Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Lady From Dubuque

As it seems is customary, egomaniac, Edward Albee has not only placed his name in the title of his play but also put his picture on the playbill cover.  He's like the Donald Trump of the play-world.  Beyond annoying.  But... I digress...

The Pershing Square Signature Center's inaugural season at the MiMa on 42nd Street contains a solid, powerful, and mysteriously eerie production of Albee's great work.

The perfectly suited two-act play reveals the backstory of the 6 neighborhood couples in all their raw glory, insecurity, and jealousies in act 1 then switches focus to the visitation by the lady from Dubuque in act 2.  Jo (Laila Robins) tears viciously into her husband, Sam, (Michael Hayden) with raw emotion - a mix of her illness, her pills, and likely just ugly truth.  Neighbors including Fred and Lucinda (C.J Wilson and Catherine Curtin) and Edgar and Carol (Thomas Jay Ryan and Tricia Paoluccio) fill in the requisite pastiche of charicitures  and stereotypes of a weak and timid husband and a ditz (Fred and Lucinda), and a drunk/racist and a floozie (Oscar and Carol).  With a cast as rich as this, the vitriol and barbs are ruthless, endless, and always on target.   Act 2 brings the visit by the mysterious Elizabeth, the lady from Dubuque (Jane Alexander) in all her impeccable power, beauty, and grace and her extremely sarcastically amusing sidekick, Oscar (Peter Francis James).

Despite Albee's unnecessary ego, the play is quite good, cuts to the quick, and is well acted.  In many ways, similar to a distant cousin, God of Carnage although superior in every way.   The set by John Arnone is opulently modern and sophisticated - including the trees in the background.  Director David Esbjornson has done his best at putting his own stamp on Albee's visceral work.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Playwright Leslye Headland is likely good at a minimum of four things:  grammar, being an assistant, reading people, and writing plays.  Each of these traits is quite obvious from a brief, yet incredibly entertaining evening at Playwrights Horizons to take in a performance of Assistance.

Six mixed-up, shook-up, wired-up, young assistants get messed-up, chewed-up and spit-out by an un-seen, un-heard un-relenting, un-kind, president of the company.   Mr. David Weisgert, whom we never actually see or hear, is indolent, un-reasonable, demanding, and over-the-top, and drives these assistants – both literally and figuratively – crazy.

The goal in the office seems to be to get in (that’s hard) and get out  - “across the hall” as fast as you can (even harder).  Part dig on corporate America, part study of what drives people to crave these maddening jobs, and mostly just an hysterical, all-too-familiar composite of some bosses we once knew and truly hated.

Nick (Michael Esper) and Nora (Virginia Kull) work out their issues through flirting and eventually sex (in the office).  Jenny (Sue Jean Kim) gets cut while she’s still an intern, Vince (Lucas Near-Verbugghe), a bit of a creep, is the first to “make it out”.  Jenny (Amy Rosoff) brings her ice-cool British-game to the office and Justin, a.k.a Bird (Bobby Steggert) puts in his time on the road with the boss as his personal assistant, suffers the battle scars to prove it, and eventually “makes it” into the office too.  One by one they rise… and fall.

The dialogue is quick, the banter, believable and the non-stop telephone-ballet, quite impressive.  I’m not saying that any of these talented actors should ever be unemployed and working the phones – but either many of them have indeed suffered the pains of an office assistant job, or they are quick studies not only into the art, but also the emotional intensity.  Either that, or director Trip Cullman is one hell of a teacher.  

Maybe it’s a little bit of all that - so tightly wound and ready to explode each night - that makes Assistance an 80-minute romp on West 42nd Street each and every night.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Look Back In Anger

John Osborne's 1956 play, Look Back in Anger, has been staged in London on the West End and subsequently on Broadway - both to a rather cool, if not frigid reception.  Movie versions were made in 1959, 1980, and 1989.  Acting and terrific performances aside this go-round, most of the critics historically were mostly unhappy with the story itself.  Although I stayed the entire 2 hours and 30 minutes this time around, the play still only warranted about 90 of them.

The play is truly a 4-some ensemble.  Matthew Rhys, the handsome and familiar Welsh actor from television's Brothers & Sisters, Adam Driver, a familiar Roundabout Theatre player , Sarah Goldberg and Charlotte Parry all handily carried their roles and graced the tiny sliver of stage they were allotted by director, Sam Gold, with power, grace, and presence - the only trouble really being the overly drawn-out material by Mr. Osborne.  Mr. Gold's choices in lighting, and the use of the "off-stage" area were innovative.  And Mr. Rhys' trumpet playing skills were certainly put to good use.

At an off-Broadway ticket price the cast is certainly worth seeing, but I highly recommend you get a cup of coffee at Starbucks around the corner before entering the theatre.  You're likely to need a double to get through the fine performances of this dirge.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How I Leaned To Drive

Paula Vogel's award-winning 1997 play is receiving its first professional production since it premiered 15 years ago at the Vineyard Theater.   Second Stage Theatre is breathing new life into the uncomfortable subject matter of pedophilia, incest, and misogyny.

Dare I say, it's not one of those plays that will cause hoards of fans to mob the box office.  Exactly the opposite, I'm quite sure.   I think Second Stage knew that in order for this extremely difficult subject matter to succeed for even a brief run, it has to bring in a star.   In its prior incarnation, Mary Louise Parker was the draw.  In this rebirth, Norbert Leo Butz has the daunting task of playing Uncle Peck, a seemingly normal, affable, and likable man living with his family in rural Maryland in the 1960s.

Ms. Vogel's power is not in the overt, but in nuance and innuendo.  Uncle Peck never once physically harms his niece.  He is always proclaiming to be her protector.  Her friend.  He employs practically all the tools you would expect that a man of this kind would have in his repertoire.   Ms Vogel has cleverly woven in the analogy of literally learning how to drive a car with the figurative narrative and action on stage about growing up, innocence lost, co-dependent relationships, excuses, betrayal, and emotions of the characters.

I left the theater wondering why someone (specifically Mr. Butz) would want to take on this role.  I'm not sure I have an answer beyond "it certainly would be a challenge".   I left the theater in a reflective mood.  Not angry, not sad mostly thanks to Ms. Vogel's excellent crafting.  But I wondered exactly what Mr. Butz thinks when he leaves the theater each night.  There are absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever to his character.  None.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Gob Squad's Kitchen

 It's hard to describe this amazing work - it's part film, part live performance art, part experimental theatre.  It harkens back to the days of Andy Warhol and one of his avant-garde films - The Kitchen.

The actors actually construct a live and unique movie before your eyes each night.  When you enter the theatre you get to walk onto the set behind the large screen that you are about to watch for the next 100 minutes so that you have an image in your head as to what's going on behind the screen.  As the performance progresses, the actors emerge from behind the screen and pull several audience members into the scene and the actors end up in the audience.  I don't think I would believe me if I told myself this odd tale - so instead, I'm going to post a video from the Gob Squad website as the best evidence as to the remarkable job this acting troupe has done in producing unique entertainment every single night!

Watch it Full Screen if you can - you'll get the "full effect" of this amazing experience.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Re-imagined.  Re-invented.  Resurrected.  Remarkable!

OK, so i have never seen the cult movie (shame on me, i know).  I also didn't get to see the prior incarnation on Broadway that cost over $8 Million and lasted a sum total of 16 previews and 5 performances (all sold out, i note) before closing to scathing reviews which caused the backers to pull their money out.  It was so bad in its last incarnation that it drove Ken Mandelbaum to name his book of musical flops, Not since Carrie, Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops, after it.

Ladies and Gentleman, this new production is nothing like its predecessor.  Nothing!   It's young, fresh, easy on the eyes, less bloody and bat-shit-crazy, and employs some pretty nifty video projection technology to enhance the story.  Religion is present, but not overplayed.  The true story of love, bullying, fear, friendship, and forgiveness shines thru like a beacon in the fog.  The music and lyrics by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford fill the entire theatre (yes, that absolute dump on Christopher Street).  Choreography by Matt Williams is light, modern, and engaging, although everything with high school kids seems to remind me of Spring Awakening these days.

Without a single doubt, Molly Ranson (Carrie White) and Marin Mazzie (Margaret White) are both engaged in Tony-worthy performances (if, of course, an off-Broadway show could indeed be nominated!).   As a matter of fact, although this show is off-Broadway at the Lortel Theatre (the aforementioned dump), if i didn't actually know that, I'd come out suggesting multiple Tony noms for this production.

Yes, I know it really sounds odd that a musical about a Stephen King book might be a good idea, but at its core, this show has heart.  Lots of it.  And now that we have some decent technology, nobody has to actually attempt to blow up the stage 8 times a week.  Mean kids, bullying, a jock with a heart, and a beautiful girl hidden behind her fears take this former flop to great new heights.  Don't miss your chance to see the a makeover every producer of HGTV programming would be jealous of.  Carrie looks like the surprise musical sensation of the season!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


A power-packed, "Ripped From The Headlines" new play by emerging playwright, Gabe McKinley, is now playing at the Peter Norton Space on way-West 42nd Street.  This is the former space occupied by the Signature Theatre.  

Although I've seen it in previews, I can already tell this one is going to be a barn-burner.  The pace is quick, the wit is razor sharp, and story is focused.  Mr. McKinley, the playwright, actually worked at the NY Times.  CQ/CX is the fictionalized story of the Jayson Blair scandal and the damage he inflicted upon the Grey Lady herself, his friends, and his colleagues.  

The all-around brilliant cast aptly supports Kobi Libii's fine portrayal of Jay Bennett (i.e. Jayson Blair), hungry and aggressive young intern turned reporter who eventually self-destructed at the heart of the entire affair.  David Pittu takes the helm as Junior, the family member in a long and proud family dynasty who ran the publication.  Arliss Howard takes on the role of Hal Martin, new man in control, attempting to steer the behemoth ship into the 21st century.  Peter Jay Fernandez takes on the role of Gerald Haynes, the first African-American to rise to the senior ranks who by coincidence also becomes a sort of mentor to the young Bennett.  Larry BryggmanTim HopperSteve Rosen and Sheila Tapia fill in the ranks of colleagues and friends.

Just for reference, the title is Latin - CQ stands for cadet quaestio -which translates to "the question fails" and is an editors mark that is used when he questions a fact in a story.  CX is an editors mark for something that has been "corrected".   Hence the title, CQ/CX, is born out of the combination of the two and is quite relevant to the entire story

I enjoyed this show with a 20@20 ticket, but I'd go out on a limb to suggest it's worth the full price charged by the Atlantic Theater Company.