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Photo by Don Kellogg

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.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

NEWSical

It's not really that good, but it's light hearted, silly, and delivers what it promises - entertainment.  It's not really a musical, nor is it a play - it's really just like an extended SNL skit.  If you remember the Forbidden Broadway properties - this is no different - scathing and silly riffs on popular culture, news and politics.  It's like they're making fun of Entertainment Tonight.

The cast seems to ebb and flow and as a matter of principle I was not happy that there was no Playbill.  NO PLAYBILL?  How do I know who the actors are?  Well, I suspect it is partially because the producers are cheap and that the cast and material changes so frequently that they could never be able to keep up.  The songs are like little ditties - i assume adaptable to whatever the news (lyrics) of the day are.

The cast I saw included the surprisingly fit Mark West, and the devilishly handsome Taylor Crousore. Listed in the credits is Christine Pedi, whom I was looking forward to see but was no where to be found. I assume that Susan Mosher and Carly Sakolove were the other two women but really have no way to verify this BECAUSE I HAD NO PLAYBILL.  I suppose the skits and songs are flexible enough to re-arrange the show on a regular basis.

The ensemble is OK.  In various combinations they did their schtick, but I think even the performers know who their audience is and how utterly unimportant it is to be good.  For the price of a TDF ticket it was well worth the 75 minutes of humor.  Much more and even a tourist might be disappointed.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Othello

It's a hoity-toity theatre event.  The East Village.  New York Theatre Workshop.  Shakespeare reimagined.  Sam Gold directed.  Stars.  The audience physically contained in a plywood encased barracks crafted in what once was the theatre. Stark lighting.  Extremely uncomfortable wooden seating - especially for a daunting 3+ hour runtime.  A trend that is much like the "actors are musicians on stage the whole time" we experienced a few years back.

By any measure, this one is a limousine liberal's wet dream.  And if you really like Shakespeare, it is unclear if you will even appreciate this production.  I can only say this from reading reviews and blogs by people who both love and revere the man.   I, for one, do not like Shakespeare much.  At intermission I left.  There was no love lost - just 90 minutes of my life.

Clearly this is a serious work.  Clearly Shakespeare is powerful stuff.  Much of that was lost on me.  I was bored to tears.  Nobody talks like this.  Nobody speaks in research paper paragraph monologues. Throw in Daniel Craig (Lago) and David Oyelowo (Othello).  They sold out the run before they even spoke a word earlier this season.  The acting I saw was absolutely top notch.  Creatively, the juxtaposition of the language with the plywood barracks and modern military outfits and street clothes was mostly jarring.  This is not your grandfather's classic Shakespeare.  Most of those who were interested by just hearing about it will love it. I doubt this will turn any undecided voters into Shakespeare lovers.

Save your ass.  Save your evening.  Read about it in the Arts & Leisure section of the NY Times.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Love Love Love

One of the things I most enjoyed about Mike Bartlett's play is the ease at which he gets the audience just before he slides the knife in.  Biting, cunning, humorous, and genuinely quite an accurate indictment he makes of the Baby Boomer generation (with a dash of Millennial choke-on-this thrown in).


Three acts.  Three different times. One family.  Husband and wife meet at 19 yo kids in London in Act I.  Idealistic, free-thinking, oxford types -break the mold 60's is the time. We watch them rebel against authority, their parents, and ultimately themselves (the brothers).  When we slide into Act II, we are in the 80's.  Free thinkers all grown up - still smart, still entitled, and still thinking they are on top of the world - but now they have their own kids... their own problems... their own demons - yes - we see them generally neglect their children, fight, drink, smoke, and act exactly like the ME generation they were.  Clearly the family if affected.  We learn just how much at the end of Act II,   
As we glide into Act III we are now in the 90's - although they seem to have taken some liberties with an iPad and cell phones (i think that is the millennial mixture thrown in just to stir the pot even more). Parents are still assholes.  Funny, but assholes.  Kids are still damaged - some more than others although the parents wouldn't even notice because that would be admitting to something they don't want to deal with.  The younger generation drives this act - and we start to see the millennial whine and complain about their awful parents who have it all and they have none.
This ensemble cast is superb Richard Armitage (Kenneth, father), Alex Hurt (Henry, brother), Amy Ryan (Sandra, wife), Zoe Kazan (Rose, daughter), Ben Rosenfeld (Jamie, son),  Sets, divine and period appropriate (Derek McLane).  Michael Mayer must have had so much fun directing this one - letting some lines hang - and pounding others down our throats.

If you don't think enough wine was poured in Act II and III - just top yourself off before you head over to the Laura Pels off-Broadway house for Roundabout Theatre Company.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Ride The Cyclone

I did not see this show in Chicago  or elsewhere, however after reviewing the photos and old new articles and reviews, it is evident to me just how much a show grows as it steps through it's maturation process by moving from out of town to an off-Broadway theater.  Ride the Cyclone has done this by moving to MCC and the Lucile Lortel Theatre.

Ironically, the show is set in a carnival like atmosphere.  The soothsaying head in a booth, the roller coaster, the amusement park freak-show feel - all parts of the show that fit in the Lortel quite nicely - it's a total dump and has been for years.

Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond have penned quite the musical with a message and a heart.  I must admit, it seemed geared for adolescents.  It felt a little like a NYMF show.  However, the show was executed so well and so crisply, I could have imagined being in a Broadway theatre.  Moving cities, upgrading costumes, enhancing the set have all done this show a huge favor although I suspect the bones of this show were always solid.

The cast, as you would expect, is all kids.  Talented kids.  Very good looking kids dripping with pent up sexual and vocal energies.  You get to "meet" each one of them as they spin the dial of the slot machine of life - a clever expository device that fits nicely into the carney atmosphere.  Frankly the only "adult" (over 25) on the stage the entire time is The Amazing Karnak (Karl Hamilton) who is the illuminated head and hands in the booth with his crystal ball.  You only see his real face at the curtain call but his voice is one that could read you the phone book and you'd be mesmerized.

Being a show of teenage angst, relationships and friendships along with a twisted story of a purgatory-like experience for these kids, makes this show perfectly positioned to capture the hearts of a millennial audience.  Mischa Bachinski (Gus Halpert) and his Russian accent and crotch grabbing rap number drips with sexuality (shirt off doesn't hurt).  Noel Gruber (Kholby Wardell) is absolutely divine as an adorable gay student but even more so as his cheap french whore persona deep down inside. (Kholby is Canadian so now I want to marry him!) Ricky Potts (Alex Wyse) is cute, absolutely adorable and surprisingly powerful in his alternate (and sexy) persona too.

One would never think a show about 6 dead teenagers would be so fun, uplifting, and entertaining, but given the macabre nature of the material, one has to look beyond the obvious and dream a little along side these youngsters.  It doesn't help that the fortune teller (Karnak) has quite the dark sense of humor.  If you need an exhilarating experience in the theatre, head over to the Lortel and go for a wild ride with Cyclone!

Friday, November 25, 2016

In Transit

We have a new incarnation of a show I saw off-Broadway in 2010 at 59E59 Theater.  It really does take time to stew, to mature, and frankly to get the funds to mount an attack on Broadway.  Of course you have to be good, but there was never any doubt even when I saw this show back 6 years ago that it was a keeper.   Penned by a group of tremendously talented singers and artists - this a-capella musical  may not contain the solution to solving world hunger or climate change - but it does most assuredly entertain.  Are the stories fluffy, probably.  Are they stereotypical, likely.  But for sure, they are fun, they are mostly real, and definitely New York stories.


The subway.  The bowels all New Yorkers hate and equally need.  They're dirty, they're crowded, and they are what brings us all together gets us where we are going - both literally and figuratively.  This time around I am fairly sure the main components of the story have remained but without a video tape to watch the prior performance and only memory to go on, I'd say it was basically tightened, honed, and amp'd up just a bit for the Broadway.  There's still a gay couple, Trent (Justin Guarini) and Steven (Telly Leung) with a wedding problem, an actress, Jane (Margo Seibert) looking for her big break, a spot-on subway clerk, Althea, behind the glass (Moya Angela), a wall street guy , Nate, who made a little email mistake trying to make a change (James Snyder), and of course a beat-boxer extraordinaire, Boxman, (Steven "Heaven" Cantor).

All the sounds you hear come from someone's vocal cords - no instruments, all vocals.  Subway seats fly on and fly off - actors parade back and forth on a narrow stage close up to the audience to reveal their stories in the round and up a flight of stairs on a platform above the tracks. Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, the movements are brisk, crisp, and keep the show's train moving forward. Love is lost, then found again.  Friends and enemies are made and the zany antics of the subway are ever present.

This incarnation of the show is zippy, toe-tapping, touching, and upbeat with a heartwarming message.  Some might say sappy, others would just say fun.  Head over to Circle in the Square and head Deep Beneath the City in more ways than one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Babylon Line

Richard Greenberg has penned yet another fascinating character study - this time 1960's Long Island - Levittown, specifically.  There's quite a storied history to Levittown and apparently now a few of its residents too.

The Babylon Line is a memory play - which may make some uncomfortable - especially when you get to the end and have to reflect back on what version of his memories was the true version.


A terrific ensemble cast of characters - and characters, they were indeed.  Leading the class is the New York City frustrated writer Aaron Port (Josh Radnor).  His suburban students include a trio of gossipy Jewish housewives - the indomitable Frieda Cohan (Randy Graff), slightly ditzy Anna Cantor (Maddie Corman), and struggling writer Midge Braverman (Julie Halston).  But it also includes a war-vet Jack Hassenpflug (Frank Wood) and off-beat local boy Marc Adams (Michael Oberholtzer).  Not to be left out is the out-of-place in Levittown, off-beat, Joan Dellamond (Elizabeth Reaser).

Mr. Greenberg certainly knows how to tell a story - and what a tangled web he does weave way out on the Babylon Line once a week in Levittown!  Sassy housewives, off-beat interlopers, and a writing class that was likely second choice on many of the attendees lists.  Once we get into the class the story develops and envelops you (mostly through the lighting) in to the lives, both current as past, of these delicious and mysterious characters.

It was not lost on this audience member that Mr. Greenberg slyly linked one of the housewives to another character in one of his other plays that was recently on Broadway - Our Mother's Brief Affair.  Tough, tender, interesting, a bit of Long Island history, and a generally magical evening in the theatre.  Could Mr. Greenberg nip and tuck in a few scenes, sure.  Did it matter, not very much.  What is the true story? I'll leave it up to you to decide.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Rancho Viejo

Where do I start?  It was Awful, with a capital 'A'.  Underlined 3 times.  No, it was not the too-late-to-leave notice given by the director (Daniel Aukin)before the show started that the SET was incomplete (it was their fourth preview and i was not aware that they should be BUILDING sets at this point (maybe changing the color of a wall or moving a potted plant.).  No, it was not the fact that the play was 3 hours 15 minutes.  (August Osage County was just as long and was Amazing, with a capital 'A').  What was it, you ask?  THE MATERIAL.  Dan LeFranc has written some excellent pieces for the theater.  One of my favorites is The Big Meal.  Unfortunately, Rancho Viejo comes from some deep, dark, mysterious place that should never have been explored.

The characters are uninteresting, and mysteriously underdeveloped (too many questions about where they came from and how they got to be the way they are and why they even socialize).  I do realize they are all caricatures,  exaggerations of aspects and elements of people we see everyday - exaggerated to the point of farce I might note.  The dialogue is stilted, slow, and awkward.  The conversations are "slit-your-wrists" banal and insipid.  I get it, these people are trapped, lost, insignificant, and human. They are wondering about life.  But did they have to be so damn boring and last for 3 hours??

Now, despite the deep deficit in the material, the actors were magnificent.  Pete (Mark Blum) and Mary (Mare Winningham) were the chief weirdos, carrying the story, well, not forward, but at least from 8 O'clock to 11 o'clock.  Such awkwardness.  Such sadness and mystery.  Patti (Julia Duffy) stole the show with her looks and glances and her so clearly inappropriate comments.  Husband, Gary (Mark Zeisler) was Mister loudmouth obnoxious straight man.  Enough said.  Suzanne (Lusia Strus) drank more wine and had more one-liners than a night at a comedy festival.  Hubby Leon (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) was possibly the most normal (and youngest) spouse in the bunch.  Mike (Bill Buell) and Anita (Ruth Aguilar) were the comic relief although note to playwright and director - when you write whole monologues in Spanish (not just one of those "you-get-the-idea" dialogues, you lose the audience.  The absolutely adorable (even more-so with his shirt off) yet entirely creepy Tate (Ethan Dubin) was a complete mystery to me from start to finish.  No clue what we were supposed to get from this bizarre character who had almost nothing to do with these people.  And for the record, do we really need a dog (Mochi played by Marti) in the show?  Yes, it was cute.  No it was not necessary and everyone could hear the dog trainer/coach off stage snapping and issuing commands.

I'm not entirely clear, because we got no actual confirmation what part of the set was incomplete, but I think they should light the living room, which is used over and over differently (color/hue), to make it seem like it's not the same damn sectional sofa and pillows in the same damn house the entire time. At least change out the pillow colors or something. (Matt Frey, Dane Laffrey)

If you think my review is bad so far, wait till you hear about Act III.  No set to speak of. (Seriously you need to be finished with your set by the 4th preview).  A bizarre scene on the beach that was out of left field.  Modern dance.  A Cactus.  Fog.  Coyotes.  A straight jacket.  A shirtless boy. Surgery for a hole in the eyeball.  More teeth-brushing everywhere but the bathroom.  Many of the guns pulled out in Act I and II remained un-used.  Limited resolution.  More questions.  Little hope.

Save yourself from eternal damnation and stay home.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Band's Visit

This Atlantic show was supposed to be a Hal Prince directed musical.  Schedules conflicted and alas, we have a David Cromer directed, Itmar Moses penned, adaptation of the Eran Kolirin screenplay.   I have to say, I expected a lot more from Mr. Moses based on his previous works.  However, I must temper that by saying that this is not Mr. Moses' original work - it is an adaptation of what I imagine is a fairly vacuous and empty movie itself.  Think indie flick.    Perhaps the big screen brings something magical to this story - I would not know, as I have not seen it.  But I can tell you that the stage does nothing for this rather banal, slow, and fairly pointless and somewhat empty show. Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek are at times sublime and at others baffling but overall, his melody and tone hits it right given the off-beat material.

My thought immediately following the end of the show was "what a waste of a role for both Tony Shalhoub and even more so for John Cariani.  "Monk" (Shalhoub) as he is known by his adoring TV fans has a rather reserved leading part with little fat to chew on.  Mr. Cariani just rolled off a hit Broadway musical, Something Rotten and while actors must exercise their range, the part he plays here is dumbfoundingly bizare and odd.  The plot centers around an Egyptian ceremonial orchestra (in fully military style uniforms) visiting Israel for a concert but get diverted to the wrong town in the middle of nowhere (because the same town exists spelled with a "P" and a "V" (foreign accents, mishap, oops) and have to spend the night with the locals.  Not much ensues.

Kudos for casting many ethnic actors and providing a platform for mildly exploring the topic of inter-ethnic conflict and tension - but only mildly as this is really not the focus of the play.  I will say, however, that a feeling of uncomfortability permeated the air throughout the evening all the way to the very (predictable) theatrical ending.

Perhaps Mr. Prince would have made different theatrical decisions?  We'll never know.  The stage was as vacuous and empty as the material and most of the performances save a few.  It's a good thing a delicious pan of Paella was awaiting me after the show to cure my hunger.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

This Day Forward

Upon a bit of reflection this was not the Nicky Silver play I expected.  However, that is not to say that I didn't enjoy it or it wasn't good.  I think Mr. Silver tried some new things here.  At it's core it is him - a broken, very broken, family.  However, I think he tried something new with Act I which may or may not have been successful.  Certainly Act 2 was a Nicky Silver play indeed.

In Act 1 we meet Irene and Martin - two young newlyweds in 1958.  I think this is where Mr. Silver's signature style clashed with the time.  Nicky Silver writes plays for today - not yesterday and his style has to be modified to exist in the past.  His characters had to be too much farce and not enough meat.  They have to be like caricatures to exist.  The devilishly handsomely and hunky young Andrew Burnap (Donald the bellhop) was too mean, too quick to explode, and too much a cartoon.  Michael Crane (Martin) and Holley Fein (young Irene) were too stilted and seemed to cover the same dialogue ground over and over - we got the point the first time.  Joe Tippett, the other blue eyed dreamboat (Emil) was a bit too exaggerated - I guess so that you got the point that he was different from Martin.  It wasn't as believable as it could have been,  June Gable (Melka/older Irene) was by far the best actress on the stage.  With a funny schtick in Act I and a serious and still amusing and convincing part in Act II.

Structurally, Mr. Silver has a great idea - 1958 and fast forward to 2004 two generations living the consequence of what we saw in Act 1.  He cleverly disguised the "here's what happened since" in all the dialogue and conversations.  Francesca Faridany (Shella) is spot on as the neurotic, pill popping, exasperated daughter in Act II.

Mr. Burnap and Mr Crane are now a couple (Mr. Burnap is even more dreamy).  Ms Gable takes the role of older Irene and Mr. Tippett and Ms. Fain make a cameo appearance at the end.  Act II is by far the more biting, acerbic, and serious of the two acts and judging from the audience reaction - the more successful and satisfying of the two as well.

The sets, which are usually not a Vineyard hallmark, were absolutely fantastic in both acts - Kudos Allen Moyer.  I happened to see the play on its first preview - which I only learned after it was over - and commented to myself that I would never have guessed - performances were already spiffy.  They have some things to work on of course but nothing to dash my full throated endorsement of yet another gem playing over at the Vineyard Theatre on West 15th.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Notes From the Field

While they have cut the inappropriate sub-title from the playbill, they have not cut it from the marketing material.  While this play touches on education is is absolutely not about "doing time in education" as its previous title and marketing might suggest.

Another one-woman show, Notes From The Field, is helmed by the indomitable Anna Deavere Smith.  The show is less of a theatrical production, but rather a lecture on race, racial inequality, and discrimination.  I am happy to have seen it, but, once again, quite disappointed that a subscription theatre company choose to represent it as a play in its season.

The show as described by video headlines projected in the theatre before the show starts is quite literally a patchwork of interviews that Ms. Deavere Smith conducted with various people in doing research on the prison population, education system, and police violence.  The show, when it covered the prison system and the education system, really hit high notes.  However, Ms. Deveare Smith seemed to have a need to highlight police brutality and the recent headline stories like Freedy Grey and Shakira (the girl who was flipped out of her chair by a police officer in a high school classroom).  When it focused on these headlines it strayed from its core message and ended up in sensationalism-land not really connecting these stories to eduction quite as much.

The video projections were superb and filled the stage with live video/news clips (Elaine McCarthy). However, the disjointed panels onto which they were projected were a poor choice as they text and sub-titles that usually accompanied the video was often un-readable and chopped up (Riccardo Hernandez).  Ms. Deavere Smith is clearly intelligent and passionate about her research.  She becomes the characters she interviewed - including both voices and mannerisms.  Each scene's title is projected on the proscenium and it was always a line or phrase spoken by the character at some point during the interview.  She closes the show with a quite moving and decidedly accurate portrayal of the legendary US Representative John Lewis.

While once again, I am happy to have seen such an intelligent and moving performance, I do not consider this to be a play that I would have wanted to see.  It was more like a 92nd Street Y performance.  I also wish the emphasis on education was stronger and the sensational racial headlines were less.  An all too liberal white (haired and skinned) audience ate it up and I'm sure on tour in the right northern and northwestern blue states it might be equally successful.  I doubt the places it is most needed and relevant to are on the tour list - and that is a depressing thought.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sell/Buy/Date

In another one-woman show coup - the indomitable Sarah Jones brings her cadre of characters to life in a creative, clever new show Sell/Buy/Date.

Mrs. Jones brings a wide variety of characters to the stage to tell the story in her unique and special way.  Telling the story of sex workers from a future point (2050-ish) in time reflecting on the past back to the "early days" of 2020 - her entertaining angle brings a fresh and clever perspective to an age old issue - we know it as prostitution.

Ms. Jones' characters all have accents, mannerisms, and voices that she flawlessly and seamlessly blends in and out of as they are brought to the stage in her advanced computer program BERT.  She is a college professor with a bit of a mysterious past.  All will be revealed in the show.

The set is appropriately modern (Dane Laffrey).  Lighting (Eric Southern) and sound (Bray Poor) are appropriately crisp and modern.

Ms. Jones has a unique voice and that voice delivers a potent message via all her shows.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Falsettos

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a revival of a much loved show now playing again on Broadway after a long rest.  Falsettos, a book by James Lapine with music and lyrics by William Finn returns to Broadway with great fanfare.  The show is actually two shorter plays, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland combined into one musical.  It seems that in a rush to the stage with the subject matter, Mr. Lapine threw it all together without much thought as to what would look like.  It's cute, tender, and touching - yes.  However, the requisite "he's dying from AIDS" storyline seems a bit disjointed, sloppy, and thrown on the stage in a rush to get it before the public.

Marvin seems a bit mis-cast (Christian Borle).  He's a bit older, he was (tragically) married and has a kid - it was the generation for such nonsense i suppose.   Wizzer (Andrew Rannells) is younger, sexier, and quite clearly gets around as it were.  Even the name of the character seems a bit dated, to be honest.  The performance I attended was quite unique in the fact that both Stephanie J. Block (Trina) and her understudy Courtney Balan (Trina).  A second understudy Stephanie Umoh (Trina) with a mere 2 hours of rehearsal time went on - script in hand.  I was nervous for the first 15 minutes but soon realized she was not going to miss a note, a step, or a line.  In fact she was fantastic.

I sort of wish the entire show was as rewarding as watching an actor really executing her craft with aplomb.  I still do not really know exactly what the falsettos are or were or represent.  Bizarre to say the least.  I think the best character and actor on stage was perhaps Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz).  By far he seems to be comfortable in his own shoes in this show.

While I enjoyed the overall performance, it left me with a feeling of being incomplete, unexplained at times, and disjointed.  The actors seemed mostly mis-cast and the lack of set (mostly a geometric block of shapes that fit together to all sorts of un-identified formations) did not do the production and favors.  I don't see this one lasting very long.  But stranger things have happened.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tick, Tick... Boom!

In what I believe is the first off-Broadway revival since its original 2001 incarnation, Keen Company has brought back Jonathan Larson's pre-rent work, Tick, Tick...Boom! in a magnificent, relevant, and energetic production over at the Acorn Theater on Theatre Row.

Only a 3-hander, this production has cast an amazing trio of actors with tremendous chemistry both vocally and as a true ensemble.  Nick Blaemire (Jonathan), George Salazar (Michael), and Ciara Renee (Susan) bring the auto-biographical work of the late Mr. Larson roaring to life.  Mr. Blaemire is nebbishy enthusiastic about his uber geeky and artistic and anxiety filled role as Jonathan.  Mr. Salazar is cast as the foil to Jonathan's artistic life - a former self-described "good but not good enough" actor and best friend.  Ms. Renee bring powerful vocals, beauty, and general-sexy to the role of Susan. All 3 run the stage for just under 2 hours with nothing but a few sips of water wandering through Mr. Larson's part Broadway, part ballad, part rock and roll lyrics and musical performances.  Of special note, Mr. Blaemire actually plays the piano very well - (i just hate it when the actors fake it).

This show was written pre-Rent but is generally auto-biographical in terms of where Mr. Larson was in his life.  I almost wished Jonathan would have tinkered on the keyboard with a tune from Rent just to really tie the two shows together.  Rent, as well, was somewhat auto-biographical in terms of Mr. Larson's life but it was conceived with other people and after this show was written.

The show if not nearly as famous as the aforementioned Rent - nor is it as theatrical or heavy a story. There are not, as in Rent, people parading through New York City or crashing weddings.  This story is a bit smaller in scope and perhaps more personal in nature.  Mr. Larson died suddenly before Rent could be brought to the stage and it is such a shame as we will never know how much more we could have heard from this very talented man.  For now, we will just have to enjoy the beauty of his works such as this through the very talented cast that puts him back on the stage 8 shows a week.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Vietgone

Now playing over at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I at City Center is a remarkable tale - the other side of the proverbial coin - a story about the Vietnam War - told through the eyes of young South Vietnamese refugees.  Even during war - love blooms.

Qui Nguyen (playwright) has penned a journey through the crazy 70's and the Vietnam War.  America is the savior - taking in refugees even while racism abounds.  In Mr. Nguyen's eyes, America is far from perfect - and he actually nails the stereotypical types throughout the south and west.  Raymond Lee (Quang) and Jennifer Ikeda (Tong) are are young, spunky, sexy, refugee lovers searching for peace in their new homeland.  John Hoche, the adorable and sexy Paco Tolson, and Samantha Quan (a plethora of characters each) fill in the comedy, friendship, and family from many angles.

A bit too zany at times (it was the 70's after all) and a bit too long and drawn out in others - this play has a future if tightened and given a general tune up.  Several rap numbers fit well in the Asian genre and the lyrics are quite powerful.  Plenty of potty mouth language to go around.  Mr. Lee's sexy physique is a must for this leading man - both shirt on and shirt off.

The story of the actual South Vietnamese is one we Americans rarely consider. What were they fighting for?  Who were they?   Why did America help and why did it fail?   Not all of these questions get answered in the play but the last 10 minutes of the play will bring the entire piece to a crescendo close.