Photo by Don Kellogg

Saturday, December 29, 2012


The proverbial gun is not so proverbial in this 90-minute stinger over at the Cort Theater.  The play opens at the literal and figurative end - loaded gun included.   We're instantly transported back in time and space as we revisit how we got here and what brought us to this exact moment.

Performances were hauntingly solid.  The pace is deliberate.  The intensity is ever-present.  Steve (Paul Rudd) and Sara (Kate Arrington) have relocated to Florida from Minnesota on a semi-religious, semi-financial journey to built a new faith-based motel chain (think - "Where would Jesus Stay?").  Their neighbor, Sam, (Michael Shannon) has experienced a tragic accident and loss.  Interloper and exterminator for the apartment building, Karl, (Ed Asner) brings both comic relief as well as some deeply painful emotion to the story.

The stew, as you already know, is not going to work out very well for all involved.  What playwright Craig Wright intends to impart in this powerhouse of a play are the questions of God, grace, forgiveness, and purpose, what a messy life we lead, and how one person's redemption and happiness may ultimately be at the expense of another.

Adding to the chilling intensity of the deceptively simple "trashy Florida rattan" furniture was Beowulf Boritt's barely noticeable rotation of the stage floor and entire set itself - too slow to see it actively moving (think, watching a plant grow), but when focused on a particular scene dialogue you blink and realize that everyone ends up in entirely different orientation.  Add to that, Darron L West's incessant whine of tropical insects and biting scene change static buzz, you are never given the opportunity to forget that nothing good lies ahead.

If you're uncomfortable around guns, especially given the recent shootings in CT, you may think twice before attending this particular show.  In any other Broadway season it would just be a footnote.  Many leaving the theater felt it was an uncomfortably poignant and painful reminder of the potential and inevitable carnage guns can bring.

Friday, December 28, 2012


Roma, once again, was right!  Rob McClure is the shining centerpiece of this charming and delightful new bio-musical by Christopher Curtis & Thomas Meehan.  Chaplin is an audacious look at the entire life of Charlie Chaplin, a.k.a. the Tramp, from his birth in the London streets to his meteoric rise to fame in America in silent pictures, to his controversial political ideas during the Red scare in the '50s all the way up to his triumphant return to America in 1972  - filled with the untold tales of his many private sorrows and joys in addition to the many public achievements and scandals we already knew.

The entire score is lush, playful, and engaging.  But what captured my eye and earned my praise from the first moment to the last was the degree to which Beowulf Boritt's ingenious sets, Amy Clark and Martin Paklediaz's pastiche of vintage costumes, and Ken Billington's brilliant lighting design completely and thoroughly captured the monochromatic emotion and feel that the entire black and white era evokes in our memories.

Rob McClure, already crowned the break-out triple-threat star of the season, most assuredly captured Chaplin with great care and aplomb in a fairly demanding role both physically and vocally.  His swan song 'Where are All the People?'  is undoubtedly the icing on the proverbial cake of the show to which Mr. McClure decisively and deservingly earned that rare event, a standing ovation, mid-show.   Stand-out cast members include Jenn Collela playing the well dressed, down-and-dirty Hollywood gossip columnist and radio show host, Hedda Hopper including a fine interpretation of the lyrical lilt to her unique voice and Wayne Alan Wilcox, playing Charlie's rock-solid and steadfast brother Sydney Chaplin.

The show has already announced a national and international tour starting in 2014 despite posting an early closing on Broadway January 6, 2013 - largely due to some mixed reviews compounded by the inability to overcome a box office slump during Hurricane Sandy.

If you can, RUN, DON'T WALK to catch this one before it quietly takes off on it's world tour.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dead Accounts

Roma was right.  This play stinks.  And when I say "this play", I mean the actual script itself.  Theresa Rebeck got thrown off SMASH after the first season and someone should now officially throw her off Broadway too.  Dead Accounts amounts to nothing more than a bad sit-com that doesn't come close to cutting it on stage.  Most of the characters are way overly-exaggerated to be believed.  While perhaps a common trait in 30 minute situation comedy writing, it's not at all a good idea for a 2 hour stage play charging upwards of $100 per seat.

What about the acting, you might ask?  Well, that was mixed but decent.  Norbert Leo Butz, plays his sweet spot to the nines - a hyperactive, neurotic, mess.  Katie Holmes turns in a decent performance despite the trite material which has her vacillating between dumb and kind to just plain dumb. Jane Houdyshell shines in the role of dowdy and typical aging mid-western mother with limited brain capacity for independent thought and therefore fixated on God.  Josh Hamilton (Phil) had nothing more than a cameo-type role (think guest star on a SNL skit) and Judy Greer turns in what I would consider the worst performance of the evening.  The buildup to her character's arrival was substantial and the meek, baby-talking, inappropriately innocent girl that showed up was disappointing to say the least.

The New Yorker "observations" penned by Ms. Rebeck were marginally entertaining but like everything else, unnecessarily over-the-top.  The out-of-towners seemed to get most (but not all) of the jabs. And when it came to Ms. Holmes' scene stealing melt-down about the greed of banks, the audience clearly showed their mid-western ignorance.  (And by 'audience' I mean the gaggle of noisy out-of-town tourists straight off the big white bus who filled the last two rows of the mezzanine (read, cheapest seats) just because Katie Holmes was on the marquis while there were over 12 empty rows of seats  in front of them).  

Roma was right - and the word is out.  Dead Accounts is indeed dead.   Dead on Arrival.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

OK, take a deep breath.  Ready?  This one is a mouthful.  A delightful, delicious, and audaciously entertaining mouthful.

Charles Dickens started a novel and died before it was finished.  Rupert Holmes (Book, Music, and Lyrics) thought it would be clever to write a musical that offered a cast - playing actors - who were playing actors - in a  musical where the audience would vote on the outcome of Dickens' novel in an interactive, "first-ever" theatrical experience.  Got all that?   Don't worry it's not all that complicated.  It's actually quite fun.

OK, so each of the actors plays and actor playing an actor.  For example, the stalwart, Jim Norton, plays the Chairman of the theatre company and then by proxy, Mr. William Cartwright in the musical.  Will Chase plays Mr. Clive Paget playing John Jasper in the musical.   And I could go on and on and on... This cast is one of those endless pools of talent both young and old - Stephanie J. Block, Jessie Mueller, Andy Karl, and living legend, Chita Rivera - just to start things off.

It's an entertaining, interactive, and fun Roundabout Theater Company production over at Studio 54.  Since the cast is intentionally interacting with the audience as their actor-characters, the joviality and camaraderie shines through and brings joy and delight - literally out into the audience and up in the mezzanine.  And at the end of act 2, you'll vote not only on who you think killed Edwin Drood, but a mash-up of other outcomes as well.

Well, I can't really tell you the ending.  While I haven't studied the book, i suspect there are a multitude of endings possible and ever more fun to be had rehearsing them all!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Civil War Christmas

Paula Vogel has penned a historical perspective on an age-old tradition - Christmas.  Her version is a dramatic triptych on the holiday which takes place during the civil war.  Each of the 3 main plot perspectives share equally in the joy and sadness of the historical holiday - smack in the middle of the civil war - Stories from the North, the South, and the always steady Abe and emotionally unstable Mary Lincoln centrally located in the White house.

It's not quite a musical but more of a play with music - but less-so a play and more story-telling theatrical experience. The music was all Christmas carols cleverly placed throughout the scenes.  All the fine actors in full regalia and costumes played multiple characters with little-to-no scenery - merely a few props and chairs upon which the fine actors created an entire landscape and mood.  

Of all the extremely talented actors, the one stand-out performer was Jonathan-David (yes, i correctly hyphenated his "name") as Ely Parker, Silver, Frederick Wormley, Moses Levy and others.  Clearly a trained dancer, a fine improv actor, and vocally impressive.  A stalwart and stubborn Mary Lincoln was played with Aplomb by Alice Ripley.

Having already seen Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) on the big screen just the weekend before and seeing this show just before Christmas put me in just the right mood.  I doubt this one would go over very well in August, but certainly a heart-warming, entertaining history-lesson on the small stage down at the New York Theatre Workshop on East 4th.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Whale

A brutally honest, raw, and sad tale told by Samuel D. Hunter over on 42nd Street at Playwrights Horizons.  What do you get when you combine a morbidly obese man, an estranged daughter, a deeply guarded secret, a young Mormon boy, and a mysteriously  connected lady-friend?    That's a lot to be simmering just below the surface.  Under Davis McCallum's direction, The Whale slowly simmers, occasionally bubbles and eventually erupts into a full boil just as the curtain falls.

Charlie (Shuler Hensley), literally inflated in a humongous fat-suit, does a shockingly realistic job at portraying a 600 pound man on the verge of a "natural" death due to his weight.  In his final days, he wishes to reconcile with his estranged wife and daughter he last saw when she was a baby.  Why has he grown to this size?  What has driven his eating?  Enter stage left, Liz (Rebecca Henderson).  She's his life-line, a friend with an attachment we only come to know later after we meet Elder Thomas (Cory Michael Smith), a young Mormon missionary who eventually crosses paths with Charlie's young,  angry, and introverted daughter, Ellie (Reyna De Courcy) and her mother, Mary (Tasha Lawrence).

As the tale wrapped in allegorical references to Moby Dick unfolds, the proverbial plot thickens and the reasons and root causes we have all been waiting for begin to unfold.  Jane Cox (lighting) and Fritz Patton (sound design) deserve a shout-out for the excellent mood-heightening effects of the belly of the whale.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet

Pretty much a 'Debbie Downer' over at Roundabout's Laura Pels.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who was related to whom and why we were all here.  As the vague plot unfolds (painfully slow) details, possibly on purpose, seem to be omitted.  I am pretty sure that was Playwright, Nick Payne's intention. Indeed it added a sense of despair to an already bewildering and depressing statement presented about one family's failed attempts at... well... family.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Terry) takes a stand out lead in this otherwise lackluster production.  Brian F. O'Byrne (George) has a more minor character but clearly does his part to mire the family down.

Director, Michael Longhurst, takes a big risk by immersing the play in water - overhead, and on-stage.  I doubt Mr. Longhurst could foretell the impending storm called Sandy, but in retrospect, his staging has an eerily dual impacts.

Although the concepts were seemingly well integrated with the staging - as disturbing as throwing the set pieces in the moat when they were done with them - I left the theatre with mixed feelings - - slightly satisfied at the overall staging and presentation but mostly disappointed at the pace and sense of vague-ness.

I say slightly because at some level, this work is a visceral, raw, and powerful attempt at telling an honest, deeply disturbing, and sadly quite common state of the family today.  I'm trying not to confuse that sadness with the pace and presentation itself.  That balance can be hard to identify and recon with.  

... I haven't found it yet either.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Kinky Boots

A great book by Harvey Fierstein, knock-out music & lyrics by Cindi Lauper and some fresh direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell will surely turn this out-of-town tryout into an instant Broadway hit.

I caught this one in Chicago after only 2 weeks of live performances and already it's showing it has legs... (it better because those boots are very tall!).   Dreamy and boyish Stark Sands and the devilishly wild and coy Billy Porter take the helm of the movie to musical re-make and left no butts in any seats by the climactic end of the show.

Part La Cage Aux Folles, part Dreamgirls, part Priscilla Queen of the Desert, with a heaping spoonful of the original movie (based on a true story) this show takes a little bit of all that and turns it into an extremely entertaining, energetic, fun, and heart-warming evening in the theatre.

Look out New York - these boots are made for walking - all the way from Chicago to the Great White Way.  All you NYC divas better get ready for some competition.  These red boots are on fire!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Don't Go Gentle

Stephen Belber's new play, Don't Go Gentle, is a powerful and moving family and human drama.  And with Michael Cristofer (Lawrence) at the helm, it's a bona-fide tour-de-force.

David Wilson Barnes and Jennifer Mudge (both recently seen in The Big Meal) turn in top notch performances as Lawrence's fairly damaged children.  Maxx Brawer, young newcomer, and Angela Lewis (recently seen in Milk Like Sugar) aptly serve as the interlopers.

Smartly written.  Cleverly crafted.  Superbly acted.

Run.  Don't Walk.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Modern Terrorism, or They Who Want To Kill us and How We Learn To Love Them

I'm not one of those people who attends sporting or political events and chants "U-S-A. U-S-A".  But neither am I some bleeding-heart liberal who thinks a terrorist is an unavoidable product of the lack of education and their religion culture for which we should forgive them.

There is a very slim chance I may have actually had some empathy for the characters in this play if it were actually written by a Muslim or African or even a member of the Taliban.  No such luck.  It was written by an arrogant, opinionated white guy and offers little contribution to anyone's conversation.   (Insert Buzzer sound here).

Steven Boyer, (last seen in School For Lies and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) entertained us as the dopey upstairs neighbor but the material and storyline take his performance into the toilet.  William Jackson Harper (last seen in A Cool Dip in the Barren Sarahan Crick) resurrects his "preachy" side again and turns in another fine performance despite the material.  

When a show's opening scene is a black African Muslim man with his hands in an Indian-looking young boy's underwear fiddling around with some wires sticking out...

Poor taste.  Bad writing in poor taste.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Red Dog Howls

Alexander Dinelaris' new play has taken a few years to make it to New York and it's pretty clear why you won't be seeing this one any time soon again.  It's wordy, over-indulgent, a bit too much of a history lesson, and too long.

Kathleen Chalfant (Rose Afratian) is a grande damme of the stage, but even her effortless and virtually flawless performance could not overcome the deficit of material and the painful and stiff performance of Alfredo Narciso (Michael Kiriakos) - which was either his own doing or that of director Ken Rus Schmoll.  

This is one of those plays that you don't get to figure everything out until the key is handed to you at the very end.  And when this key was handed to me i wanted to toss it in the Hudson River.   If you think about it for more than 5 minutes, the entire construct of Rose makes no sense whatsoever.  She lived a life to 90+ years old and never once thought to do what she did before now?

Please.  I don't believe it for a minute.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


I'm frankly a bit confused by Lisa D'Amour's new play being presented over at Playwrights Horizons.  It's seemingly missing a soul or at least one that director, Anne Kauffman failed to unearth.  Fairly well-acted (read, could have been better), moderately funny, but mostly a snooze - the material never grabbed me.  Frankly, I think 90% of the theatre left the show with the same un-answered questions as me and were generally bewildered by the rambling, directionless, and oddly concluded plot.

David Schwimmer, Darren Pettie, Amy Ryan, and new-commer Sarah Sololovic prove capable but the material seemed to limit their abilities.  And Poor John Cullum doesn't even appear until the very end.

Let's just hope Second Stage doesn't pick this one up next season.  It certainly doesn't deserve another look.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Chad Beguelin's new play is delightful.  A gay couple unexpectedly come upon a turning point in their relationship.  Which road will they choose?  It may not be the one you think.  Making it's debut at the Westport Playhouse, Mr. Beguelin's Harbor is a 4 character charmer with equal doses of reality and humor.

The uber-adorable (especially with his short off)  Bobby Steggert (Kevin) and very-easy-on-the-eyes, Paul Anthony Stewart (Ted) turn in endearing and honest performances but it's Alexis Molnar (Lottie) who steals the show (and your heart) without your even realizing it.

Look for this one to grace a New York stage very soon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

One Man, Two Guvnors

Summer is the perfect time for a silly romp on Broadway.  Although I always regret not seeing things early in their run when they are more fresh and the audience is more of a "Broadway crowd", I knew this one could wait.

James Corden - indeed a goofy, silly, British wonder-boy extraordinaire!  Although Richard Bean's (book) humor was not necessarily my cup of tea, indeed i still laughed quite a lot.  The show's "secret" got out early and the producers and director had to adapt a bit to be able to react to the audiences' un-intended participation in a few of the ad-lib bits, but a fine job they did in molding the show even further - - and most of that credit goes to the improv skills of Mr. Corden himself.  A true gem on stage.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


A coming of age story (that's what we used to call bullying) of both boys and girls.  Tough.  Brutal.  Honest.  Powerful.

Joe Mantello and Christopher Gattelli bring Peter Duchan's Book and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's music and lyrics to a brilliant life at Second Stage.   Lindsay Mendez, Josh Segarra, and Nick Blaemire and a large supporting cast bring a youthful innocence and believability factor to the characters all the while exercising their acting chops on some very fine material.

A summer treat.  Sets and Costumes by David Zinn were as good as they could be - every inch of vertical space was cleverly used given the 4 close walls of the theatre.

Look for this one in years to come on a bigger stage.  There's more potential just waiting to be exploited.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Storefront Chruch

John Patrick Shanley's new work is a powder-keg.  The third and final work in his trilogy that started with Doubt, continued with Defiance, now ends with Storefront Church.  (One wonders why, given the plot, it is not named Debt).  Staged at the Atlantic Theatre Company's Linda Gross Theatre, a former church, itself, the play explores the ethics and power behind and between religion and politics and their, some would say, dangerous, others would say, rewarding intersection.

Sharp, intelligent dialogue.  Powerful performances.  Thought provoking and relevant plot.  These words don't even do the work justice.  You'll take a side.  It doesn't matter which one, but you'll take a side.

Bob Dishy is deliciously funny as Ethan Goldklang.  Giancarlo Esposito helms the tense production with aplomb as Bronx borough president, Donaldo Calderon.  Zach Grenier is pitch-perfect in his portrayal of fallen banker, Reed Van Druyten.  Ron Cephas Jones takes on the stoic, angry, and conflicted reverend, Chester Kimmich.  Jordan Lage plays the role of bank CEO Tom Raidenberg with aplomb.

I had high hopes for Tonya Pinkins in this production and they were dashed.  Specifically I was quite annoyed at Mr. Shanley's choice to have her speak with a Puerto Rican accent.  She was terrible at that and it would have been very simple to have her speak like an old black woman instead  - after all - she is black and we know she can do it from her award winning performance in Caroline or Change.  That alone could have turned her performance from disappointing and mediocre to pivotal and powerful and it would not have affected the plot in any significant way.

Will this one transfer to Broadway?  Doubt certainly did.  Defiance did not (and probably didn't deserve it).  Change the name to Debt (it's catchier), throw out a few elongated scene changes, and maybe skip the music, and you may just have Broadway's next hit.  After all, off-Broadway is the new Broadway testing ground these days.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In the Company of Jane Doe

Sometimes a play off-off Broadway is a powerhouse production, a tour-de-force, a watershed event.  Tiffany Antone's In the Company of Jane Doe is not one of those events.

It's not that the play is without merit, but it felt a bit immature.  Perhaps that is my dis-taste for wink-and-nod plots.  Or perhaps it was just that the work is a bit immature -- and by immature I don't mean kids were running around the stage  -- but rather the dialogue and plot seemed like it was written for a high school or college play-writing competition - unrefined, quickly thrown together with a few gimmicks, and not overly deep, meaningful, or thought-provoking.

Ok, it's a comedy - I don't want to bring us all down too much here.  There were quite a few stand-out performances by the actors - and sometimes that can make up for plot deficiencies.  Jason Guy (Dr. Snafu) stands out head and shoulders above the rest with his physically funny and intellectually intelligent comedy - not to mention his pitch-perfect comic timing.  Adorably cute Tasmanian newcomer, Robert Maxwell, made his New York Debut with an incredible American accent as Samuel Spritz (and he got the chance to let his true voice out as a doctor in the ensemble!).  And Francesca Day magnificently pulls off a better Fran Drescher than Fran Drescher herself!   Rounding out the cast are Marta Keursten (Jane), Joe Stipek (Doctor), Elizabeth Neptune (Doctor), Brooke Berry (Dr. Annabelle), and Sarah Brill (Jenny).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

pool (no water)

Off-off Broadway can be one of the best grounds for exciting, ground-breaking, and intellectually stimulating new works and Mark Ravenhill's new work, pool (no water), is no exception.  Under the direction of Ianthe Demos, this production by One Year Lease Theater Company at 9th Space on First Avenue evokes a feeling of poetry and a ballet-like choreography (Natalie Lomonte) to accompany the rich, raw, and brutally honest dialogue of the characters.

Through the lens of five artists, we hear a tale of jealousy, envy, love, hate, and success.  The dialogue reveals their outer shells as well as their inner thoughts, fears, and ideas - some compassionate, others pure evil.  The show's ballet is a balancing act among all those factors as the tale of their east-coast/west coast relationship unfolds.

Brilliantly staged, lit, and choreographed - the power of this production is in the dialogue, not special effects and I hope that future productions continue to exploit this power.  The dynamic cast, many of whom are also the creatives, includes Estelle Bajou, Christopher Baker, Nick Flint, Christine Bennett Lind, and Richard Saudek.