Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Just when you thought all the original ideas have dried up and creativity has gone the way of the Ford Packard, along comes Hunter Bell & Lee Overtree (Book) and Eli Bolin (Music and Lyrics) and a fantastic new work appropriately titled Found.  Yes, that's Mr. Bell from [Title of Show] fame.

Scraps of paper floating in the wind, discarded in the gutter, and left for dead.  Well, so we thought.  Mr. Bell and Overtree have constructed a musical entirely from real scraps of paper with musings, jottings, notes, and thoughts.  Literally thousands and thousands.   A virtual potpourri of material and endless shots entertaining and audience.  Indeed this is true.  What struck me most during this entire magnificent production was the sheer enormity of choices the writers had.  They built a basic love story for Generation X, Y, Z, millennials, or whatever we are calling the kids today and peppered it - strike that - iced it from tip to toe - with these little tid-bits.  Entire songs were written around some of the longer more meaningful scribbles - and virtually every 10 seconds or so another one was projected both aurally and visually to the audience.  

So that's what struck me most often - but dare I say - what struck me most deeply was the sheer modernity of the idea behind the musical itself.  It struck a chord of reality in our throw-away society.   In an age of digital our notes and musings often get relegated to post-its and scraps of paper.  Nobody writes longhand and at length anymore.

The always adorably handsome Nick Blaemire  (Davy) essentially helms the fun production and both he and his co-stars (a plethora of unique talent unto themselves) turn frowns from a busy day at the office into double-decker smiles by the time the evening is complete.

Featuring a a rocking on-stage band and racially and ethnically and culturally diverse Christina Anthony (Christina), the handsome and virtually dripping-with-sex Andrew Call, TV's funny man Danny Pudi (Danny), Betsy Morgan (Kate), and Cabaret diva Molly Pope (Molly), and Orville Mendiza (Orville),  I found myself leaving the theater thinking that I have never seen a show where the actors had so much fun entertaining me!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Grand Concourse

What we have here is one of the most realistic and naturally constructed plays I have seen in a long while.  Heidi Schreck writes like people speak, and think, and wonder.  Kip Fagan has done a marvelous job at "keeping it real" on the stage.  Playwrights Horizons presents yet another  provocative, thought provoking discussion pieces on the small stage upstairs.

Shelly (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) is a soup kitchen manager struggling with God and religion.  Emma (Ismenia Mendes) strolls into her life and turns it upside down - or perhaps you'll think right side up by the end).  Ms. Bernstine is magnificent in her struggles and in her overall performance.  Bobby Moreno, Oscar, a relatively young, talented, and often type-cast janitor, turns in yet another solid and loving performance.  Lee Wilkof (Frog) brightens up the room with his infectious attitude, despite his deep troubles.

Performed without an intermission this 1h:40m production never ceases to entertain and keep your attention.  The characters are provocative, interesting, and quite real.  The title comes from that famous road up in the Bronx where a soup kitchen of no specific identify exists.  The characters aren't made up and in fancy costumes.  The set is a simple, slightly run-down kitchen and the action occurs in several vignettes always coming back to Shelley praying or rather trying to pray at the microwave.

This production has teamed up with City Harvest (soup kitchen in play - food rescue organization - a great pairing) to collect and I assume "rescue" some of the food and vegetables used on stage each night.  Drama for both the soul and the stomach.  Not bad for a Tuesday night at the theatre.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Real Thing

Tom Stoppard is certainly on a roll.  He, like his compadre Terrence McNally, has two plays running concurrently, in this case, both at the Roundabout Theatre Company.  His latest installment at American Airlines Theatre, on Broadway, is The Real Thing.

This one is heady.  Make no mistake.  Mr. Stoppard is a linguist and writes very, very smart dialogue.  In my brief reading before the show I discovered that this particular show may be a bit autobiographical too.

Henry (Ewan McGregor) an erudite playwright (some might call a snob although his wife uses another similar British slang word), as is Mr. Stoppard.  This play is quite the intellectual study of love, marriage, commitment, and relationships.  He's first married to Charlotte (Cynthia Nixon), but quickly changes gears and falls in love and marries Annie (Maggie Gyllenhaal).  Josh Hamilton plays Max, an actor and first husband of Annie. A tangled web indeed.

We get tangled up in Henry's relationship, views on commitment and love and how those may differ from both Charlotte (his first wife) and Annie (his second wife).  What is jealousy?  Does one person's commitment equate to how the other person sees it?   Can we really just love one person in life?  These and dozens of other lofty questions are batted around during the play - which by the way features the "play within a play" format at the opening with quite a satisfying effect.

I'm pretty sure Mr. Stoppard didn't originally write in the music to the original script and likely (although I can''t really be sure) it was the creation of the brilliant director, Sam Gold.   I understand there may be some additional gimmicks with the music, the cast, and a digital display in the theatre.  There's always a gimmick these days.

Smart, heady, intelligent - this play aims high and delivers on it's promises with a remarkably competent and dazzling cast along with the choices of music both during the show and between the scene change breaks.

An interesting trivia note, Ms Nixon was featured in the original production when she was a mere teenager (as the daughter) and now returns triumphantly as her mother.  The small world of theatre just got even more so.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lost Lake

I have to say I was a bit lost at Lost Lake.   For it's first ever public performance, the actors were remarkable.  They writing was as natural and fluid as possible.  What I struggled with was plausibility.  First off, the play isn't about anything, which may turn some people off.  It's just a slice of life, this is how it is, life deals you lemons so make lemonade - kind of play.  That's not to say the characters were not compelling or interesting in some way as the play actually held onto a slight uncomfortability factor the entire time.  It was just unremarkable in many ways.  It was provocative in its ideas, but unremarkable in execution.  That said, I really think many will not enjoy it and come away thinking they just watched a boring episode of a TV show (as the man who sat next to me in the lobby afterward proclaimed).  Some will walk away thinking.  And some will just... well... walk away.

This two hander set in a cabin in the woods outside New York City penned by David Auburn and aptly directed by Daniel Sullivan stars John Hawkes (Hogan) and Tracie Thomas (Veronica) who are at the same time both liars and nice people.  One of them may be a bit mentally ill and both of them have made certain mistakes in life they now come to regret - some of those mistakes are actually unearthed by the other.  It has its charming moments and is performed (thankfully) without intermission over at Stage I of Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lips Together, Teeth Apart

What a magical time on and off Broadway for Terrence McNally.  Three of his shows - two now running concurrently (Lips, It's Only a Play) and one that just closed (Mothers & Sons) are/were on stage entertaining audience to various degrees of success.  Unfortunately, Lips Together, Teeth Apart is likely on the bottom of the success scale.  Unlike his other two plays which evoke opposite but equally powerful emotions - a visceral reaction (Mothers and Sons) and hysterical laughter (It's Only a Play) - this play is neither rousingly happy nor sad.  It just is. And it wasn't that good.

As a matter of fact, it has the triple-whammy of being slightly boring, all over the map in terms of storytelling, and slightly mis-cast.   Boring?  The story is what it is - two couples on Fire Island at one of the women's dead gay brother's house.  Why are they here?  What keeps these couples together?  Why do we care?  Those questions are barely answered although asked repeatedly on stage.  All over the map?  Yes they talk endlessly about lots of issues - many of which are tangential to the plot, some of which make you wonder why they are telling you this. We never see the gay neighbors to contrast the straight (and out of place) couple at the house.  It's 1990 and AIDS is still an unknown but we really only learn why they are afraid to swim in the pool at the end of Act 3!  Miscast?  Trace Chimo (Chloe) ruled the stage with her overbearing and hysterically funny character.  She hit it out of the park.  America Ferrera (Sally) underwhelmed significantly.  She seemed lost of the stage and generally flat.  Austin Lysy (John) seemed too young and although quite handsome, not as cock-sure as the dialogue might suggest.  Michael Chernus (Sam) just didn't seem to fit with Sally and left you wondering why they were even together in the first place.

Casting aside - A 3-Act play is unique.  This play was way too long for it's own good and it felt like we just wasted time in between for both intermissions and ultimately didn't end up resolving much and left you wondering just what the point was after the 2H:30M is up.

I'm left wondering just what the first incarnation of this play would have been like a while back when Roundabout was going to do it but star Megan Mullally (Chloe, i presume) stormed off the set and quit.  For Roundabout that just may have been a blessing in disguise.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Scenes From a Marriage

The effect is jarring.  The result is jarring.  Nothing about Ivo Van Hove's re-imagination of Ingmar Bergman's already jolting TV mini-series and later screenplay involves bliss and happiness.  On the contrary, the scenes from this approximately 20 year relationship depict the most difficult parts, the growth, change, and friction that marriage can bring.

Mr. Van Hove chose to divide this stage play version into 2 parts.  The first act being 3 scenes in isolated mini-theaters built inside the theater.  These mini-theaters allow sight and sounds from each concurrent scene to waft into the other.  I believe this was meant to evoke the feeling of memory and remembering the past over and over.  Sight-lines through a window into a central room where the actors all collected themselves evoked a similar feeling of a bit of visual snip-it of memories.  All a bit off-putting when the action starts, but once you realize this is intended, you settle in for this bumpy ride.

As you can tell, since there are 3 scenes running concurrently, there must be 3 sets of actors playing the roles of Johan ad Marianne.  Casting appears to me to be quite intentional too.  The actors were the furthest thing from 3 sets of the same people.  Super handsome and hunky Alex Hurt and Susannah Flood are the youngest and most eager of the 3 couples in approximately the first 5 years of their marriage.  Dallas Roberts and Roslyn Ruff are the middle couple struggling with years of habits and rituals, boredom, and long standing issues in the marriage.  Arliss Howard and Tina Benko round out the couples as the oldest and desperate for change.  There's an affair, a one-sided discontent and issues buried deep and repressed over the years.

When  you exit the theater for a 30 minute intermission and told to all re-enter through the main doors, you can only imagine that they must be transforming the theater into a single stage somehow.  Of course they do - and it's a common performance space in the middle with the seats surrounding it - all the walls have been lifted above to reveal this massive space in the entire theater.

Act two is distinctly different with fascinating results.  All 3 couples appear on stage but this time they all recite the dialogue and act out the scene in triplicate.  Stereophonic dialogue and action.  What further throws you off is that the actors all fluidly interchange with each other and speak male to female among the various couples - throwing off your regional thoughts about the couples and making you focus on the dialogue not the physical characters themselves.  This part is sequentially later than the first act and the discord escalates into a fight.  They are fiercely independent people with modern ideas about marriage and relationships.  It's not your parents marriage.  Speaking of parents, Mia Katigbak aptly portrays the mother of Marianne and reveals this stark approach to marriage that the older generation took.

The play concludes in the last scene with only the oldest of the 3 couples where the couple is divorced, moved on in life and both re-married, but still attracted to each other in a quite honest and creatively lit bedroom scene.  We hear some of that memory-evoking music (still played on a turntable because of course they wold still have one) that the couple would have enjoyed in the 70's which brings us all back to the original time the couple must have met and fell in love.

You will certainly leave the theater with feelings about what you saw.  One older woman in the audience asked me during the end of intermission if I was married.  I, of course, answered "No" to which she responded "Well do you understand any of this?".   I told her "I think I get it".  To which she replied "I lived through this.  I am hating it and loving it at the same time".   Now that's good theater!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Billy & Ray

This play had good intentions. I wanted to like it.  I really did.  Especially starting the uber adorable Vincent Kartheiser (Billy Wilder).  But it wasn't.  And he wasn't either.  Maybe it was the bad haircut?  More likely it was the fake accent.  Since it's required for the plot of the show, I suspect that casting may have been the problem at its core.  After a thorough review of the show with my theater-going friend afterwards, we came to the conclusion that not only was casting off, but so was directing.  Garry Marshall - legend in the world of television - turns out that he's not so good in the theater.   So many missed theatrical opportunities.

It was a play about a movie.  But much of the play was spent telling us the story rather than acting the story.  It all added up to a disappointment.  Larry Pine (Raymond Chandler) did an admirable job and had some good lines, but once again, he needs to learn his lines.

Drew Gehling (Joe Sistrom) and Sophie Von Haselberg (Helen Hernendez) rounded out the cast, however I found Helen Hernandez to be a rather pointless character (except for one notable scene where she comes up with an idea).

Overall a disappointment.  But they certainly deserve credit for trying.