. I find that A) tremendously comforting that we're so close and B) like Chinese water torture that we're so close. Because you have to find the right six people to make the connection. It's not just big names. It's anyone. A native in a rain forest. A Tierra del Fuegan. An Eskimo. I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people. It's a profound thought. How Paul found us. How to find the man whose son he pretends to be. Or perhaps is his son, although I doubt it. How every person is a new door, opening up into other worlds. Six degrees of separation between me and everyone else on this planet. But to find the right six people...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Lilian Hellman's The Little Foxes

The only thing I did not like about this production was its title.  I hate it when an author feels that their name needs to be attached to the title - ala Edward Albee.  Now, onto all the good stuff.

Daniel Sullivan's directorial job could not have been more different from the last time I saw this show at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2010 with Ivo Van Hove at the helm.  This time, with Mr. Sullivan's fine vision, I really felt I was in the South.  The set (kudos Scott Pask) was a magnificent reproduction of a fine southern home.  (Boy those stairs seemed very steep!). Completely contrary to Mr. Van Hove's bare set and modern costumes - context really does make the story come alive in a way Mr. Van Hove could not replicate although his production certainly succeeded in many aspects that I won't go into now.

As you may know, The two leads, Regina Giddens (Laura Linney on my night) and Birdie Hubbard (Cynthia Nixon on my night) trade roles regularly!  I immediately thought that the casting as I saw it may have been the better combo - but these two actresses are masters of their craft and I left the theater thinking what a different person each one must inhabit as they trade roles.

And what a tremendous supporting cast these two marvelous actresses get the pleasure of working with.  Regina's brothers, Michael McKean (Ben Hubbard) and Darren Goldstein (Ben Hubbard) are the perfect mix of evil and jocularity.  Richard Thomas (Horrace Giddens) doesn't appear until Act II and when he does it is evident he knows how to inhabit his deceptively revengeful character with aplomb.

Ms. Hellman really does bring this family to the brink and then back again.  What a pleasure it was to watch these fine actors take their evil and deceptive journey each night deep in the south way back in 1900.  Which cast did you see?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Daniel's Husband

Who on earth WOULDN'T want to marry (Ryan Spahn).... um... i mean Daniel Bixby?  In Michael McKeever's play now in previews at the Cherry Lane Theatre, that would be Daniel's partner, Mitchell Howard (Matthew Montelongo).  

Successful, drippingly boyish, handsome, confident - Daniel wants to marry his partner of 7 years.  They are in love, they live together, and they are just the "perfect" couple.   The trouble is, Mitchell, his partner, doesn't believe in marriage (gay or otherwise).  He's got that old-school view of the gay culture being a counter-culture - we are different, we do not want what they want - these are the themes of his argument against marriage - which he interjects into his un-ending commitment and love for Daniel.

Mr. McKeever starts laying out a rather entertaining story not atypical of many gay men - successful, big incomes, fun evenings, good wine.  Of course he is probably obliged to throw in an overbearing motherly character in Lydia Bixby (Anna Holbrook) who turns out to be more than the butt of several jokes. Daniel and Mitchell are devoted to each other and enjoying the good life together in today's world that is mostly accepting.  They are sticking with each other and there is no doubt about it.  Full stop.

However, when an unexpected event occurs that literally tears at the fibers of their relationship and beings, we learn the true colors of family and friends (kudos uber adorable Lealand Wheeler (Trip) and Barry Dylon (Lou Liberatore) and the tragic consequences of more than one action not taken whether for good reasons at the time or not.

Incredibly humorous turns devastatingly tragic in a mere 90 minutes.  Sometimes we argue about concepts and principles and forget there could be (as slight as the chance could be) some real world consequences to our actions.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Church & State

It's not often that a play grabs you and shakes you to the core. Church & State by Jason Odell Williams is one such play.  Presented 8 times a week over at New World Stages, Mr. Williams' new play is a wonderful amalgamation of politics and religion.  It may have a point of view, but it certainly treats all sides fairly.  Quite frankly it may go out of its way to give you a balanced look at the many issues in its hopper.

Rob Nagle aptly plays Senator Charles Whitmore of North Carolina with his southern charm and deeply held beliefs in God and Guns.  Or perhaps they do not run as deep as he thought.  His wife, Sara Whitmore (Nadia Bowers), is certainly the personification of a southern belle who loves Jesus more than her Manolos (well it is a close call).  Leading his senatorial reelection campaign is the uber-neurotic New York campaign manager, Alex Klein (Christa Scott-Reed).  Together these three form a triangle of tension, dialogue, and conflict.

Without giving anything away - be ready for something shocking to occur when u least expect it.  The exceptionally inclusive subject matter allows all sides of the characters, their beliefs, and doubts to be explored.  Make no mistake, the action unfolds in a deliberate manner to garner the highest dramatic effect - and by high i mean stratospheric.

This play is just in its infancy and the goal of the producers (we learned at the talk back after the show) is to present it all over the south and many other "RED" states.   While impact-ful the play is never preachy or extremely biased.  A great piece of theater at a very opportune time.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Profane

This one by Zayd Dohrn creeps up on you.  In the beginning you are quite sure there will be some cultural issues - but even up to intermission you are not entirely sure with whom they will be.  Turns out the playwright perhaps could have done a better job, at least earlier on, of identifying the beliefs and points of view of the characters.

Not all is lost, however.  Once you pick up on the family and cultural disconnects, you're fine.  Both families are Muslim, which, as stated is not clear up front.  You first meet Raif (Ali Reza Farahnakian) and his family Emina (Tala Ashe), Aisa/Dania (Francis Benhamou) and wife Naja (Heather Raffo).  His daughter is bringing home a boy Sam (Babak Tafti) for an unspecified reason. It is not until Act II that we meet Peter's family Peter (Ramsey Faragallah) and his wife Carmen (Lanna Joffrey).  Cleverly disguised as a mysterious member of the family is again Francis Benjamou.  This is where the plot thickens.

The gist of the plot is that two Muslim families really have two entirely different beliefs and outlooks on religion, culture, freedom, and America itself.  Yes - it turns out to be true that Islam is not a one-size-fits-all religion.   Worry not, religion is never even brought up - this entire conflict is brought up by placing the two children at the center of the family drama.

Without spoiling what goes on- suffice to say that the play explores many avenues and points of view and does not really take one - but rather plays out the inevitable clash between them.  There's definitely another play in here - as there were too many unexplored avenues and opportunities to explore characters more.  And I would certainly look forward to hearing the playwrights expounding on any number of the avenues he explored in this excellent family drama.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Performeteria

 A very interesting concept to promote off-off-Broadway. Multiple theatre companies perform skits and short performances in a large space where the audience roams around and sees different things throughout the night.

As long as the performances are good - you're hooked and it's a fun evening.  However one or two more than the usual unusual and you're having a not-so-good evening. I had a pretty decent time.  Don't worry, there are bound to be some interesting, off-beat things u will enjoy and discover.  There are more performances than you have time to see so study up in advance and research what you like. We saw dance, performance art, an excerpt from a creative show, and two short plays.  All good.  All unique.  All provided the opportunity to explore the theater company or author/performer in more detail later.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Michael Cerveris and his Accomplices

The larger story here is that the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, which is a remarkable organization on Bleecker Street in NoHo, is presenting a series called Convergences.   It's an Indie Artist Series - which showcases artists at the cross-roads of two or more careers (acting, singing, writing, performing, etc.).  Tonight's installment was the always-gracious and ever-talented Michael Cerveris.  Some might never even know the star of stage and screen (he was a regular on The Good Wife, among other things) had a band?   And that's exactly the point of this series.

For Mr. Cerveris it is the opportunity to grace us with his angelic voice and his incredible humility and talent.  His band is a big one - strings, woodwinds, piano, guitars and more!  And what a lush sound they produce backed by the potent vocals of a truly multi-talented leading man.

Mr. Cerveris has a prior album out there - Dog Eared from which he performed several numbers.  He now also has a second album, Piety, recorded at the famed Piety Street Studio in New Orleans with many of his New Orleans musician friends.  Boy oh boy, does Mr. Cerevis have musician friends too - among them Pete Townshend (he plays a guitar he received as a gift from Mr. Townshend).  He also frequents Joe's Pub and 54 Below right here in New York City.

Among my favorites from his 2 distinct sets were Evangeline and Tenth Grade (written by Michael Cerveris, as was everything from his first set) and Life on Mars (David Bowie), Pony Girl (Janine Tesori and Lisa Kron from Fun Home), and Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) from the 2nd set.  I could think of no better way to end the show in his encore with a rousing rendition of Pinball Wizard by the iconic Pete Townshend / The Who.

Truly multi-talented and not seen nearly enough on a Broadway stage, Mr. Cerevis is a pleasure to watch, enjoy, and appreciate in virtually any venue he appears.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Play That Goes Wrong

 What could possibly go wrong?  In Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields' new play, just about everything is the correct answer.  Costumes, props, sets, and lighting are safely in this category during the approximate 2 hour show.

It's slapstick.  It's physical comedy.  Doors slamming, pictures falling down, Sets falling down. Props switched, missing, and used incorrectly.  It's a mad-cap evening with this play within a play.  You're supposed to be there to watch a small fledgling theatre troupe put on a play entitled Murder at the Havesaham Manor.  What ensues is nothing short of complete mix ups and mayhem. Actors get knocked out.  Sets fall apart and literally collapse with actors atop them.  The elevator literally explodes and that damn front door just won't stay closed.

The actors in this play within a play are true hams.  It doesn't hurt that the book writers also star in their own madcap comedy.   Sound guy Trevor (Rob Falconer) could care less about his job and it shows.  Jonathan Sayer (book) takes a role as Max the butler with hysterical results. Henry Lewis (book) takes on a role as the outrageous brother Robert.  Henry Shields (book) takes on the role of Chris.  Nancy Zamit (Annie) a backstage gal does battle with Charlie Russell (Sandra) the onstage actress to see who will be standing to play the role of the heroine.  There are a few other cast members but if there was ever the case that an ensemble needed to hang it all together, this is the one.

All in all it's a Noises Off kind of comedy - extremely physical where timing is key.  On the first public performance here in the USA, this British sensation was banging on all cylinders. When the curtain comes down (along with the set) you'll find yourself just as exhausted as the actors from all the hilarity and laughter.

For some it may be a bit over the top but I'm going to guess if you don't like this kind of play you won't be buying a ticket anyway.  There's an audience for this kind of play and I suspect they will show up at the theater to see what could possibly go wrong.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Man From Nebraska

Powerhouse Tracy Letts penned a killer show several years ago - August Osage County - family drama - intense - drug fueled.  Wowza.  His latest installment off-Broadway, Man From Nebraska, is far from that prior mark. Intentional, I'm pretty sure.  This show is brooding, show, vacuous, empty, hopeless, and depressing.  This is not all necessarily bad, it just leaves you quite a different taste in your mouth than the prior installment. Sometimes life throws you curve balls.  Some people swerve to avoid them, others get beamed directly in the head.  Such is life.

Probably the hardest working actor on and off Broadway, Reed Birney, (Ken) helms this production and is basically whom the entire show revolves around Ken and his mid-life religious crisis.  Kathleen Peirce (Cammie Carpenter) is his devoutly religious wife who is left to deal with the fallout.  It was not lost on me that Ken was from dead-center America where religion is much more central to the lives of people.  Ken meets Harry Brown , the brilliant Max Gordon Moore and Tamyra, the lovely Nana Mensah.  It also did not get lost on me that in his mid-life crisis he flew the coop to London - a city that could not be more different than Nebraska.  Mr. Letts seemed to be hinting at these disparities in quite a bit of the dialogue - (Ken: "I lost my faith", Tamyra: "They throw you Yanks out for that these days?").

Part blistering critique of religion and America, part human condition, Mr. Letts shows us what happens when man questions long held beliefs as provincial and narrow as they might seem.  He may or may not find something more satisfying out there.  He may come back. Or maybe he won't.  Despite the rather hum-drum and depressing Nebraska life that Ken leads, we do find that he is able to expand his horizons if even for a brief period.

Frankly Mr. Letts' play doesn't really answer the question it merely scratches the surface and explores the topic.  If you are looking for definitive answers you won't find them here.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Object Lesson

It seems the entire season at New York Theater Workshop is one full of "alternate theater".  In the latest installment - once again - we have a non-theater "experience" rather than standard drama.  NYTW - it's getting a little old - and it became literally uncomfortable 2 shows ago.

Geoff Sobelle is indeed a unique individual.  He wrote and stars in his one man show, The Object Lesson.  It is not so much a show as it is performance art.  There is only a vague reference to what I understand is the message behind the play - memories, keeping things, packing them up and where they end up.  The entire evening seems to be a metaphor for the concept.  The only thing is - nobody bothered to tell us.  The audience is in the dark watching Sobelle ramble on about France and a traffic light, make salad for an audience member with ice skates, and have a conversation with himself (this was clever) and have a non-verbal performance pulling endless items out of a bottomless box.

If that were not bad enough, we all sat on wooden/cardboard boxes for 100 minutes of this torture.  Enough is enough NYTW.  Did you forget how to put on a normal play where the actor is on stage and the audience is in a comfortable seat?  I get it - you're Avant-Garde.  Well if you continue down this path you will be nothing more than a traveling circus.  Maybe that's a good idea since Ringling Brothers is no longer in business.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Penitent

A classic David Mamet subject without his signature style of endless cursing.  Mr. Mamet has penned a moral and ethical dilemma that really has no answer but leaves lots of questions.  It's done in an ingenious style of giving you only some of the facts, making you guess at others and revealing a key element right at the end - which only serves to make you reflect back upon the entire play, who said what and how it fits with this new-found nugget of knowledge.  Mr. Mamet cleverly weaves a legal issue (murder) with homosexuality (a murder committed by a gay boy) and religion (his doctor seems to have some opinions on both matters).

I am no Mamet expert.  Frankly I'm no expert, period.  However, upon reflections on the events in the play, for some reason, I am driven to conclude that Mr. Mamet's ultimate goal is to rip religion a new asshole for being used as a cover and an excuse all too often.  I could be wrong, but I really think the doctor may not have been a deeply religious man, but when he made a mistake with his patient (which involves a gun) he may have felt it OK to cover his mistake with an even bigger lie about his religious beliefs.  Like I said, I'm no expert, but If someone did what the doctor's wife reveals at the very end, I can't imagine how anyone could allow it to happen - sworn Hippocratic oath or not.

I will say that Chris Bauer (Charles) held court in most every scene with his own strong convictions and beliefs.  His wife (Kath) Rebecca Pidgeon was a bit stilted and awkward.  Not sure if that was intentional or it was just a lack of performances to master the Mamet style dialogue.  Lawrence Gilliard (The Attorney) provided a brilliant and impeccable performance poking holes in the doctor's statements during a remarkable deposition scene. Jordan Lage (Richard) was a stalwart defense attorney to Charles.

Head on over to the Atlantic Theatre on West 20th and catch a performance of a gripping and thought provoking drama.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Linda

She's a power player.  She's stunning at 50 - always was and will be for quite a while longer.  She's successful, strong, and confident.  She was on a mission when she started her career - change the world - one face at a time.  Beauty products - with a message and values.  In Penelope Skinner's new play, Linda appears to have it all - however behind the scenes cracks are beginning to show - with her husband, her daughters, and her career itself.

Janie Dee (Linda Wilde) takes the stage and wrings every last drop out of it.  She takes no prisoners.  Her daughters Jennifer Ikeda (Alice) and Molly Ranson (Bridget) bring both joy and angst to Linda's life.  As the show progresses we see how life is changing around her ideals and how they just might not work for her anymore.  Molly Griggs (Amy) throws quite possibly the biggest wrench in the works.

The play is a tour de force with only minor wrinkles and distractions.  Top notch directing by artistic director Lynne Meadow brings this show to a formidable life.  Linda has to look herself in the mirror every day.  Go see what she comes of it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tell Hector I Miss Him

This is a slice through and through of one small ally in Puerto Rico but represents so much more.  An entire ethnic cast with a uniquely ethnic subject.  The bowels of Puerto Rico - old San Juan it says, but frankly it could be the corner of 118th and Lexington too. A finer casting of purely ethnic actors is rare to be found.  At home in their accents and culture, these actors are free to explore the dialogue and the emotions translated from Playwright Paola Lazaro's head to the page and back onto the stage.  And a remarkable job they do.

Done in vignettes, the play has a large cast and many story lines some of which overlap, others do not.  Ideas of hope and despair, escape and entrapment, and love and family vs abandonment and homelessness abound.


The fine cast includes Victor Almanzar (Jeison), Sean Carvajal (Palito), Alexander Flores (Tono), Yadira Guevara-Prip (Isis), Juan Carlos Hernandez (Mostro), Selenis Leyva (Samira), Talene Monahon (La Gata), Flaco Navaja (Hugo), Dascha Polanco (Malena), Lisa Ramirez (Mami), Luis Vega (El Mago), Analisa Velez (Tati).  

Be warned this play leaves no topic un-touched.  when a play opens up with two people having sex - you know you're in for a bumpy ride - just how bumpy and who these two people are I will leave un-spoken in this review.  Plenty of smoking.  Drugs and alcohol abound.  There's even a gun.  Life on the bottom rung is a tough one and these fine actors do their best to show you just how tough it is to live here and even more so to leave.