Photo by Don Kellogg

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.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


A rare revival of Mary Chase's delightful and humorous Harvey is just beginning in the summer-slot at the Roundabout Theatre Company over at Studio 54.

The adorable and perfectly talented Jim Parsons is at the helm as the lovable Elwood P. Dowd this time around filling those big shoes of Jimmy Stewart quite nicely.  Jessica Hecht (Veta Louise Simmons) Charles Kimbrough (William R. Chumley MD), Tracee Chimo (Myrtle Mae Simmons) Carol Kane (Betty Chumley) and Larry Bryggman (Judge Gaffney) round out the tremendously talented cast which also includes Rich Sommer (Duane Wilson) and Morgan Spector (Lyman Sanderson, MD).

Roundabout's (David Rockwell's) sets are, as we've come to expect, superb and the cast is already humming like a fine tuned machine.  Mr. Parsons seems to embody the delightfully goofy character and does an excellent job at making sure we always know where Harvey is.   There may be something wrong with everyone these days - but the message behind Harvey tells us that maybe not all of them need to be cured.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

4000 Miles

Amy Herzog's play is receiving an extended chance at capturing hearts 8 times every week downstairs at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center.

A tender and pensive work, the play tells the tale of a young man who has lost his friend on a cross-country bike trip and ends up in New York City with his grandmother.  He's lost and unable to deal with the death and she's happy yet lonely.  Together they grow and challenge each other to the mutual healing of each other in their own ways.  Gabriel Ebert, last seen at a terrific Roundabout Underground production, assumes the shy, introverted, liberal, hippie, whole-life-in-front-of-him, Leo.  The exquisite Mary Louise Wilson, who's done many things, but will probably be most remembered for her performance as Big-Edie in Grey Gardens, takes the helm as the tough-as-nails, aging, yet deeply caring and intellectual Vera Joseph.

No chorus-girls or kick-lines here.  Just good, old-fashioned high-quality theatre.  In and out in less than 2 hours with a smile on your face and a warmed up heart.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Quite possibly one of the most engrossing, unique, emotionally charged plays of the season.  Throw away all your theatrical pretense and spend 90 minutes immersed in a battle over John.  The tidal wave Mike Bennett created over at the Royal Court Theatre in London has crashed on our shores at the Duke Theatre on 42nd with much ado. Hell, the name alone has caused a stir - notably the New York Times won't even print the title of the play in its publications.

The controversy over the name outside the theatre is equally matched with a raw, no-holds-barred, gut-wrenching battle of wills inside the theatre - which by the way is constructed out of bare plywood made to look just like a real illicit cock-fighting ring.  And the analogy to a cock fight runs throughout the entire production too.  The actors circle a mere the 12" diameter performance space (i.e in the round) with audience members mere inches away as the battle brews.  The scenes are punctuated by a bell as if signaling the end a round in a prize fight - except here the prize is John himself.

Gay, Straight, Bi.  Love, relationships, and labels.  Wants, needs and desires.   All covered at break-neck speed and blazing intensity in the brief encounter we have with M, W, F and John (we are to assume they stand for Male, Female, and Father).  You have to understand one thing for the entire premise of this play to capture you - and that is that everyone on stage has issues, dependencies, desires, and insecurities.  If you don't see that - you will immediately jump to the well, he or she should have just walked away from that mess 5 minutes into the performance.  But as long as you recognize each character's weakness, position of strength over the other, and his/her flaws you quickly realize that this is an epic battle that quite frankly may come to a conclusion but will have no clear winner in the end.

Sometimes the simplest of ideas can pack the most punch.   Run, Don't walk, to see Jason Butler Harner, Amanda Quaid, Cory Michael Smith, and Cotter Smith engage in the battle of their lives.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Landing

I went for another peak inside the development lab of a new work over at the Vineyard Theatre.  Rule #1 - Thou shalt not blog about a work in process.  Rule #2 - Enjoy yourself.  Just know that the music by John Kander and book/lyrics by Greg Pierce is darkly delightful and we should all look forward to seeing it grow into a full-fledged production in the future.  This production included David Hyde-Pierce, Julia Murney, Jake Bennett Siegfried, and Paul Anthony Stewart.

This is Greg Pierce's first collaboration with John Kander and for John Kander it's his first musical collaboration without his long-time writing partner, Fred Ebb.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Common Pursuit

What could have been a riveting barn-burner and some fierce competition for the much-hyped Cock over The Duke turns out to be a brush-fire that smolders about 25-30 minutes longer than it should with a decent flair-up at the end over at the Laura Pels.  

Simon Gray's two-act portrait of friendship and family certainly makes you think and reflect on life.  Spanning 20 years over 4 (well, really 5) scenes, The Common Pursuit takes you on a journey through the connected lives of six young college students as they form a literary (the titular reference) magazine and the subsequent decisions they make, paths they choose, and the lives they lead.

Set in England, we are introduced to a mix-and-match group of unlikely (yet not altogether unexpected) group of friends who all meet regarding said literary magazine being started by idealist Stuart Thorne (Josh Cooke).  Loves blossoms, life-long bonds of friendship form, and personalities develop, and wax and wane among the all-around fine ensemble including Marigold (Kristen Bush), Martin (Jacob Fishel), Humphry (Tim McGeever) Peter (Kieran Campion) and Nick (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe).

Act I is more than a bit too long.  While a certain amount of exposition is necessary to understand the life-long, enduring bonds of friendship among the characters, there were a few unnecessarily long monologues, and in the case of Nick, much-too-much hamming-it-up which Director, Moises Kaufman, should trim.

Act II is where the action is - and in stark contrast we finally see the figurative guns from Act I being pulled out, waived around, and in some cases used.  The boredom and monotony quickly wore off and I was engaged, interested, and quickly found myself engaged in the characters.  The lack of struggle or conflict in Act I (or perhaps just more the feeling of where is this going?) is completely obliterated in this shorter, much more punchy and dramatic half.  

I found myself leaving the theatre with my lady-friends engaged in discussions and debate about connected or unconnected dots among the characters, hints dropped in earlier scenes, and the meanings or messages ascribed to each character.  A few days later, it still piques my interest while writing this review.  That's the sign of good work.  I just have this nagging feeling that it could have been even better than it was. It's certainly, however, worth the price of admission.  The chance to renew my own bonds of friendship afterwards - Priceless.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Sometimes it takes just one diamond to make a musical sparkle - and Encores! final installment of the 2012 season has several.  With a cornball book by Loos and Fields, silly lyrics by Leo Robin and delicious music by Jule Styne, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes has a rich history of exploding stars into orbit.  In 1949 it introduced Carol Channing to the American lexicon.  In 1953 the movie by the same name propelled Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell's careers into the stratosphere.  This time around, we've got the SMASH *Bombshell*, Megan Hilty (Lorelei Lee) and triple-threat star of the upcoming national tour of Anything Goes, Rachel York (Dorothy Shaw).

Encores! concert renditions are *almost* fully staged.  Books in hand occasionally, but never a missed note or a called line.  The cast aboard the S.S Ile de France is magnificent.  GPB is most surely a dancer's musical - with full-on tap, ballet, and ballroom all packed into several razzle-dazzle numbers in addition such as great vocal numbers as Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend, and I'm Just a Little Girl From Little Rock, and the titular song, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

If I had a vote for the hardest working ensemble in the biz right now, GPB would win hands-down.  Tap dancing can get a crowd to its feet in raucous applause and the tap number with Megan Sikora (Gloria Stark) and Attmore & Grimes (Phillip Attmore and Jared Grimes are their actual names) was nothing short of stupendous.  A well earned standing ovation - and that was just the opening of Act II.  Ms. Hilty tore the roof off the place (encores are a trademark of this show) with 3 encores in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the last one nearly delayed the show by 3 minutes alone due to the uproarious applause.  And I haven't even discussed the to-die-for bodies of the male dancers (shirts on AND off), the hysterical Robert Lemanteur and his son Louis (Brennan Brown and Steven Boyer) or the genius comedic timing of Deborah Rush as Mrs. Ella Spofford or her elegantly tuneful son, Henry (Aaron Lazar).  And lest we not forget to mention the always-delightful and uber-talented Encores! Orchestra - led by Music Director and Conductor Rob Berman... And on... And on...

Now, the show is not perfect.  Don't get me wrong.  It's just that when you combine talent and an old fashioned good-time with top notch dancing, pitch-perfect singing, and great comedic acting it's hard to complain about structure and connecting a few dots with a show that has a run of less than a week!  It's not about that at Encores!  

Is it Broadway bound?   I doubt it - but it may be the closest we get to SMASH's Bombshell being on Broadway this season or next!  Marc Shaiman & Scott Whitman may indeed have all the songs written as we have heard, but ... pssst... Debra Messing nor Christian Borle are *really* book-writers in real life.  Go figure.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Live @ The 27th Annual Lucille Lortel Awards

Do not adjust your browser.  This is indeed my site.  I'm doing something a little different on Sunday night.  I will be blogging LIVE from The 27th Annual Lucille Lortel Awards at NYU's Skirball Center in Greenwich Village - hosted this year by the incomparable Mario Cantone.   For some background information on the awards - click here - and you can read all about the organizations and talent behind the awards.  The short version is: The Lortel Awards are to off-Broadway what the Tony Awards are to Broadway - they represent the BEST of the BEST of the broader, often more innovative and risk taking genre known as off-Broadway.

What you see below is the official nomination ballot with each category and the nominees in that category.   I'll be updating this page each time a winner is announced live-on-stage and you'll see that winner light up in Pink.

I not sure the awards ceremony will actually go in this order so there may be some scrolling up and down and juggling as I doubt I'll be able to watch the program, applaud, gawk and gossip along with the new responsibility of having to edit the blog page every 3 minutes all the while tweeting and answering fan mail too!

Outstanding Play

  • Blood and Gifts - by J. T. Rogers (LCT)
  • Milk Like Sugar  - by Kirsten Greenidge (PH)
  • Sons of the Prophet  - by Stephen Karam (Roundabout)
  • The Big Meal - by Dan LeFranc (PH)
  • The School For Lies  - by David Ives (CSC)

Outstanding Musical

  • Once (NYTW)
  • Queen of the Mist - (Transport Group)
  • SILENCE! The Musical  (Independent)
  • The Blue Flower - (2ST)
  • The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World - (NYTW/PH) 

Outstanding Revival

  • Blood Knotby Athol Fugard - (Signature)
  • The Lady from Dubuqueby Edward Albee (Signature)
  • Look Back in Anger  - by John Osborne (Roundabout)
  • The Cherry Orchard - by Anton Chekhov/Translated by John C. Jones (CSC)
  • The Maidsby Jean Genet/Translated by Bernard Frechtman (Red Bull)

Outstanding Solo Show

  • An Iliad - by Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson (CSC)
  • The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith - by Angelo Parra (Penguin Rep +)

Outstanding Director

  • Jo Bonney, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark 
  • David Cromer, Tribes
  • Sam Gold, Look Back in Anger
  • Sam Gold, The Big Meal
  • John Tiffany, Once 

Outstanding Choreographer

  • Chase Brock, The Blue Flower
  • Bill Castellino, Ionescopade
  • Christopher Gattelli, SILENCE! The Musical 
  • Steven HoggettOnce
  • Annie-­B Parson, The Broken Heart

Outstanding Lead Actor

  • Santino Fontana, Sons of the Prophet 
  • Russell Harvard, Tribes
  • Hamish Linklater, The School For Lies 
  • Jefferson Mays, Blood and Gifts
  • Jay O. Sanders, Titus Andronicus

Outstanding Lead Actress

  • Sanaa Lathan, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark 
  • Cristin Milioti, Once
  • Carey Mulligan, Through a Glass Darkly 
  • Molly Ranson, Carrie
  • Mary Testa, Queen of the Mist

Outstanding Featured Actor

  • David Wilson Barnes, The Big Meal
  • Adam Driver, Look Back in Anger
  • Alvin Epstein, The Cherry Orchard
  • Peter Francis James, The Lady from Dubuque
  • Jeff Perry, Tribes
Outstanding Featured Actress

  • Anita Gillette, The Big Meal
  • Kimberly Hébert Gregory, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark 
  • Marin Mazzie, Carrie
  • Tonya Pinkins, Milk Like Sugar
  • Mare Winningham, Tribes

Outstanding Scenic Design

  • Bob Crowley, Once
  • Lauren Helpern, 4000 Miles
  • Andrew Lieberman, Look Back in Anger 
  • Adrianne Lobel, Galileo
  • David Zinn, The Select (The Sun Also Rises)

Outstanding Costume Design

  • ESosa, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark 
  • Toni-­Leslie James, Milk Like Sugar 
  • William Ivey Long, The School For Lies 
  • Ilona Somogyi, Maple and Vine 
  • Catherine Zuber, Death Takes a Holiday

Outstanding Lighting Design

  • Natasha Katz, Once
  • Keith Parham, Tribes
  • Justin Townsend, Unnatural Acts 
  • David Weiner, Through a Glass Darkly 
  • Scott Zielinski, An Iliad

Outstanding Sound Design

  • Mark Bennett, An Iliad
  • Clive Goodwin, Once
  • Daniel Kluger, Tribes
  • Matt Tierney and Ben Williams, The Select (The Sun Also Rises) 
  • David Van Tieghem, Through a Glass Darkly

Lifetime Achievement Award - Richard Frankel and Richard Foreman

Service to Off-­‐Broadway Award - Fire Department of the City of New York

Outstanding Alternative Theatrical Experience - Voca People (Independent)