Photo by Don Kellogg

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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Blue Flower

Architects and designers will tell you this all the time - not everything that looks good on paper translates well when actually constructed.    2ST has tried to breathe new and massive quantities of life into a wilting bud that was first presented in 2004 at the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF) and then again in Boston at the American Repertory Theatre in 2010.   Unfortunately, it may have worked in one of the intimate black-box theaters of NYMF, but the idea, when in full bloom at a larger off-Broadway stage wilts under the hot light of day.

Effectively a story about a story, about a story - (yes, that's a lot of stories) - the show is told to the audience  by a narrator while the actors mostly silently act and sing in a somewhat chaotic manner.  When the actors do speak (it's rare) it's often, as in the case of Max, is in his made up gibberish language - which I never did quite connect the dots as to why he started speaking it in the first place.   As a matter of fact, there are a lot of points in the show that, while intriguing, never quite connected to the next point.  And I haven't even gotten to the songs yet!  The songs, you ask?  I found myself asking song after song - what on earth does this song have to do with what I'm watching?   Finally, I still, after asking no less than 4 reasonably intelligent-looking, theatre-going people sitting near me in the theatre, cannot understand what the significance of the blue flower even is. It's the title of the show for Pete's sake and they used blue flower petals about 6 times in the show too!  You'd think the gun, used in both act 1 and act 2 would somehow be made relevant!   Confounding, to say the least.  Distracting, confusing, and illogical mostly.

Notice that my critique centers on the construction, substance, and mood of the work itself.  That's because despite the awkwardness - the actors and musicians (on stage!) were some of the best that Broadway and off-Broadway has to offer - and they didn't fail to deliver a top notch performance despite the material's crippling handicap.  Taking the helm is the incomparable Marc Kudisch as Max.  He's engaging, crisp and powerful with a voice that can't be matched.  Sebastian Arcelus, as Franz, likewise, is a kind, handsome (um, very), and emotionally torn friend to Max.  His tender voice filled the theatre with deep emotion.  Meghan McGeary (Hannah) and Teal Wicks (Maria) both turned in powerhouse performances.  I frankly didn't like either of their characters, nor most of the material they were given to perform - but looking past that fact, I cant deny their immense talents.

So while the sets may be imaginative (Beowulf Boritt) and the sketches and storyboards may have looked good, The Blue Flower doesn't translate well from page to stage.  Director Will Pomerantz gave it a gallant try but this miss is neither his nor the actors' faults.  Some books should just be left on the coffee table to admire.