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Photo by Don Kellogg

Monday, March 31, 2008

Vita and Virginia

A truly entertaining and historically educational evening. The play, by Eileen Atkins, is presented as a reading - since the basis for the entire play is the correspondence that was exchanged over 20 years starting in the 1920's between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf.

The two revealed their relationship over the course of the evening - the love of their art, their passions, as well as their love of each other. Given the time period, it was not at all acceptable to be "out" so they expressed their emotions and love and relationship mostly via their written correspondence. Their face-to-face visits were few and far between.

At this performance (the reason I attended) the role of Virginia Woolf, normally played by Kathleen Chalfant, was performed by the delightful Frances Sternhagen (i'm a big fan!). The role of Vita is played, quite eloquently by Patricia Elliott.

The reading format made sense. The time, a bit long, (over 2 hours in two acts), never felt dull despite the lack of "action" on stage. The two actresses lock you into their story and don't let you go until it ends - taking you on Virginia's wild emotional journey as well as Vita's world-wide travels with her ambassador husband. Virginia is only supposed to be 10 years older than Vita, so the visual disparity in ages between Frances and Patricia seemed odd, but it was dwarfed by the fine interpretation and performances.

Truly a treat at the Zipper Theatre (read - DUMP)!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fabulous Divas of Broadway

Alan Palmer: Performer, Author, Director - - what more could he do? Well, he was not the only man on stage. Aside from the audience members occasionally called up to play along, he did have an aptly skilled accompanist - Curtis Jerome. Everyone knows I am not a fan at all of "interactive" elements of shows. So the "Name that Diva" game show sketch didn't thrill me and the Mad-Libs routine required the audience to try and think about verbs and adjectives. As you could imagine, that was a rough spot (what is a verb, honey?). The limit to my interaction reached it's max with the totally terrific, truly amazing "Ring Them Bells" (thankfully from your seat) routine. (That's Liza Minnelli, of course).

It's not a drag show (although there's plenty of drag to go around). It's not diva impersonations, but rather diva impressions - - the impressions Alan claims these women all had on his life and career. He cycles through many. He seems to be a talented tenor, but he's by no means an expert on all of them and at time his voice seemed to agree - but he does leave you with a delightful taste of each of them.

The dresses and wigs really did the trick. With so many divas to cycle through, without such good costumes it might have been nothing more than a marginal attempt at the divas. Betty Buckley wins my best costume award. Was that really Carol Channing on stage "schinging"? Did Ethel Merman belt out a tune from the grave? Was Christine Ebersole really up there in her revolutionary costume of the day? And the list goes on and on. Huddled behind a small dressing screen on stage while he was changing each costume, he regaled us with a story that introduced the next diva. There were quite a few to visit, and thanks to his speed and enthusiasm, it didn't become the race against the clock it could have become.

Check out Alan Palmer on West 46th Street at the St. Luke's Theatre - pick your favorite diva from the gaggle.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Talk Show Confidential

Most of the people reading this probably grew up watching Bill Boggs on TV. I remember Midday with Bill Boggs on Channel 5. And I was actually shocked to hear that his run on the Food Network was over 10 years! Corner Table with Bill Boggs. Wow.

This one man walk down memory lane was a treat at the Triad Theater. Bill Boggs, a 4 time Emmy Award Winner, estimates that over his entire career he has interviewed over 6000 people. That's up there! He's in his 60's now - and looks damn good. But the show, which splices in video clips, brings you back to many of his live TV days where he was one of the sexiest men on TV! And boy, has he interviewed the great ones. And if you didn't already know, he takes credit for inventing his trademark format - the talk show where the host and the guest are both eating!

Filled with memories, back-stories, and a little gossip - Bill Boggs makes a sentimental debut on stage!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Four of Us

Itamar Moses (Bach in Leipzig) might just be the "it" boy of up-and-coming young playwrights. He's got a depth and emotional connection to the characters he pens that is not often seen today. The Four of Us is ironically about half of that number - just two. Being successful and less than 30 himself, Moses just might have the inside track as to how money and fame affects friendships and the creative process of young artists.
Gideon Banner (Benjamin) and Mickael Esper (David) are both young artists who meet at a music camp when they are a mere 17 years old. They form a bond that endures, at times awkwardly, throughout their college and early professional careers. Ben rockets to fame just after college with his first novel. David struggles with finding his voice. Moses takes us on cleverly-conceived forward and backward tour of the evolution of their evolving friendship. Their awkward relationship endures over the years via phone calls, trips, and long awkward talks. It's about 3/4 through the play that we are slapped with a scene that turns your perspective inside out about the two characters. A clever theatrical device that leaves you questioning the entire relationship and both of the young men entirely. What was reality? What was the play?
The Four of Us is a poignant new play about friendship and memory, the gap between our stories and our lives, and what happens when your dreams come true -- for your best friend.
So take your best friend over to Stage II at the Manhattan Theater Club and see these two talented young actors battle it out over life, love, success, and friendship.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Crimes of the Heart

Beth Henley, the Pulitzer prize winning playwright brought us Crimes of the Heart in 1979. Roundabout Theater Company brought it to us briefly in 1980 in a limited run. It enjoyed a substantial Broadway run at the John Golden Theater in 1981. Most of us don't remember any of that, but do recall the 1986 film adaptation staring Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, and Sissy Spacek.

Well, none of them were here this time around. Kathleen Turner makes her directorial debut toiling over relative stage newcomers Jennifer Dundas (Arcadia), Lily Rabe (Heartbreak House, Steal Magnolias) and Sarah Paulson (Glass Menagerie, The Sisters Rosensweig).

The story comes across a bit dated (circa 1974, Hazelhurst, Mississippi). The southern were accents a bit over-done, and the overall premise, aside from the black comedy aspects, a tad bit dumb. Many may remember the movie having more off-beat characters. Not found here. One bright spot in the play was the above average performance by Jennifer Dundas. Unlike her two other sisters, she delivered a believable and empathetic performance.
Stick with the movie and let's wait for Kathleen Turner to sink her chops into some better material next time!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

ArtFuckers

Five self absorbed, mis-treated, overly egotistical, young, soul searching, shallow, moderately talented Gen Y'ers grace the stage at DR2 in ArtFuckers. The play, by Michael Domitrovich, gives us a glance into the Paris Hilton-like lifestyle. Daddy or Mommy was rich and famous, had money, and raised (or more likely failed to raise) a gaggle of directionless brats.

Ok, so that's the story - -let's not confuse the story with the actors because they certainly did a pretty decent job of playing the part. I mean how hard could it be to play someone maybe even a little like who you are - or maybe who you would like to be?!

Fueled by an overdose of every single lettered name street drug (and then some)- The ever-paranoid Owen (Will Janowitz) engages in various flashbacks and therapy scenes with his so-called friends - Bella, his fashion model girlfriend (Nicole LaLiberte), Max, his uber-gay fashion designer friend (Tuomas Hiltunen), Maggie, his uber-dominant phony publicist friend (Jessica Kaye), and Trevor, his wildly sexy and (unfortunately) straight DJ friend (Asher Grodman).

The actors get a B-Plus on execution. The story, more like a C-Minus. Too long. Plenty of room to reign this baby in under 2 hours. Seemed a bit over-told and over-dramatized. Don't get me wrong - I'd have taken any number of additional scenes where Asher Grodman (*sigh*)had his shirt and pants off, which frankly would have been right in line with the intended overall story - about irresponsible youth, brash, cocky, and bold kids in the (art) world today.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Passing Strange

The latest resident at the Belasco Theater is unabashedly an un-broadway un-musical; Passing Strange: A New Musical. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, at first glance. Part rock concert, part rock opera, part comedy, part drama, part performance art, Passing Strange, however, uniquely crafts all those elements into one thoroughly entertaining theatrical experience.

It's the semi-autobiographical experience of the star and creator of the show, Stew. He's the narrator, the rock-band leader, and the storyline itself. In just under 2 1/2 hours, we follow one man's journey growing up black in LA, his escape to Europe, searching and struggling for who he is and what skin he is comfortable living in. It's about the parent child relationship - and the lessons we often learn too late in life. It's about searching for the elusive "real". It's about art and life and where the two diverge... and where they collide.
The cast is a bubbling cauldron of young, hot talent (and by hot, i mean smokin' hot!) - Daniel Breaker (the young Stew), De'Adre Aziza, Eisa Davis (Mother), Colman Domingo, Rebecca Naomi Jones and last but certainly not least, Chad Goodridge (when i say smokin' hot - I mean Chad please step to the front of the class!).

Stew narrates the show from center stage all the while playing his guitar, leading the surrounding band strategically placed on stage with him which includes musical co-creator Heidi Rodenwald.

There are no elaborate sets or scenery - unless you count the visually stunning Tony Award deserving wall of lights - which is unveiled as the young man lands in Europe where he begins his journey stumbling into love, sex, drugs, art, family, and plenty of music along the way.

Stew takes us on a journey unlike any other yet seen on Broadway. Hair may have been the original ground breaking musical, Rent and Spring Awakening did indeed take their place in the evolution of the American musical, and now Passing Strange is here now and is ready to sweep us up on a magical journey.

Don't miss the bus!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Beebo Brinker Chronicles

Combine the mystique of a film noir, a repressed lesbian love affair from the 1950's, a jilted young husband, a young, swaggering, confident, brash, and boyish looking gal named Beebo Brinker, a 40 something gay man from Greenwich Village, and a trashy romance novel author - and you have this fantastic production running at 37 Arts right now.

At times, I felt harkened back to Julianne Moore's story in The Hours - her longing for the unspeakable, her trying to confide in a neighbor (Toni Collette), both of them paralyzed by their time and their culture.

The ensemble cast is fantastic. Jenn Colella (High Fidelity, Urban Cowboy) headlines as Beebo Brinker, but the stage was mostly dominated by Beth and Marcie (Autumn Dornfeld and Carolyn Baeumler), the equally jilted and repressed lovers. David Greenspan plays the mysteriously fabulous older gay man superbly - and to many a laugh.

These gals bring new life to the trashy romance novel - and do so with a lesbian twist. Fans of today's The L Word - beware. You've got some new completion on stage from a bygone era.

Grace

Simply stated: Outstanding. The writing (Mick Gordon and AC Grayling)... the performance... basically the entire kit and kabodle. Top Notch. Grace gets my vote for most thought provoking play of the year.

Lynn Redgrave and the entire cast - Philip Goodwin, Oscar Isaac, and K.K. Moggie put on a stellar performance literally 10 seconds before the lights to up (Lynn has a line in the dark!) to the moment they came out for a bow. Simply stated: Suburb!

Without being overly preachy (despite the fact that we were being literally lectured to) this play presents compelling arguments for and against religion. Go see it and you can decide for yourself how you feel.

Just don't let the pope tell you what to think beforehand.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Parlour Song

The delicious Jonathan Cake was, to me, the star of the show. The restless and mysterious neighbor Dale, the villain, the foil, a victim of sorts. OK, who are we kidding - he stood downstage right - front and center - in his sexy H&M box cut undies showing off his uber-gorgeous bod. OK, moving on...

The acting was top notch all around. You should expect nothing less from the Atlantic. Chris Bauer and Emily Mortimer (Ned and Joy) round out the cast of 3 in this dramatic work. The story is a multi-level piece. It takes place in the here and now - the present - the literal, but the undertones of the abstract, of pent-up frustration, of insanity and regret clearly being communicated at the same time.

Instead of my telling you about it - why don't you watch the playwright, Jez Butterworth and the director, Neil Pepe along with the cast tell you in their own words. Check out the video from the Atlantic Theater Company:

video