Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In Transit

Seven talented individuals come together at the 59e59 Theaters to present In Transit, a new a cappella musical poem to New York City, painting a portrait of the lives, loves, losses, hopes, and dreams of its many inhabitants.  We're a quirky, off-beat, angry, ambitious, optimistic, and most of all, diverse group of people all trying to "make it" here in the concrete jungle and these amazing performers cover the gamut in about 100 minutes.   Take one beat-boxer (that's the guy who makes the sounds of the drums with the microphone) and add six glorious voices and the result is one potent, song-filled evening.  Any New Yorker bound to recognize a friend, family member, or co-worker one of the characters and is guaranteed to find themselves taping their feet to the beats.  Take a subway ride over to the East Side and hear the feel good story for yourself.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

La Bête

This is a tough one.  Intelligent and erudite - certainly.  Bombastic and overblown - possibly.  Funny and witty, I think so.   Roll these descriptors together and you might just find La Bête.  American playwright, David Hirson penned an entire play in iambic pentameter - Above my head at times, biting and below the belt at others - you got it.

Make sure you don't go in thinking this is a simple or light play.  I think (but don't really know) that this show may have had two acts originally.  I thought there was a decisive split between two halves of the play - although probably compressed into a nearly bearable 1 hour and 45 minutes for this Broadway run.   Three stars, David Hyde Pierce, Mark Rylance, and Joanna Lumley helm this production and turn in quite substantial performances.  The first half of the play is somewhat long and verbose (verbose may even be an understatement).  The second half, when the princess (Lumley) makes her entrance is a bit less of a verbal assault and more of a story.  It actually contains a play within a play - which at its core is where the themes of artistic purpose, the dumbing down of art for the masses, and artistic purity are explored.  From the start it pits highbrow Elomire (Pierce) against lowbrow Valere (Rylance) and the sparks (read words) fly throughout.

If words are not your thing - you may not enjoy this play so much.  The stars certainly delight, and if you calculate your price of admission by words spoken - you certainly will have gotten your money's worth.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Time Stands Still

To officially open my Fall 2010 Broadway season - I think I may have picked the best play on Broadway - (again).  Time Stands Still had a limited run last season in the spring at Manhattan Theatre Club.  Due to the overwhelming success, it is now attempting a commercial run at the Cort Theatre with virtually the entire cast intact - minus Alicia Silverstone who is being replaced by Christina Ricci.

Donald Margulies' plot is quite straightforward, yet offers no simple answers.  Does a journalist, photographer, or other documentarian have any responsibility to intervene in the subject matter they are witnessing?  Be it war, famine, natural disaster - can they, or, more importantly, should they step in?  Can they emotionally detach themselves from all that is going on around them?

Laura Linney takes on this moral dilemma as Sarah, a well traveled, well respected wartime journalist (think Christiane Amanpour) who gets "blown up" by a roadside bomb while on assignment.   Margulies explores the roots of her issues - her childhood and family, her relationship with reporter-boyfriend James (Brian D'Arcy James), and long-time magazine editor, Richard (Eric Bogosian).   The entire cast, including Ricci (whom I saw make a satisfying first public performance) was enthralling.  Margulies has thrown them (and us) quite a few bones to gnaw on - the state of true journalism vs the 24 hour news cycle and the Hollywood fluff, family, trust, purpose, fulfillment and happiness.  All that, and more, packaged into two powerful hours on stage punctuated with plenty of sarcasm and humor.

The cast never failed to deliver the goods and this work clearly hits its mark.  Bulls-Eye.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

bottom of the world

A new work by Lucy Thurber (last Atlantic production was Scarcity with Kristen Johnson and Michael T. Weiss) made it's debut on Stage 2 at the Atlantic Theatre Company this past week.  Bottom of the World explores the cycle of life and death via a complex set of family relationships and visions of an "alternate family" as seen through both the author of a recently published book (the dead sister) and the reader (the surviving sister).    What made it slightly more complex was that the story was told through the eyes of a family that had two brothers, rather than the two sisters and each had parents - all of course played by the same actors in parallel.  Yikes!  Attention must be paid.

There are a few facts I wish we knew up front - such as why one sister was black and one was white.  Blind casting, i thought?  Alas, they had two separate fathers.  In the meantime, I had already noticed that the brothers who paralleled the sisters were also white and black.  Then somewhere in the middle we learn the one sister was a lesbian.  There was no parallel gay character, but indeed other concepts ran in parallel.  Focus, Focus!

I will note there was some delicious talent in this one.  Intelligent writing, for sure (Lucy) - but I'd go on to say a few stand-outs were cast - Crystal A. Dickinson (Abagail) and Aubrey Dollar (Susan/Dana), Brendan Griffin (Josh) and Brandon J. Dirden (Ely).   Kudos to the set designer,  Walt Spangler.  I think all those 2x4's that were the set were supposed to represent the tangled roots of a tree turned upside down (just like the play's logo).  Sometimes your life can get turned upside down - is what I took away as the symbolism.  The musicians (a banjo and a fiddle) lingering up in the tree (the roots, i suppose) provided tasteful and melodic background and mood music - just like the birds would.  Nice touch.

Woven throughout the tapestry of this play is the theme that we should all notice the ones we love (i.e pay attention!) and love the ones we notice.   Well, I noticed this play on-line today - and I really loved it.  I hope you get the chance too -  before it's too late.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tigers be Still

Way down - 4 stories below ground on West 46th street - resides an awesome theater experience called Roundabout Underground.  Funded and supported by The Roundabout Theatre Company, RU nourishes new, young playwrights by allowing their works to be presented on a black box stage all the while having the full support and backing of a professional theater company behind them.

In this case, Kim Rosenstock is one of these new, young playwrights.  This story involves Sherry (Halley Feiffer), a young woman seeking success in her first job as an art teacher and art therapist.  Ironically, it seems she and her family need just as much help as does her first client, Zack (John Magaro), the son of the principal (Reed Birney) at the school in which she has started teaching.   Throw in a depressed sister, Grace (Natasha Lyonne), and a mother locked in her room and you have the makings fit for a professional psychiatrist.  Turns out Zack has a secret which we find out only later in the performance, that, only then, fully explains his behavior and anger.

I love attending performances at the RU - it's always art in the true, raw, most pure form.  This script with it's quirky characters and no-so-far-from-reality plot has great potential.  It needs a few nips and tucks, a few adjustments to smooth out the choppy storyline and "oh my god, we have to wrap this up" ending - and I think one day we might even see this one on Broadway.  Kudos to Kim.  I hope we see more from her - and I certainly hope we see more of the adorable John Magaro.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Brief Encounter

A brand new adaptation by Emma Rice of Noel Coward's Brief Encounter is being presented by the Kneehigh Theatre Company on the stage at Studio 54 by the Roundabout Theatre Company.  That's a mouthful - and frankly worth every word!  This production includes many shades of the theatrical devices employed in the recent Broadway production of The 39 Steps.  This production seems to take it several steps further and in multiple directions - Video and movie clips tightly integrated with stage performance, musical interludes, songs, and dance carefully interlaced throughout the story, as well as several "artistic transitions" that all add up to one of the most ingenious and innovative multi-media presentations on Broadway today.

The cast, a diverse group of British and American actors and musicians helm the production.  By way of some background here - In 1936 Coward wrote several one act plays to be presented over 3 nights.  One of these plays was titled Still Life.  In 1945, Coward expanded this one act into a full length screenplay which was re-titled Brief Encounter and stared Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard.  In 1974, the film was remade staring Richard Burton and Sophia Loren.  This Broadway adaptation takes elements of both the one act play and both films and turns up the heat with the introduction of several other forms of artistic expression.

Two ordinary married people (not to each other just to be clear) meet by chance in the coffee shop at a train station in London.  They ultimately fall in love, continue meeting weekly at the coffee shop, and ultimately struggle with the the fact that they are in love and having an affair.  (No ending spoiler here).  Shocking to audiences in 1940's (although one would assume it was more an unspoken reality).  Today, we look at it mostly with fondness as a delicate and romantic interlude.  

Take your own train over to West 54th street and take in a true delight that will dazzle many of your senses.  Stick around for the fun afterwards too!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Little Foxes

The New York Theatre Workshop under the direction of Ivo Van Hove has put a unique and refreshing performance of Lillian Hellman's stage gem.  Bare stage with purple velvet walls, ominous music, video, and, what I can only presume is the director's signature on this work, several anachronistic elements that turned this twisted family ordeal into the a powerhouse performance on East 4th Street.

From the get-go, the feel was "Festen-like".  An incestuous family, dark secrets, money, greed, power, and sex start this gem off and it only kicks into a higher gear with every passing eerie moment.  Elizabeth Marvel (Regina Giddens), Marton Csokas (Ben Hubbard), and Thomas Jay Ryan (Oscar Hubbard) take the helm as the Hubbard children - siblings in a long line of southern Hubbards hell bent on proving they can be even more successful Hubbards than all before them.  Backstabbing, negotiating, side-dealing, and cheating at every turn.  Christopher Evan Welch (Horace Giddens), the terminally ill brother-in-law holds the key to the entire deal and we find out just how far this family is willing to go to achieve their goals.

This is one of those plays that leaves an impression on you for days and weeks afterward.  You'll return to it ruminating on this aspect or that ploy or that relationship.  I did wonder (as did many of those who I chatted with after the play) why the director choose to introduce all the anachronistic elements into the performance - the car alarm sounds, the coffee maker, the airport moving sidewalk, and the video itself.  I found them slightly distracting, constantly wondering "what it meant".   I respect the decision, of course, and will admit they the entire production was a tremendous, high-impact success.

Is there room on Broadway for another Festen so soon?  With the right leading lady and supporting cast, I think so.  Too bad Tallulah Bankhead, Elizabeth Taylor, and Betty Davis can't reprise their roles (the Regina in the original Broadway production in 1939, revival in 1981, and and the movie in 1941 respectively).  I can think of a few evil deals that could be struck for the 2011-2012 season.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  I don't have all the cash yet.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It Must Be Him

A late summer gem is playing over at the Peter J. Sharp Theatre above Playwrights Horizons for the next few weeks.  I don't know who Kenny Solms, the playwright, is, but he should have a career in situation comedy writing if he doesn't already.  When it's laugh-out-loud funny, you don't mind the fact that is seems like a TV show.  Matter of fact, when done well, it's just as good, if not better.

Peter Scolari helms this romp playing Louie Wexler, an aging 50-something, Beverly Hills based comedy writer from the days of variety TV who is down on his luck, out of fresh ideas, out of cash, and barely out of the closet.  (Seemed to me this could have been based on most any Hollywood writer!).  He lives alone, loves boys (who he never seems to get),  and is tormented by visions of his dead parents (Bob Ari, Alice Playten), his high school girlfriend (Stephanie D'Abruzzo) and his living brother (Jonathan Kaplan) - all who bring varying levels of guilt to the table.  His housekeeper, Ana, (Liz Torres) is best remembered for playing the "es-panish es-peeking" nurse to Archie Bunker on All in the Family who could say "Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation" but had trouble with "chiis" (that's cheese, if you can't hear my accent in the typing!).  In many ways she brilliantly reprises the devilishly lazy and innocent Latina role here once again.

The object of Louie's affection, 20 year old Scott (Patrick Cummings), wants to break into show biz.  He lives in the guest house but Louie wishes it were so much more! (this seems to me to be the classic Hollywood situation!).  People of Louie's generation didn't come out and stuck to writing funny material.  He's fresh out of ideas, his guilt and longing for a relationship is gnawing at his psyche and he's going to lose his home.  He finally decides to write something new and for the first time it's based on all the people in his real life (the "play within a play" thing).  Turns out, in the end, that his agent (Edward Staudenmayer) may just save the day!

Despite all the camp (and there is plenty) and obvious jokes (there are many) the show comes off as well done.  It's fast paced, it has musical numbers (remember, Louie writes variety shows), and plenty of belly laughs and one liners  - all in 90 minutes without an intermission.  Bravo.  The cast seems to be enjoying themselves on stage - most of all Peter Scolari - who plays the neurotic 50-something with aplomb.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Me, Myself and I

Albee's new work (2007) is certainly a highbrow, maybe a little too much actually.  Such an interesting (read, strange) way to convey a message about twins and how they struggle to find their own identities - Create a farcical family, turn up the weird factor, break (read, completely disregard) the 4th wall, and paint the sparse stage mostly gray.  Certainly unique, I'll give him that.

OTTO (Zachary Booth) and otto (Preston Sadleir), as they are named by their crazy mother, (Elizabeth Ashley), are identical (and very cute, by the way) twins.  OTTO decides that otto no longer exists and that he is going to China to become Chinese.  And that is just about all there is to the plot -  A twin who is essentially "acting out" about his identity along with a mother you think is a loony bird and possibly the reason these two kids are so messed up.   Brian Murray, the mother's live-in "crazy doctor" is a bright spot throughout the entire show with his comedic genius, impeccable timing and reaction.

The talent in this show abounds, actually. I expected a lot, and got a fair amount from Ashley and Murray I must say - but the material seemed to tie one if not two hands behind everyones' proverbial backs.  If the story wasn't strange enough, perhaps the continued direct dialogue with the audience is what did whole thing in.

On a final note, I hope I have not made any grammatical errors in this post.  It seems along with the saga of the twins' identities, Albee has issues with bad grammar too.