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Photo by Don Kellogg

Friday, July 7, 2017

Spamilton

The master or parody strikes again.  Gerard Alessandrini has penned yet another spoof - this time based on one show - Hamilton.   However, his shtick involves making fun of the indomitable Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hamilton using the hit songs and divas from the many other big Broadway hits - Hello Dolly, West Side Story, Camelot, Wicked, Book of Mormon, and the list goes on... and on... and on...

Thanks mostly to casting outstanding singers rather than just comedic actors - Mr. Alesandrini reaches the stratosphere of success with this latest hit.

Dan Rosales (Lin-Manuel Miranda) with his long brown locks looks, sounds, and captures the nuances of his real life character.  Nicole Vanessa Ortiz can belt out a tune just like Audra MacDonald and captures many of the nuances of her Hamilton characters as well as the divas that she inhabits.  Chris Anthony Giles and Aaron Michael Ray play two Hamilton side kicks and literally hundreds of others with aplomb.  Newcomer, Erik Hernandez, looking delicious with his shirt on AND even better off, knocks it out of the park.  We even got an appropriately hysterical visit from King George - played with gay-to-the hilt at this performance by Glenn Bassett.

If you're even a tiny fan of musical theatre and enjoyed your Hamilton experience - you will definitely enjoy this slightly more off-beat interpretation!  Go see it, Mr Burr, Sir.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hello Dolly!

Wow, Wow, Wow.  Dancing waiters, gorgeous gowns with gloves, gorgeous sets, fun, frivolity, and a magnificent score by Jerry Herman!  What more could you ask for in a decadent evening at the theatre?  Well, it only gets better when you add the delicious (this July only) Donna Murphy (Dolly Gallagher Levi), the fun and wacky David Hyde Pierce (Horace Vandergelder), the dapper and debonaire Gavin Creel (Cornelius Hackl), the darling and dashing Taylor Trensch (Barnaby Tucker) and the delightful Kate Baldwin (Irene Malloy) along with an ensemble the size of a small town.

This classic made famous by the indomitable Carol Channing roars back to life on Broadway this spring to pure delight.  Sure, the show is old fashioned, but isn't this just what the doctor ordered these days?  The characters are silly, the songs are lush, and the dancing is delicious.  Dolly plods on thru to get her man and makes a few matches along the way from Yonkers to New York City.

I opted to see Ms. Murphy on purpose and she didn't let me down with her spunk, pluck, elegance, and raw talent for playing a character.  Wow, Wow, Wow is an understatement when it comes to this show and this production does not disappoint - the lighting, the sets, the olios (canvases with murals painted on them), the costumes and color along with the music all contribute to the non-stop feeling of exuberance and joy this show brings to the audience.  When we get to the title number in Act II the audience has already contemplated an ovation twice before and at this point it is virtually un-stoppable.

Dolly, whether Ms. Murphy or Ms. Midler, is indeed back where she belongs.  Wow, Wow, Wow!


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fulfillment Center

With a name like this somehow you expect it to be it's namesake - fulfilling.  On the contrary, the play by Abe Koogler, performed on a too narrow runway stage by actors in ordinary street clothes falls flat , is empty, and the characters, all  but Suzan (Deirdre O'Connell), were UN-fulfilled and UN-fulfilling in their development and arc.  Suzan was the most deeply fleshed out character and, as played by Ms. O'Connell, the most juicy and emotionally satisfying of the lot.

A distribution center for a company in New Mexico is the host to this un-remarkable plot.  Alex (Bobby Moreno) and Madeleine (Eboni Booth) are not a couple you would expect.  Alex doesn't seem very smart although he went to B-School, and Madeleine doesn't seem very happy although she sees a therapist regularly (she' a stereotypical New Yorker).  Together they plod through their own un-fulfilling relationship as we wander forward.  Madeleine is the crossover link to John (Frederick Weller) a mysterious and vaguely fleshed out local.  Contrary to Alex, he once was smart, and now, after the ravages of drugs and alcohol (we are lead to believe) he isn't so much any more.  Played with aplomb by Mr. Weller, the character falls flat due to the lack of development and sheer mystery surrounding him.

Overall, this 80 minute play needs a bit more work to have any sort of impact.  The characters are ill-defined and by the time you get to the end of the play, much like Alex, you realize the failure that just unfolded in front of you.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Darrow

In what can only be described as a first-ever theatrical event - the indomitable Kevin Spacey (fresh off hosting the Tony Awards in New York City) put on a one man show depicting the life of the venerable Clarence Darrow - holding court literally on a court - center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium inn Flushing Meadows!  Yes, you read that correctly - on a tennis court.

My journey to the theatre this evening consisted of a subway ride to Penn Station and a train to Mets-Willetts Point where I got off and walked the lovely half mile or so to the tennis center right next to the Mets home stadium - CitiField.  Once at Arthur Ashe Stadium we made our way into the hallowed ground on center court and took our seats at the theatre in the round that Mr. Spacey would soon begin.

The roof was closed and the acoustics weren't the greatest - lots of echoes and planes overhead (nobody called Kennedy to reroute the flights like Mayor Dinkins did).  But that aside Mr. Spacey held court for two acts and about 90-100 minutes - mesmerizing us with the life, trials, and tribulations of one of the nations most exalted attorneys - Clarence Darrow.

This was a first that Mr. Spacey explained after the play he wanted to bring to this unique venue to spur yet even further artistic ventures at the venue.  Quite unique.  Entirely entertaining.  Worth every penny of my TDF ticket and something I certainly recommend if I felt the strength of the vocal performance in the future was enough to fill the cavernous stadium.  Not everything would work in this setting after all.  Mr. Spacey certainly did.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Man In The Ceiling

A new musical isn't easy to nurture and bring to the stage.  Andrew Lippa has penned music and Lyrics to the book by Jules Feiffer to produce a kid-focused yet very adult musical.  Now playing out in Sag Harbor at the Bay Street Theatre, The Man in the Ceiling is truly an opportunity for a young actor to sink his teeth into.  Let's not forget that the music is big, bold, and Broadway-ish.

Jonah Browcow (Jimmy) is an amazingly talented kid who can belt out tune after tune all the while breezing effortlessly across the stage.  It appears to me to be the role of a lifetime for any young kid.  Following the format and story in the book,  this musical follows a kid who just wants to draw and illustrate and his father (Danny Binstock) who just wants him to play softball and be a "normal" kid.  Throw in a caring peace-maker mother (Nicole Parker) and a devoted sister (Erin Kommor) and you have the recipe for a Saturday afternoon movie special - but the music, heart, and story that fills the stage is so much more.  Honestly the only character that didn't quite make much sense or have a fully sussed out role was Charley (Brett Gray) - he could have gone in so many directions but instead went in none.  Leave it to Mr. Lippa to slip into the role of Uncle Lester - the uncle who writes musical theatre!  I assume this was for artistic purposes and not some desire to return to the stage. He's goofy and cute so it all worked - at least in this role.  

All in all, as I seem to say repeatedly there are a few "stop hitting me over the head with this" moments that could be trimmed to shore up this show and make it tight.  It has a great video projected set background as well as the giant puppet (the Man in the ceiling) we only get glimpses at.  Plenty of heart, and a heap of soul, this show will go somewhere next and be better for all the out of town tests.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Marvin's Room

This revival of Marvin's Room may leave you wondering why people revive plays at all - especially when there have been a very successful movie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and had well received original off-Broadway and regional productions.  It would seem that you either have to do as well as the previous two or take your toys from the sandbox and just go home.  This revival is unfortunately the latter case.

Don't get me wrong - Lili Taylor (Bessie) and Janeane Garofalo (Lee) and Celia Weston (Ruth) form a magnificent trio of family lost and floundering with life at large.  But in their efforts - they are flat.  Completely flat.  Other than a few laughs and a few serious moments - I never even felt these 3 women were family.  Neighbors maybe, but family no.  Bring in young Hank (Jack DiFalco) and Charlie (Luca Padovan) and it seems like they all just met at the day care.  No connections whatsoever.

The set is lackluster at best - not a typical Roundabout production at all.  Like everything about this revival - lackluster and bare.  It seems the trend these days - strip away the costumes, the set, the makeup and glamor and lay bare the script for all.  Well, it hasn't always worked in the past, and employing the gimmick this time hasn't either.

It's a touching play (Scott McPherson) but this incarnation left me feeling empty and un-touched. I wanted the subject to move me but a juggernaut this time around this play is not.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Bella: An American Tall Tale

Bella - or Isabella Patterson (Ashley D. Kelley) has a vivid and wild imagination indeed.  When she gets on a train to escape the pursuit of the law and heads west to New Mexico it really kicks into overdrive!  Her whole life, her mother (Kenita R. Miller) , aunt (Marinda Anderson), and grandmother (Natasha Yvette Williams) have known a special power to watch over her - and it is never needed as much as it is needed on this journey!  Bella meets the train conductor, Nathaniel Beckworth, (Brandon Gill) a circus master (Yurel Echezarreta), an Asian cowboy stripper, Tommie Haw, (Paolo Montalban), and many more vivid characters on the journey to meet her true love and betrothed, Aloysius T. Honeycutt (Britton Smith).  Oh the crazy and fun times she has when she falls asleep.  They are like no other.

In Kristen Child's new musical - whatever you see is real... or is it just a dream... what exactly is Bella in trouble for?  What did she do and who wants her back?  Is Aloysius real?  Can she really fly?  One thing is for sure - her booty is big and gives her the powers she needs to overcome just about any adversity.

The music and songs (all Ms. Childs) are delightful - a traditional old Broadway style - toe tappin' and fun.  The dancing is strong despite the tiny stage - which was a delightful stage within a stage due to the nature of the reality vs fantasy aspect of the plot.  Bella has the vocal cords of a giant and a personality to match - I really could picture Jennifer Hudson in the role.  One thing for sure, Ms. Childs infuses the fun and frivolity with serious undertones of race and freedom and gender equality - so that even a lay set in the late 1870's crackles with fresh perspectives.

Playwrights was right to end their season with this gem.  A common theme with plays fresh off the playwright's desk - this one is not different - too long and tries to say too much.  A few scenes cut and a few plot-lines deleted and we have a really fresh smash on our hands in just under 2 hours.  Head over to Playwrights Horizons for a summertime romp!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Kennedy's Children

This is a revival of an older play.  I'm not entirely convinced that it screams "revive me" or "this is all happening again", but it is certainly an interesting, politically relevant, and interesting reminder of an entire generation, what motivated them, what didn't motivate them, and how the decade of the 60's was and how it is remembered.

Robert Patrick's play is a reminder that the 60's was filled with a very diverse group of people eeking their way thru the decade.  Hippies, Vietnam soldiers (otherwise known as kids), Normal people, gays and other alternate lifestyle people, and movie star wannabes.  It's amazing how many of these continue to exist in basically the same way - and equally amazing at how some of them died out with the generation at the end of the decade.  It's also a reminder about sex, drugs, and war - who was for it and who was not - how drugs were used at home and over in the war.  The stories could not have been more different than the actual people themselves.  The 60's was not just one thing - it was war, it was upheaval, it was protest and it was the beginning of freedom for many of those who never quite had it before.

I thought the play was a bit repetitive and ran much longer than need be.  Certain themes were visited over and over quite unnecessarily.  At times the acting was brilliant and riveting - at others mostly due to the character, it was overbearing and over-the-top.

Nicole Greevy (Wanda), Emily Battles (Bartender), Colin Chapin (Sparger), Timothy Regan (Mark), Sara Minisquero (Rona) and Jessica Carollo (Carla) all presided with power and grace each in their own way in the dumpy black box theatre with the most uncomfortable seats in the East Village.  Perhaps the seats were a reminder of just how uncomfortable these characters must all have felt and how uncomfortable this entire decade must have been which was lead by the great loss of our own America Camelot when Kennedy was assassinated. These were all his children.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Government Inspector

What do you get when you combine a 200+ year old play, a movie musical with Danny Kaye, and really good contemporary comedic actors?   Most likely something like Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector now playing over at the Duke on 42nd presented by Red Bull Theater.

The top-notch cast lead by the indomitable and beyond adorable Michael Urie (Ivan Alexandreyevich Hlestakov) and Michael McGrath (Anton Antonovich) is nothing short of comic genius.  Directed by Jesse Berger, this very old gem of a comedy still rings true even in this day and age of cell phones and microchips.  Although the set was an awkward 2 story narrow runway to perform on, the cast seemed to make the best of it - slamming doors and hiding in closets.  This is a slap-stick comedy after all.  And many sticks were indeed slapped.

Mary Testa, no stranger to the theatre, (Anna Andreyevna) takes her over-the-top mother role quite seriously and literally.  The trio of townsfolk, Tom Alan Robbins (The Judge), David Manis (The School Principal), and Steven Derosa (The Hospital Director) could easily be the three stooges - always together - always bumbling. The scene and show stealing character, The Postmaster, played by none other than the ingenious  Arnie Burton, is quite possibly the show's best - as if picking a best with this cast is even possible.   Fill in the cast with chambermaids, waitress, local landowners, and various townsfolk and you've got a recipe for lots of mixups, mayhem, and madness.

The comedy is fresh, the delivery is crisp, and the laughter flows throughout this romp whose opening night is June 1st.  Grab a ticket and get ready for multiple belly laughs with this one.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Animal

In this new play by Claire Lizzimore, you are expected to think... and connect dots... and solve her riddle....  It's not that complicated but it is open to interpretation to a large degree.  No spoilers here, except to say that in the end you will know why she she titled the play "Animal" and who it refers to.

Rachel (Rebecca Hall) and Tom (Morgan Spector) are married and Rachel is troubled.  She is seeing a doctor, Stephen (Greg Keller).  It's all a shade too mysterious, too unclear, too uncertain.  There is a mother in a wheelchair (Kristin Griffith) and a little girl (Fina Strazza) and a quite perfect hunk of a man (David Pegram).  Who are all these people to Rachel and exactly what is going on here?

It's only at the very end that you figure out the what is going on here part - and you'll have to connect the dots as far as who are all these people to Rachel.... but it's an intimate, black box drama that keeps you sitting upright and on the edge of your seat.  Bravo Atlantic Theatre Company.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cost of Living

In Martyna Majok's new play, Cost of Living, we come to realize the cost she is speaking of is mostly the emotional one.  What does it cost a handicapped person?  Is it cheaper to be a survivor of some sort?

Through her at times raw dialogue, Ms. Majok shows us that everyone's life matters, everyone's situation drives them in different directions.  But in the end, we are all in the same boat.

Eddie (Victor Williams) is a survivor and a fighter; Jess (Jolly Abraham) is a mysterious gal who may or may not have gone to Princeton and is working several odd jobs in bars just to make ends meet.; John (Gregg Mozgala) has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheel chair and is quite smart and seems to have lots of money; Ani (Katy Sullivan) is a new double amputee searching for her new meaning Eddie and Ani are struggling thru marriage, separation, and the accident;  John and Jess are struggling thru a new employer/employee relationship and the mixed signals that are sent/received.

The connections and emotion in the dialogues are fantastic.  It felt like Ms. Majok must have been either disabled or at least a caretaker herself to write such human and meaningful prose.  The actors themselves (Mr. Mozgala and Ms. Abraham) are both physically disabled (they are not acting) so the connections they are able to make are un-attainable by just a healthy person sitting in a wheel chair.

Jo Bonney likely had a very easy time directing these fine actors but I am sure she put her artistic stamp on this already fine production too.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

1984

George Orwell's dystopian novel brought to the stage - first in London on the West End, now on Broadway.  The technology and video employed was magnificent.  The direction was crisp, artistic, and suspenseful - after all you're supposed to be kept off-balance the entire time.  The acting, too, had strong moments for each of the 3 stars - Reed Birney, Tom Sturridge, and Olivia Wilde.

However, the story, laid bare on a stage had the tendency to be entirely too shocking.  Reading the book you can imagine what you like.  Watching the play you have no choice but to absorb whatever they throw your way.  Since I don't make it a habit of wincing and throwing my attention away to the side like I might when watching TV or a movie, my assessment with this play is that it is entirely too graphic and gritty.   It's one thing to watch an ISIS video on TV or an episode of 24 or the news... violence is everywhere.... but in the theatre it just seems a bit too much to electrocute someone downstage front and center and think we are going to enjoy it.

No matter the play, I enjoyed my first trip to Broadway's newest house - The Hudson Theatre - and hope that future plays will be less violent and more enjoyable.

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...