Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Marjorie Prime

Jordan Harrison has penned a compelling futuristic tale where artificial intelligence may just keep us company, attempt to provide comfort, and companionship in our elder years.   But he cleverly explores the depth, substance, and satisfaction this fascinating technology might bring to us - or not give to us, as the case may be.

Lois Smith (Marjorie), an aging mother losing her memories brings in a holographic tool (practically played by an actor, however)  - her husband, Walter, dashingly handsome in his 30's (the dashingly handsome Noah Bean) - to be with her and trigger her memories and provide companionship.   But it seems there is one major flaw - this prime (as it is referred to - Walter 'Prime') only knows what it has been told about the person it is becoming.  Is this a true and complete history?  Might be be whitewashing the past to paint the picture we want to see?

As the play progresses into the future and we see the deaths of other characters, each remaining person is presented with a "prime" of the departed individual. As the final character remains, Stephen Root (Jon)  - we come to see that this technology may not solve all problems or provide complete comfort and satisfaction.  In the final scene, quite brilliantly written, acted, and staged we end up seeing all the primes having a very stilted conversation going round and round on a small turntable around a kitchen table - after all - they only have things to talk about that they were told.  Their existence, indeed, is as stilted and incomplete as the conversation they are having.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thérèse Raquin

Now playing over at Studio 54 - Cousins marrying, murder, ghosts, an overbearing mother, sex, a stroke, and a double poisoning.   Just your average evening in the theatre for the talented cast of Roundabout's latest production of Therese Raquin

Making quite a substantial Broadway debut is the delightful Keira Knightley (Therese Raquin).  The ensemble generously supporting the titular character includes the stalwart Judith Light (Madame Raquin) and adorably obnoxious Gabriel Ebert (Camille Raquin) as the adopted family of Therese - her father died and her aunt and aunt's son became her family at an early age.  Rounding out the ensemble is the hunky and handsome suitor, Laurant (Matt Ryan).

What we have here is a twisted and overbearing mother who raised a weak, obnoxious, nelly-boy son and married her off to his first cousin who was raised in the same household because her father died at an early age.   Locked in a loveless (and sexless) marriage, the heat turns up when the obnoxious nelly-boy's best friend finds himself intensely drawn to Therese - - that's when the sparks (and sex) fly.  Laurent, Therese,  and Camille all go out on a boat (yes there is a real lake on the stage). Laurent knocks the weak Camille off the boat and he drowns.  After a few months, the two can finally be together - but will Camille haunt them from the grave?  Is the guilt of killing Madame Raquin's only son too much to bare?  When Madame Raquin accidentally finds out (a note for the director here - i thought this part of the show was not as clear as it could have been as we do not actually see her overhear something) will she expose the two for the murderers they are?

On a different note, I suspect this play is based on a bit more detailed source material (novel 1867, play1873) .  However when translating to this stage it seems the the character of Suzanne (Mary Wiseman) must have been more developed in the source material because her character on stage was incomplete.  Did we need to know she had a suitor (happy) and then her father chased the man away (grumpy)?  I saw no purpose to this story line. Perhaps the book elaborates.

Sets by Beowulf Boritt were magnificent - some flying in, a literal lake on stage, one hovering in mid air.  The actors were not mic'd as far as I could tell and it seemed very appropriate.  Sound (Josh Schmidt) , however was ingeniously integrated with tones and ambient sounds during and between scenes.  To find out how all this resolves, head over to Studio 54 and catch these fine actors practicing their craft.  Just don't expect time to pass quickly.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A View From the Bridge

BAM!  What is playing over at the Lyceum Theatre just may be some of the best theatre of the decade.  This is no joke.  The Young Vic Production (straight from the UK) of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge is setting the oldest theatre in Manhattan's stage on fire and leaving audiences stunned night after night.

Belgian experimental Director Ivo Van Hove's minimalist production is ominous and eerily powerful.  The sparse and tiny stage (made tiny mostly by adding 70 stadium style seats on either side of the stage where the wings used to be is part of the reason).  The innovative staging is reminiscent of a cage match where the actors, all barefoot by the way, engage in a brawl for two hours. Jan Verswayveld's set and mechanical box that raises and lowers around the set are a simple and brilliant idea.  Tom Gibbons' sounds reverberate and persist throughout the show adding drama and mystery to the already potent situation.

The mostly-Brit cast does an upstanding job at putting on their Brooklyn-eese.  Even when they slip on a word here or there, you never really mind that much because the tension they are all adept at creating and maintaining is masterful.  Complain if you will about two brothers straight off the boat from Italy who don't have an Italian accent whatsoever.  I don't think this production is much about authenticity, but rather a trimmed down version of the story with a singular focus of intensity, mystery,  and drama.  Mark Strong (Eddie), Phoebe Fox (Catherine), Nicoa Walker (Beatrice) form the core Red Hook, Brooklyn family, torn by traditions and a desire to grow and be successful in America.  The extremely hunky and dashing Russell Tovey (Rudolpho) and svelte Michael Zegan (Marco) are the mysterious interloper illegal immigrants from Italy.  Michael Gould (Alfieri) plays the "Greek Chorus" or narrator by lurking most of the show around the outside of the ring explaining what is going to happen.  When he steps in the ring as a participant in the battle, he, too, removes his shoes.

This production is nothing short of pure brilliance.  The 140 or so people in the stage seating, by far, saw an entirely different play than the people out in the standard theater seats.  Those in the balcony quite possibly didn't even see portions of the play.  Regardless, the bloodbath on W45th will leave you shaken.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Eternal Space

A touching and warm trip down memory lane, both for the actors in the play as well as an audience old enough to have experienced or perhaps only young enough to have heard about it.  The it, refers to the deconstruction of the old massive and grand Penn Station to make way for Madison Square Garden and Penn Plaza.  Justin Rivers has penned a two-hander that will warm your heart over at the Lion Theater.

The playwright was careful not to vilify either side of the argument for or against but rather to tell a tender story that reveals how the grandeur of this building affected the lives of two very different people in this great big city of ours.  Joseph Lanzarote (Clyde Baldo) is an older English teacher - a smart, staunch, art lover and lonely wordsmith who wants to save the grand space. Paul Abbot (Matthew Pilieci) plays a construction worker charged with taking the structure down.  Two unlikely, yet fast friends - Joseph an observer and lover of the architecture, Paul, oddly, a photographer at the same time demolition team member.  They share a common attraction despite being totally opposites in class, education, and life in general.  We find through their meetings and banter over the year that both have a deep connection to the station through family members.

The show features grand projections that turn the stage into the grand station itself from various angles and times.  We'll forever argue about the wisdom of tearing the station down, but one thing is true no matter what - millions passed through the edifice and the edifice affected so many people in countless ways.  This was just one of the millions of stories out there.   A link to the show's website which provides many more pictures and documentation on the show and its subject matter - http://theeternalspaceplay.com

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Important Hats of the Twentieth Century

My reaction after about 10-15 minutes of bewilderment in Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II at NY City Center was one of utter confoundment (if that's a word).  What on earth possessed MTC to choose this play to produce?  It appears to have been written by someone with the mind of a 13 year  old.  Why was I being forced to pay to watch this crap?

Let me be clear here - the actors were magnificent at the character acting contained throughout- not the least of which was the uber adorable and talented Carson Elrod (Sam Greedy) as an over the top fashion designer.  The other actors all played multiple characters - including a single woman who played all the female parts.

The trouble here isn't the lighting (it was great), sound (it was great)  or fairly good direction and blocking (very creative use of the stage) on a small stage with limited scenery (Moritz von Steulpnagel).  It's that the play itself by Nick Jones is a poor rip off of Back to the Future.  Its humor is immature, dare I say childish.  And the story goes on and on like a Saturday cartoon and really ends up nowhere.  It's a silly premise that contains a hairy gorilla and never really gets much resolution - what ever happened to the sweatshirts/track pants that got introduced before their time?  Finally, both the show's marketing and hype about the play gets you to believe it is about actual HATS.  While it is about ONE HAT (that's not really a hat in the way you would think), it's really more about fashion and still time travel in general than hats.

Don't waste your time on this silly play that never should have made it to a stage - unless of course you want to travel back in time to one of your high school productions.  Better the glowing orbs that nobody seems to mind blow it up in the river.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Invisible Thread

Just beginning its run at Second Stage Theatre for the kick off of the 2015-2016 season, Invisible Thread (f.k.a. Witness Uganda) is already blowing the roof off the joint.   Shepherded here from A.R.T at Harvard by a top notch creative team - Diane Paulus (Director) and Sergio Trujillo (Choreographer) - this power-packed show was penned by the power-couple Griffin Matthews and Matt Gould.  In fact, Mr. Matthews does double duty as the show's driven leading man too (Griffin).

The adorably sexy Corey Mach (Ryan) plays opposite Mr. Matthews as his devoted and supportive boyfriend and partner in life.  With an all-black cast the show's focus is the struggles of the kids they meet in Uganda, the Ugandan culture and community, and the struggle to continually support them.   Music and lyrics by Mr. Matthew's real partner in life, Mr. Gould, feature gospel-like numbers, ballads, and rousing, energetic and theatrically staged African dance numbers.  And the band, conducted by Mr. Gould - well - they are part of the reason for the aforementioned roof blow-off.  Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, and more percussion than you thought possible - all elevated above the stage in the former wings of the stage - which, of course, were eliminated to enlarge the performance space. Kudos Jonathan Deans (Sound), Justin Townsend (Lighting), and ESosa (Costumes).

One has to wonder if with such a high-caliber creative team behind this show that there is a desire to transfer a unique, emotional, and high energy musical to the Broadway.  I have mixed feelings about it and not sure it would work - - but it might just.  It has the unique factor.  Tugs on your heart strings, music, dance, colorful costumes.... blink and it fits right in.  A modern boy-loves-boy who needs to find his roots and reason for being who can't let go of what he found.

Get your tickets now as this one is going to be a hot seller into the holiday season.