Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Road to Mecca

An old fashioned play and a top-notch actress take center stage at the American Airlines Theatre at the Roundabout Theatre Company this winter.  Athol Fugard's The Road To Mecca is a charming, albeit very wordy, drama revolving around an eccentric, elderly Afrikaner woman living in the countryside of South Africa - battling age, loneliness, depression, and the threat of losing her identity by being forced into selling her home and moving into the local senior home.

Rosemary Harris shines in her portrayal of Miss Helen, flawlessly memorizing her extensive and complex monologues - expertly portraying the elderly woman.  Mr. Fugard wraps Ms. Helen with layers of complexity which are revealed one by one by the supremely talented Harris.  Carla Gugino plays an equally refreshing, young English South African muse and confidant to Miss Helen, Elsa Barlow.  Jim Dale turns in a wonderful performance as the equally aging and staunch Afrikaner minister and de facto leader of the remote, traditional, conservative community largely unchanged over time by the outside world. 

Brevity is clearly not a characteristic of Mr. Fugard.  His verbosity is at times a bit overwhelming, but it's always intelligent, insightful, and relevant to the deep and layered characters he has created.  And what a treat it is to see Ms. Harris light the theatre with her charm (and candles).  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Close Up Space

Molly Smith Metzler is an award winning playwright from Brooklyn and she's written a charmer that is now being presented at Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC) on the small stage at NY City Center.

The play, Close Up Space, revolves around Paul (David Hyde Pierce), an intelligent literary editor and his estranged and odd daughter, Harper (Colby Minifie).  The title cleverly refers to an editing/proof-reading symbol - as in "shorten this up and remove some words (the verb to close, pronounced with a 'z').  You learn fairly early that something is amiss with his family and his daughter is quite upset with his actions.  Throw in a Saturday Night Live-like office manager, Steve (Michael Chernus), a well-published spit-fire (albeit mis-cast) author, Vanessa Finn Adams (Rosie Perez), and an innocent and smartly cast office intern, Bailey (Jessica DiGiovanni) and you have the makings of a sweet treat.

However in making that sweet treat, if you use the wrong ingredients or switch the salt for sugar you're in for a disaster.  Such is the case under the reign of Barry Grove at MTC.  Ms. Perez, while entertaining, is an over-used, mis-cast character actress in the role.  Mr. Chernus, while very funny and his character's arc cleverly designed, was overly so - to a point beyond satire to that of absurdity and farce.  Ms. Minifie's defects were perhaps one of the few that can be associated with the author  - taking the "I've been exiled to Siberia" analogy way too far.   David Hyde Pierce worked his magical reactions, facial expressions, and character acting the entire time and essentially rescued this one from falling into the abyss.

Mr. Grove - your audience is somewhere between 40 and death... much closer to the latter, i estimate (maybe because your subscriptions are relatively cheap) and your play selection, while admirable, just haven't seem to cut it in the past few cycles.  David Hyde Pierce may just have prevented this one from becoming the next one to fall off the cliff, but you've got to to a little better or once the purple haired audience ends up in those coffins, you're going to have a lot of empty seats in those wonderful theaters you manage.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Everything about Burning, Thomas Bradshaw's new play, is less like a flaming tinderbox and much more like the wet smoldering ashes of a rained out campfire.  The painful 3 hours in the theater included just about every issue and topic that might be featured individually in a well written avant-garde show downtown - all thrown in with reckless abandon aimed at provocation with the result being disgust.   Decide for yourself.

This play includes 3 audacious and intertwined stories.  A gay 15 year-old in California who's mother, the crackhead, overdoses and dies after which he runs away to NYC to be an actor and ends up living with an older gay couple as their houseboy and sex-toy.  He sleeps with a friend of theirs who has AIDS, runs away to Cologne, Germany for 3 years and watches his new boyfriend die.  In another story we get two grown children of Nazi parents who have died - the daughter inexplicably confined to a wheelchair.  They carry on the Aryan Nation tradition and beliefs of their parents.  The skinhead brother has to care for his sister and ultimately has to resort to pleasure her sexually in the bathtub with his fingers.  In the third story we have a mixed race couple.  The black man is an artist who paints provocative works about race and doesn't let anyone know he is black before they meet him.  He travels to Germany to the gallery where the Nazi guy works.  The Nazi guy doesn't know he's black, learns the truth upon meeting him and ultimately ends up murdering him in a dark movie theater when the black guy is with a prostitute with whom he has fallen in love - she's black and he's never been with a black woman because when he was 5 his older sister would use him as a decoy when having sex with her many boyfriends - and of course he saw her and ever since was repulsed by black women.  Then there's a time warp effect where the young guy in the first story i mentioned grows up and meets the cousin of the black guy and here we have homophobia, coming out, unprotected sex on purpose with an HIV positive gay man.

I could go on... and on.... and on.... but I just might get sick to my stomach all over again.  There were some beautiful and talented people on stage - both fully clothed - as well as fully unclothed - and I honestly question if some of the many sex scenes were really simulated... Don't get me wrong - I'm not a prude - quite the opposite actually.  But the intentional over-saturation with issues, naked bodies, orgasms, hairy ass cracks and other sordid details was completely forced and not natural at all.

Some fine acting by the cast which includes Hunter Foster cannot be overlooked or go unmentioned but was completely overpowered by the playwright's hubris and over-blown, throw-in-the-kitchen-sink approach to forcing an avant-garde feeling on us - - failing miserably every step of the way.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Suicide, Incorporated

 Andrew Hinderaker, a fresh, young playwright is having his moment in the spotlight.  Specifically, the spotlight several times a week in the Roundabout Theater Company's New Play Initiative.  Mr. Hinderaker's jolting and emotionally charged new work, Suicide, Incorporated, is being produced in the Black Box Theater of the Roundabout Underground.   This play marks the Roundabout's 6th new play in the space and, without a doubt, this one is as powerful if not more-so than the previous - and the bar was already set fairly high.

Part dark-comedy, part hurts-your-heart-to-the-bone drama - this Mr. Hinderaker handles the subject matter with aplomb.  As I have come to expect at the RU, this black-box is way more than your average run-down black-box.  Professional quality sets, lighting, and sound are a benefit this black-box gets by being associated with such a great theater company upstairs.  Not disappointing this time around either, Daniel Zimmerman (Set Design), Zach Blane (Lighting Design) and Chad Raines (Sound/Music) bring their 'A'-game to the show.

Director Jonathan Berry might consider trimming up a few scenes here and there where the concepts are needlessly repeated, but these are nit-picky finer points not the fundamentals I'm talking about here. His otherwise keen direction was clearly reflected through the actors, all of whom turned in top-notch performances - Gabriel Ebert (Jason), Toby Leonard Moore (Scott), Corey Hawkins (Perry), Jake O'Connor (Tommy),  James McMenamin (Norm), and Mike DiSalvo (Officer).

Without spoiling anything here, the play concerns a certain suicide note writing company and the people who work there.  One recent hire, Jason, seems to be set to help his clients in the opposite way of his boss, Scott's,  wishes.  His motivations regarding his behavior toward his new client (Norm), may have something to do with his brother, Tommy.

Immerse yourself in this 85 minute intermission-less, emotionally charged drama to find out exactly what the buzz is all about.  For only $20, the theatre-for-your-dollar ratio is about as high as it can get.  As with all the previous RU productions, the subtitle of this play aptly sums things up - "Never a customer complaint".

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Balls: The Musical?

It began with $6,000 from a Kickstarter campaign this past summer, raised to bring this new musical parody to the stage at the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF).  Sold-out and extended at NYMF, this show is back by popular demand and now making a new run, this time off-Broadway at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row.

A few disclaimers are necessary up front 1) I'm not related to the director (Kasey Marino) although we're both kinda cute 2) my ticket was comp'd and 3) despite both of these facts, I won a free bottle of Vodka at the show - yes you read that correctly - a 1 litre bottle of - get this - Balls Vodka!  The vodka tie-in is sorta interesting given the name.  I've yet to open the bottle, but i assume that's what's actually inside.

The show, unabashedly and quite appropriately, advertises itself as A Bro-Tastic musical parody about Besties with Testes.  Created by a very clever and talented young group of men including Bret Carr, (adorable) Mick Bonde, Brandon Ellis, Michael "Tuba"  McKinsey, and Nick Verina, the parody, generally quick-paced although at time a bit clunky, manages to move through the story of 5 young straight-men who have decided to peruse a career in an unlikely field - musical theatre - with wild and reckless testosterone-filled abandon.

Musical Director, Arranger and Pianist, Sonny Paladino does a terrific job at tinkling the ivories with classic hits from Chicago, Mame, Company, Guys and Dolls, La Cage aux Folles, and others turning them into hysterical, over-the-top titalating tunes and bawdy boy-ballads filled with manhood swelling lyrics.   The show's parody genre immediately brought to mind another fan-favorite, Gerard Alessandrini's Forbidden Broadway.  This show, however, has an actual story and that certainly sets it apart and makes it more than a scene stealing parody show.

I haven't tried the Vodka yet (it's only 10:30am and I'm out of tomato juice), but i must admit it's a catchy tie-in for this show.  For the record, all you have to do to win one is buy a ticket and tweet something funny about the show just before the curtain goes up and one of the boys will bring their iPad up to the stage, check the @ballsthemusical account and pick a winner.

Now, if only those cute boys weren't so straight...   Maybe after a few shots of this magical vodka, that too, will change.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lysistrata Jones

What's that sound?  I think it's Walter Kerr turning over in his grave.  I've been disappointed on Broadway before and I'm sure I will again.

Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn have crafted a mediocre yet clever book and score that seems vaguely Xanadu-like yet wildly inferior to it's predecessor.  The show is not lacking talented performers, but the young and talented performers are lacking a Broadway-quality product to perform in.   I'd gladly pay $20 or $30 to see this show off-Broadway where it belongs, but when a gaggle of greedy producers gets together and thinks that this crap can sell and be profitable on Broadway at $120 a ticket I wonder what on earth they were smoking!

No stars above the title, not even Lysistrata herself. None of the rest really deserving of the privilege either - not that there weren't incredibly sexy kids on stage - but it takes more than a hot, sexy jock (Josh Segarra) and his occasionally shirtless basketball teammates and a dumb-acting high school girl (Patti Murin) and her geek sidekick (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) to ignite a Broadway barn-burner.  Jason Tam, adorable and cute, gets my award for the character most likely to be seen on the next episode of Glee.   Sets were colorful (read, bright collegiate orange and blue) but how creative can you really get with the inside of a school gymnasium?)  Lighting was colorful and bright but seemed to serve as a mask, not an enhancement to the empty performances.  Occasionally when i looked up at the band (up above the performers on a catwalk - kinda cool - they seemed to be having a lot of fun with the airhead pop-laced tunes.  I wished I was too.

Truth be told I walked out at the intermission.  I can't give this one a legitimate or thorough review.  What I can tell you is not to waste your money in the first place.  The show is off-Broadway quality at best.  And that's not a BAD thing - except when you try to charge $120 a ticket on a Broadway stage.  That's the real sin here.  I hope the producers and creatives behind Bring It On learn a lesson from this one and bring us more than Ms Jones has.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Maple and Vine

Jordan Harrison's fantastic new play, Maple and Vine, being produced at Playwrights Horizons this season is storytelling at its absolute best!  Are you a tired, stressed-out, overworked tranquilized New Yorker?  This play offers you an alternative - a chance to live the "simpler life" by moving to a "community" where everyone lives authentically in 1955. The looks, the ideals, and all that goes with the culture of the era.  You'll have to give up a few things tho.  "Jamaican Jerk, Sushi, Hummus, Foccacia, Baba-Ganoush... Whole Grain Bread... No pine puts, no pesto, no Lattes...  What you will get is... Salt..."

Marin Ireland (Katha) and Peter Kim (Ryu), after much debate, decide to take the plunge for an initial six month trial and move to the gated community of the SDO - The Society of Dynamic Obsolescence after being tantalized by the concept by two current full-fledged members - Trent Dawson (Dean) and Jeanie Serralles (Ellen).  Will this "mixed-race" couple survive?  Will their neighbors welcome them with open arms?  What Ryu, a plastic surgeon, survive his job as a box folder at the local plant?  How will Kath(y), a book publisher, survive in the kitchen?  What deep, dark secrets lurk beneath the surface in this anachronistic community?  You'll just have to see it for yourself to find out.

The play is cleverly divided into it's two natural parts - Act One starts us off in current day in NYC giving us the background on just who Katha and Ryu are and why they're so discontented with their lives.  A chance meeting with Dean (and later Ellen) ultimately intrigues them enough to make the move to the SDO.  Act Two picks up with the same Kath(y) and Ryu living in the SDO working their way through the cultural, religious, and social customs of 1955.  We learn how the time was different - for many people - including Dean and Roger (played by the incredibly sexy Pedro Pascal).  What ultimately unfolds is a tale you'd never suspect - and at the same time - exactly what you would have guessed.

On such a tiny stage, Alexander Dodge (Scenic Design) has done an award winning job at designing the time-accurate yet minimalist sets.  And special shout-out to the hardest working stage crew in the biz - which was completely recognized by the director by having them take a bow along with the cast.  A nice touch and certainly well deserved.

No spoilers here - just know that it's an evening of superb storytelling in the theatre laced with racial, ethnic and political undertones that serve as a reminder that as romantic and glamorous as the time was, perhaps life was not quite so simple as we would like to think.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fairy Tale

Just because the seats are a little uncomfortable or the location is slightly off the beaten path, don't miss a wonderful opportunity to see the re-imagination of 5 classic fairy tales unfold on stage at The Shelter.

Some of the 5 short plays suggest a reason or a background to the existing tale, others simply take a modern bent to the old story.  Each is delightful.  Each has a message.  And each is as clever as clever can be!  At less than $20 a ticket, the entertainment value per dollar spent is off the charts.  Here is a synopsis is the plays and the original tale upon which it is based:

Dinner for the Queen by Meghan E. Jones - Inspired by Snow White by the Brothers Grimm
R.I.P. Captain Wendel - by Andy Hassell - Inspired by Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
3 Sisters and a Carnie - by Beth Jastoch - Inspired by Three Billy Goats Gruff - old Norwegian tale
Kate - by Michael Bernstein - Inspired by Donkeyskin by Charles Perrault
Terror on Haxos 9 - by Jonathan Ashley - Inspired by Hansel and Gretel by The Brothers Grimm.

Between each of the plays, the stage crew, dressed all in black and white with a red pig's mask ham it up a bit to almost create a 6th show.  At first, I thought they represented the 3 Little Pigs - but when a 4th showed up, I must admit I was a bit puzzled, but entertained the entire time, nonetheless.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Cherry Orchard

I can't say I'm a huge fan of "the classics".  But occasionally, I do know it's good to see some of them to expand one's horizons.  And there's one theatre, aptly named, in town that I always head to for my fix - Classic Stage Company.   The last play in their Anton Chekhov cycle (and Chekhov's final play) is The Cherry Orchard.

I did a little reading on Chekhov.  I'm pretty sure most of what I didn't like was his play itself.  Perhaps a bit of it was the mood and artistic interpretation that director, Andrei Belgrader, took too.  Were those 4th wall breaches in the script?  Did we need a dog?  Did someone really need to give up his seat for the old chambermaid?  Well, without much proof (and no desire to go read the script from cover to cover for stage directions), i'll just lay it in equal parts on the author and the director.

What I can be sure of is that the work is epic, poetic, and contains all sorts of oddly comedic characters that are supposed to represent the 19th Century Russian society.  The play is a comedy, but borders on farce.  It's really what today we would call a socio-political satire.  In this case, falling importance and wealth of Russian aristocracy, the freeing of and rise of the peasant class, land ownership, wealth distribution, and the blurring of the lines of class and position in society.  While the play itself seemed oddly formal or maybe a bit stilted (perhaps that is my un-cultured ear), that was completely offset by several fine performances throughout.

The dashing and commanding John Turturro and the beautifully effervescent Diane Wiest held court on the pizza-pie shaped, appropriately stained white canvas stage the entire evening.  The absolutely adorable and boyish Michael Urie made us laugh at his travails, and, not one but, two Waterston sisters took to this stage - Elisabeth as a bold attention seeking chambermaid and Katherine as the dutiful daughter.  Daniel Davis wore a cream suit suit to complement his blazing white hair and Roberta Maxwell deadpanned her absurd lines to much delight.  Josh Hamilton made being a lifetime student look easy and Alvin Epstein charmed us with his elderly gentleman humor.

A truly fine ensemble cast all around and a classic and sophisticated set as I have come to expect from CSC time and time again.  After watching it, discussing it afterwards with my play-going-friend, and now writing this, I can say for sure that I'm still not a classics-lover.  But what I can also say is that when a great ensemble cast such as this is gathered - sometimes the works come to life and resonate in ways you didn't expect.   I won't run out and buy the complete anthology of Anton Chekhov any time soon, but I would encourage you to run down to CSC and get a ticket to see this fine production if you're so inclined.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stick Fly

Anyone can put money into a Broadway show.  I won't begrudge them that.  I did.  So what?   Well, the difference is that my name is not obnoxiously pushed in everyone's faces as if I had anything to actually do with the show I invested in.   Music mega-star, Alicia Keys, is the money and apparently the advertising hope behind Lydia R. Diamond's terrifically complex and thought provoking new dramatic play, Stick Fly.

Obnoxious advertising and blatant use of a star's name to promote a product she has no connect to aside, everything else about this play is top-notch and, dare I say, Tony worthy.  It's 2011's August: Osage County.  Ms. Diamond clearly has an ear for dialogue.  She's penned a deep work that explores issues of race, class, family, and assumptions and choices.  

Staring Dule Hill, Mekhi Phifer, Tracie Thoms and Ruben Santiago-Hudson along with Rosie Bendon and Condola Rashad take the stage at the Cort Theatre as a wealthy black family with a vacation home in Martha's Vineyard (and in the white area, too).   Both sons (Hill and Phifer) each bring home a girlfriend to meet the family.  Tensions soar, family wounds are opened, and sparks fly throughout the weekend when the basic foundations of this family are challenged in some ways they have never been challenged before.  Ms. Diamond cleverly lays bare the family issues, slowly unraveling them bit by bit, scene by scene to keep you hooked the entire 2 hours and 30 minutes.

The single massive house set by David Gallo is magnificent.  And yes, musical interludes at the scene changes were indeed original (and often too loud) music by Alicia Keys. The strength of this play is the intelligent writing and the fine performances given by several bright young actors.  While Ms. Keys might be the money behind the machine, she's irrelevant when it comes to the performances.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Door

Part of the annual Brits Off-Broadway Festival that runs at 59E59 Theaters each year, The Door, by Tony Earnshaw, is a quick-paced, 50-minute, mystery and tension filled play about two men and a banging door.

The dialogue between these two man starts off slow and puzzling.  Why are they here?  Do they know each other?  And most importantly, why is that damn door banging over and over again?!  (Clearly not enough people read the sign on the way in warning them about loud banging based on their reaction when it started to, well, bang).

Most all of the answers to this puzzlement start to unravel about half way through the play and you begin to understand the veiled relationship between Boyd (Tom Cobley) and Ryan (Chris Westgate).

Mr. Earnshaw has cleverly disguised a sharp-witted play about politics, war, class, and honor in a very simple box without adornments.

Theatre C at 59E59 is the small, intimate black-box theatre which is just perfect for this brief interlude.  As long as you don't try to take a seat in the few empty chairs "on-stage" next to the two gentlemen awaiting their performance (as two dim-bulbs did at the performance I attended), you'll likely enjoy the powerful and honest performance from these two fine British actors.

Be warned of the loud banging door.  It just might "drive you round the bend".

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays

Short plays about gay marriage playing in the West Village in NYC.  The moment I heard about it I thought, "Not likely to have an un-sympathetic ear in the audience".   Truth be told, this play is a poem and a celebration of New York and the gay community here and more importantly on the road wherever it is likely to head next.

Nine short plays written by contemporary masters presented by six talented and attractive actors in an elegant staged reading format - don't you just love it already?

It's funny, satirical, poignant, relevant and most importantly inspirational.  I laughed mostly, cried once and was filled generally with joy the entire time.  It's not the stars that matter in this play - it's the terrifically entertaining material penned by Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Moises Kaufman, Joe Keenan, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, Joe Keenan, Paul Rudnick and Doug Wright.

The New York City production - at the Minetta Lane Theatre - is being presented by: Craig Bierko, Mark Consuelos, Polly Draper, Harriet Harris, Beth Leavel, and Richard Thomas.

Don't miss a feel-good night out.  A portion of the proceeds from this production goes to Freedom to Marry.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bonnie & Clyde

The latest installment in the category of new musicals is taking aim Broadway this month.  Bonnie & Clyde takes up residence at the Schoenfeld Theatre and is aiming for a bulls-eye right on the hearts of its audiences.

Two very talented, up-and-coming (i bet they hate that term) Broadway stars-in-the making take the driver's seat in hopes of winning over audience after audiences to see things their gun-slinging way.  Laura Osnes is a captivating actress with the vocal prowess to back her up from start to finish.  She nails Bonnie's desires and dreams all the while falling in love and getting sucked into Clyde's growing world of crime and guns.   Jeremy Jordan, who is possibly the sexiest man on Broadway today, allows us to see Clyde's tender, human side (and plenty of skin along with that big Broadway smile) as well as his penchant for mischief and his endless dream of being remembered as somebody.

Bonnie & Clyde's book by Ivan Menchell should be a top contender for a Tony this year.  He's taken a classic American story, poured his heart into additional research about people behind the legends and laid it out in a swift flowing love story that unfolds neatly over 2 1/2 hours.   Don Black (Lyrics) and Frank Wildhorn (Music) have taken a little country music, a whole lot of Broadway, added some some pop-like vocals and blended them all together to aptly accompany the book.  The result, at its core, is a fantastic love story that has, what most would not realize, is a happy ending for the two characters.

Technically - all around - the show was magnificent - Sets and costumes by Tobin Ost were completely immersed in the period - including the "curtains" of wood posts and slats that continually revealed and hit the upstage scenes and actors; The lighting by Michael Gilliam, of course, had to contain the requisite strobes and flashes of the guns, but he used every square inch of the downstage and upstage to display a complete repertoire of lighting effects that appropriately highlighted and hid the action;  Sound by John Shivers provided for ricocheting bullets around the theatre and almost entirely naturally amplified the vocals and dialogue throughout the theatre.  This show also naturally lends itself to the use of video projections - by Aaron Rhyne.  Real newspaper headlines and WANTED posters were often flashed on walls.  And the characters often snapped pictures of themselves on stage in a certain pose with an old fashioned camera - and then instantly the same authentic old photograph of the subjects (in the same positions) would get projected on the backdrop on stage.  Which brings me back to costumes (Tobin Ost), Hair and Wigs (Charles LaPointe), Makeup (Ashley Ryan) - I lost count of how many times I saw the detail that went into the craft - such as Bonnie's dress, her hairstyle, and just how remarkably similar the actors looked to the real-life historic photographs of the characters they were portraying.  Projections can sometimes be distracting.  In this case, Bravo Aaron Rhyne and director Jeff Calhoun for an appropriate dispatch of the technology.

With all this technical and performing brilliance, there is one note I'd like to give to the director.  Shorten it up!  Mr. Menchell's book may be thorough, but he's got too much exposition and repeated themes.  The opening scene was brilliantly brief.  In under 10 minutes we were acclimated to the storyline, setting, time, and provided the general character and plot exposition.  Use that technique more throughout the play.  Cut the repeated love scenes (and at least one or two numbers from each act) and focus on keeping the story moving.  Shorten Act I and speed up Act II.  Get this thing moving at a quicker pace and you'll have happier audiences who leave the theatre saying "Great show" instead of "Great show, but too long.  Trim it down to 120 minutes including the intermission and you, sir, will have hit the target with a bulls-eye.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wild Animals You Should Know

If there's an off-Broadway play you should see this season, add Thomas Higgins' thought provoking, contemporary new work, Wild Animals You Should Know, to your list.  The play is not an "answer" play, but rather a play that presents characters and situations and leaves you to assemble your own judgments.   Mr. Higgins, along with the young and talented director Trip Cullman, certainly have their own points of view, but this is one of those plays that suggests, pokes, and prods you in a direction, but never comes out and tells you what you should walk away thinking.  In this light - my review may be one of many you read - and you may find someone else with an entirely different take on what they saw.   And I'm pretty sure that's just what Mr's Cullman and Higgins intend.

Jacob (Gideon Glick), an awkward, skinny, affable yet shy, dorky, friendly, openly-gay middle school kid in the suburbs (think Curt from Glee, if you must) is in love with Matthew (Jay Armstrong Johnson) a virtually perfect human specimen - to-die-for looks, blond hair, chiseled body, talented, smart, athletic, outgoing, engaging and fun to be around (think... well fill in your own fantasy with that one).   Right from the very beginning both Jacob (and the audience) is teased by pretty-boy Matthew stripping his clothes off for Jacob over Skype.   Is Matthew gay?  Or is he just an attention-craving teenage boy with a bestie who's gay?  That happens today, right?  Not sure yet.  He claims he's not.  Things heat up when Matthew gazes out his window and catches a glimpse of two men in a window across the street kissing.  He's fascinated (or is it more?). The man happens to be his handsome 20-something Boy Scout Troop Leader (shocker!), Rodney (John Behlmann).  He goes on later to make a passing reference to Jacob's great blow jobs which he enjoys but of course for which he never reciprocates.  Did he just say that? Maybe?  Still not sure.

When the two teen-boys end up going on a camping trip with the Scout Leader, Matthew sets the wheels in motion to "out" the scout leader by coming onto him and then threatening to tell everyone he was molested by the leader if he didn't resign.   The sexual tension and anger in this scene is palpable back to the last row of the theatre.  Unfortunately, his plot works and not only does the scout leader end up resigning, he's outed to the entire town and now everyone is speculating as to why he was involved with the scouts in the first place.

Matthew's father, Walter, (Patrick Breen) is involved in the camping trip too and he has his own set of issues - some suggested and others admitted - husband-wife (Alice Ripley) issues, father-son issues, inferiority, assertiveness.  Matthew is clearly the proverbial gun in this single act play.  And this gun is not only fired directly at Rodney, it's fired repeatedly at his best friend Jacob and indirectly at his father (and mother).

The entire 100 minutes are spent speculating who and what Matthew really is is deep down inside.  I made up my mind early on, mostly taking my cues from the periodic spot-lighting of characters in certain scenes, the purposeful looks, and the general repetition of the proposition and theme itself - plus, of course, my own personal experiences growing up gay.  I'm pretty sure that we're supposed to leave the theatre feeling sorry for Matthew, even after all he's done to destroy others' lives.  The only way I can see you could feel that way after all he's done is to logically conclude that for all his outward popularity, perfection, and all-American good-looks and talents is that he's really gay and frightened to death someone will find out and it will ruin his life.  His only mechanism to deal with it is to wield his power  (i.e. his ego, talents, and beauty) to dominate others and prove he's superior when all the while he's hurting on the inside yearning to break free.

I'm pretty sure either Mr. Cullman or Mr Higgins himself made sure that the very last scene of the play clinched the deal for those that hadn't already made up their minds.  You'll just have to sit through all 99 minutes to see what I mean.   The last minute is well worth the other 98.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I tend to agree with Roma a lot.  When I say Roma, I assume you all know that I mean Roma Torre of NY1.  She's a bell-weather theater critic who tells it like it is and avoids most of the drama (figuratively, not literally!).  Having heard her mixed review, I thought it worth a visit to see Asuncion for myself.  And I did just that this past weekend.

Jesse Eisenberg (you all know him - he's that Facebook guy... er... well... the guy who played the Facebook guy in that movie about Facebook) wrote a play (he's written several) and it's being presented by Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Mr. Eisenberg, not being a shy actor, also stars in the play.  I'm going to divide this review up into two parts: Acting and Construction. 

Acting:  Bravo Mr. Eisenberg for playing Edgar, quite possibly the most neurotic and obsessed young man on the stage in the entire city - on Broadway or off!  Safe to say Jesse may just have a minor connection to the roots of this character's tendencies to have both invented him and brought him to life with such aplomb.  Justin Bartha brilliantly portrays Vinny, Edgar's one-time college TA, now roommate, friend, and ultimate protector.  Mr. Bartha, uber-sexy with his shirt off and on portrays Vinny in the life one might categorize as a terminally liberal and lazy academic.  He's a professor now, smokes pot, loves to flirt with women, occasionally writes music, pushes social boundaries, lives in a run-down apartment in what appears to be a not-so-nice area of town and, did I mention, smokes a lot of pot?  Along comes the coy, mysterious, and bubbly Filapina bride of Edgar's brother (Remy Auberjonois), the titular character, Asuncion, played with complete and non-stop effervescence by Camille Mana.  Solid acting all around - some of it physical, most of it darkly funny.

Construction:  I believe Mr. Eisenberg wrote this play before he became famous for his role in the blockbuster hit, The Social Network.  That would mean he wrote this play in his early 20's.  That's young.  Even for someone as smart, insightful, and as wickedly talented as Mr. Eisenberg.  Clearly he has an ear for sharp dialogue, an eye for physical comedy, and a nose for sniffing out a joke in just about any situation.  What hit me about this work is that it tried to cover too much ground.  African nationalism, McDonalds, dumb Americans , drugs, liberalism, the sex-slave trade and mail order bride trade in Southeast Asia... and the list goes on.  An exploration of any one of these topics could consume a good 90 minutes each and we only had about 120 for the entire bundle.  To further complicate matters - we opened up all these doors in Act I and had very little time to resolve most of them in Act II.  Frankly, I was altogether disappointed in the actual reason as to the presence of Asuncion.  It was a weak and frankly came so late that no time could be spent even trying to repair it.

Mr. Eisenberg certainly has a burgeoning writing career ahead of him.  And even if that has a few ups and downs along the way, his acting chops and endearingly handsome looks and affable awkwardness will certainly carry him along. I'm sure we'll see and hear more of this rising star very soon.  For now, if you can get a reasonably priced ticket - head down to the Cherry Lane Theater on Commerce Street in the always-cozy West Village and take in a performance of Asuncion before Mr. Eisenberg gets too famous inventing some new social networking tool... oh wait... that's not him!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Theresa Rebeck's new play on Broadway at the Golden Theatre, Seminar, is a witty, sharp, and intelligent comedy about writers - specifically 4 up-and-coming fiction writers who hire a world-renowned literary genius to tutor them privately and share his vast knowledge and experience.   What they end up with is not exactly what they bargained for.  Or is it?

Alan Rickman shines as Leonard, a (not unexpected) curmudgeonly-behaved, sexist, opinionated literary giant with a storied past, in this quick-paced, biting, and words-mean-something 100-minute, no intermission gem.  Rickman's brilliance notwithstanding - the supporting cast is a bevy of talent all on their own - including Lily Rabe as the deliciously delicate Kate; Jerry O'Connell as Douglas, the self assured smooth-operator with a family name behind him; Hamish Linklater, the brooding, shy and brilliant (not to mention incredibly sexy with his short off) young writer, Martin; and Hettienne Park, the seductive, sexy, and playful young writer who isn't afraid to play "the game".

What does this wicked brew of talent all on one stage add up to, you ask?  I'm going to estimate that 1 + 4 = a perfect 10.  The comedy is well-timed, the chemistry (sexual and otherwise) among the young fiction writers is clearly present - and Mr. Rickman turns in a top notch performance lambasting them, the industry, and just about everything else he can get his hands on.  There's a dark secret in his past and I'll leave it up to you to see who ends up sleeping with whom.  I'm pretty sure you'll be surprised.

Scene changes are crisp, the set design is quintessential New York (David Zinn), and impecably lit (Ben Standon).  You'll even get a bonus in the last scene that I'm sure you were not expecting.

Don't let Seminar pass you by this fall.  Tickets for the privilege of seeing Mr. Rickman and his students are far less than the $5,000 each of the characters paid for their seminar.  And I'm pretty sure you'll want to get past the first 5 words - even if Mr. Rickman doesn't give a shit.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sons of the Prophet

Stephen Karam got his start in the deep dark chambers of the Roundabout Underground at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (i love saying that mouthful) on West 46th Street a few seasons ago with Speech & Debate.  Well reviewed and well received see my own prior review here, the staff at the Roundabout have promoted him one floor up to the main stage with his latest work, Sons of the Prophet.  Quite a nice promotion for the young and talented playwright.

If you're going to a play for action, adventure, non-stop laughter, or any other sensory overload experience - this is not the play for you.   This play, simply put, is a matter-of-fact, slice-of-life, take-it-for-what it's-worth, darkly funny, but intensely serious play that is only magnified by the fine actors of all ages presenting it on the stage.

Taking the helm is one to today's extremely handsome, adaptable and charismatic actors, Santino Fontana, as Joseph (last seen at the roundabout as Earnest in The Importance of Bring Earnest).  Joanna Gleason takes on some of the comic relief in her hysterically funny and ironically honest portrayal of Joseph's boss, Gloria.  Supporting Mr. Fontana quite aptly are the adorable Chris Perfetti (Charles, his brother), an incredibly hunky Charles Socarides (Timothy, a reporter), Yusef Bulos (Bill, his uncle) Jonathan Louis Dent (Vin, the local football star) and Lizbeth MacKay and Dee Nelson (both playing multiple and ocassionally hysterical ensemble characters).

The circumstances of the play are as follows:  Lebanese father of two gay sons (what are the chances?) killed in car crash caused by teenage prank executed by one local black (mulatto) football star.  Controversy ensues when boy sentenced to juvenile detention after championship football game.  Family and community torn over this decision.  Boys turn to family, faith and friends to help soothe, sort out, and understand what's best for all concerned.  Throw in a dash of timely health-care issues (Joseph has to take a job Gloria to get health benefits for his ailments) and a few social, religious and political barbs and you've got a cauldron that simmers evenly and emits a delicious aroma that permeates the theatre entire show.

No flying spiders.  No trampolines.  No flying monkeys.  Just a great night of stage acting and theatre that leaves you with a few things to think about on the way out.  Bravo Mr. Karam and to the entire cast.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Private Lives

Noel Coward is back on Broadway with his delightfully light and fun, Private Lives.  Despite its length (3 full old-fashioned acts for those of you who want to catch the 10:45 train to Scarsdale!) the characters' energy and vigor shine through in the performances and almost make you forget how late it is when you exit the theatre.

Kim Cattrall, while not a stranger to either stage or screen, appears to me from reading her bio in the playbill to be making her Broadway debut as Amanda.  Playing opposite her, as the ex-husband, Elyot,  her is the handsome Paul Gross, "one of Canada's most popular actors" (I'm quoting the playbill here).

Together they weave a bit of a farcical tale about two wild and crazy lovers who marry only to find out they didn't like living with each other and got divorced.  Reunited, by chance, on the French riviera on adjoining hotel balconies, both on their second honeymoons, they recklessly decide they were meant to be and run off to Paris together to start again.  What follows is a dizzying array of romance, fights, misunderstandings, and apologies in their fabulous Paris apartment (Kudos to Rob Howell, set Designer).

This production is fresh off the west-end where Cattrall first took the leading role.  Not exactly "freshened-up" for the American audience,  I was hoping for some of the references and dialogue to be a bit less European.  And for the record, it did not go unnoticed by my theatre-going pals that these characters were all supposed to be in their early 30's.  Sir. Eyre (director) - did you realize Ms. Cattrall is in her 50s and despite her ravishing looks and divine figure, nobody is going to believe those ages for one moment?  You could only hope we missed that line altogether for it not to matter.

But alas, the fine performances by Cattrall and Gross and the supporting actors, Simon Paisley Day and Anna Madeley were more than enough to keep the eyes open and the spirit lifted despite the late hour it all wraps up on 45th Street.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Other Desert Cities

I originally reviewed the December 2010 Lincoln Center Theatre production at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre and my review can be found here.  An instantly popular commodity, the play, by John Robin Baitz, almost immediately announced a Broadway transfer for the following year.

You'll have to read my original review for the baseline facts and circumstances.  What I will say at this re-visit to the property is that the Broadway transfer, now starring Rachel Griffiths in her Broadway debut (replacing Elizabeth Marvel) and Judith Light (replacing Linda Lavin) in addition to the prior cast of Stockard Channing, Stacy Keach and Thomas Sadoski.

The show's tension level is even higher than before.  What Joe Mantello has been able to extract is the tighten the plot around the primary family secret, bring out the true and most pertinent family opinions, angst, fears, and political differences.   Ms. Light, as Silda, brings what appears to be a more intentionally focused political bent to the role where as Ms. Lavin played a more broad foil to the family.  Ms. Griffiths dives into the emotionally charged role with aplomb.  It's no secret she has masterfully played these broken roles in the past (Brenda Chenoweth on Six Feet Under, and Sarah Walker on Brothers and Sisters).  The result is a fantastic family-focused drama permeated by mystery and deception that may leave the family teetering on the brink of destruction.

You'll just have to pay a visit to the Booth Theatre to find out how it all plays out somewhere in the desert near Palm Springs.