Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Our Mother's Brief Affair

Hot off the press, Richard Greenberg's tender relatively new work hits Broadway's nail square on the head.  An almost perfect fit for the subscription theater crowd.  An old Jewish mother losing her memories and her two distant, yet loving children tango back and forth seamlessly through the present and past memories and try to bring meaning and definition to their lives, each in their own way.

Linda Lavin (Anna) is the matriarch.  Staunch, ignored, marginalized, Jewish, and mildly bitter.  Greg Keller (Seth) is an obituary writer - lonely, preppy yet schleppy, nebbish, and gay. Kate Arrington (Abby) is the less than happy, hippie, gentle, and lesbian.  Ms. Lavin is the perfect choice to play a Jewish mother lording over her children in a loving yet authoritative and sarcastic sort of way.  Mr.  Greenberg seems well skilled at constructing the damaged, delicate, off-balance, and less than perfect family.   His language is rich and often the choice of words is argued over and debated in the dialogue.  It's smart and swift.  His ability to effortlessly sail through the story-telling is large.  Sometimes it's too large and we get bogged down - such as the latter half of Act II.

It turns out that Anna has indeed had what the title suggests - a brief affair.  Her children may or may not have been aware of it but they are grappling with it now. Her son is having the most difficulty coming to grips with the reality of the beans his mother is spilling.  The affair is quite a shocker.  Well, it's a shocker only after they employ a theatrical device to turn up the lights break the 4th wall and have the two children explain to the audience what their mother just admitted to.  I doubt many people would simply recognize the name David Greenglass.  The use of this abrupt device - is used to a lesser extent throughout the show - as this is really a memory play, a story told by the two children intermixed with flashback scenes from their life.

Tender, tough, heartbreaking, funny, and warm all at the same time.  In the end, the message is summed up by Anna to her son by explaining all she ever wanted was to be remembered.

Monday, December 28, 2015

School of Rock

I may likely have had the most fun at what I perceived as the least anticipated show of the season.  (Ok, The Color Purple may be the actual show at that rung of the ladder, but I digress).   I was indeed 'schooled' by the best on a Monday nite.

Sure, the movie was dumb.  I can't really say the adapted book for this musical was superior in any way.  I was pleasantly surprised that the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself was catchy, upbeat, toe-tappin', and appropriate for the raucous riot that occurs onstage 8 shows a week at the Winter Garden Theater.  I wasn't surprised by talented kids on stage - I expected it.  And my expectations were indeed surpassed.  The talented kids were played like a well tuned Fender by none other than the abundantly talented and uber-energetic Alex Brightman (Dewey). He ran that stage from the first minute to the last with what seemed like endless enthusiasm and boundless charisma.  The story is essentially him and the school kids.

Of course, this is a musical so we have to have other characters. If you want to sell tickets, these other characters must also have songs.  It was a thrill to see Sierra Boggess (Rosalie) on stage, but what a waste she was at the same time.  Of course she had to have a song.  Of course it ran the show longer than it should have run.  Of course this was repeated over the course of a few of the parents and teachers.  In a movie we would not have wasted so much time just to balance out the tickets and justify the lead equity contracts.  But again, I digress.

Parents and teachers were all fine, unmemorable, and frankly could give anyone their "big break" on Broadway and I hope it does.  The show is a big ball of fun and everyone on the stage looks like this is afternoon playtime, not a stressful performance.  Mr. Brightman and these kids are the stars and deserve all the credit to the fun of the evening under the swift direction of Laurence Connor.  Sloppy and abrupt scene changes and a book like Swiss cheese will all be ignored.  Class dismissed.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Humans

The wonderfully talented writer, Stephen Karam, has penned yet another potent work now on stage at Roundabout's Laura Pels Theater.  The Humans is a bare bones expose of the titular condition translated to us via the Blake Family.

Erik Burke (Reed Birney) and Deidre Blake (Jane Houdyshell) are the staunchly middle class parents who raised their kids and go to church.  They seem to be finding the dream slipping away day by day.  Aimee Blake (Cassie Beck) and Brigid Blake (Sara Steele) are their two daughters who seemingly have done better than their parents' generation - college for both and Aimee being a lawyer in Philadelphia.  Brigid is, however, a struggling composer just out of school with a mountain of student loan debt.  Brigid is hosting Thanksgiving in her newly obtained apartment in Chinatown - a byproduct of her and her boyfriend Richard Saad (Arian Moayed) deciding to move in together to save money on the way to seeing if they can make it as a couple.  Mother Blake is, of course, not happy about this arrangement.  You're supposed to get married first.  Accompanying them is Erik's Mother (Lauren Klein) who is completely taken by Alzheimer's.  She's in a wheelchair and is really much out of it.  We learn they really can't afford to put her anywhere for care which makes the disease even more sad for all involved.

As Brigid over-compensates and leads the conversation and tour of her city and neighborhood, we learn more and more about each family member.  Aimee has ulcerative colitis and may be losing her job as a lawyer.  Mom and Dad have worked for the same places with little wage increases over the past few decades.  Brigid is still learning how to "live" with her new boyfriend - what they share, what they say, and what they don't.  It's really a slice-of-life type of a play with the family's dirty laundry being exposed here and there.  Funny, poignant, and sad.  Mr. Birney and Ms. Houdyshell might just be the finest actors on the stage today.  Neither one seems to be able to utter an insincere or unintentional word.  Ms. Steele is annoying and endearing all at the same time.  It's a family,  warts and all.  It's a dumpy New York City apartment Chinatown, warts and all.   It's Thanksgiving, warts and all.

We do learn that Dad has something to tell everyone.  I assumed it was the big C. But it's a twist that you will not expect.  Like many families who don't really talk to each other and ignore most of the not-so-nice things - the Burke's are no different.  The play progresses with light bulbs burning out until we end is total darkness.  A darkness I liken to the lost nature of the entire family and families in general - all bubbly and sparkly on the outside, not so much on the inside.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


New York Theater Workshop is known for its bold, interpretive, and artistic productions.  This latest installment is no different.  Based on a 1963 novel, The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis and a subsequent 1976 movie by Nicholas Roeg (and a 1987 television adaption which differed with the original material), this musical by David Bowie (music) and Enda Walsh (Book) is a bizarre, fantastical, and imaginative look in to the mind of a man.

Make no bones about it - this production, by its very nature, is bizarre.  Very bizarre.  It's like Clockwork Orange meets Next to Normal.  The play itself has always been discordant, imaginative, and vague.  It's the nature of dreams, insanity, and mental illness.  Helmed by hot Belgian experimental "it" director, Ivo van Hove, this particular production adds potent, strong, and lavish music to the equation.  The combination is magical.  Throw in a dazzling special effects of a large media screen and magnificent projections and you find yourself immersed in an evening of pure fantasy.

Mr. Newton is the center of our attention - A Mad, deranged, dreamer played by the indomitable  Michael C. Hall.  With the rage and angst of a madman he owned the role from the first maddening minute to the last.  His maid, Elly (Cristin Meloti), was the perfect malleable, innocent companion. Valentine, an incarnation of the devil perhaps, a madman at the very least was played to the hilt by the Michael Esper. A cast of other interlopers contributed to the mesmerizing, magical, and fantastic evening in the theater.  Perhaps the most talented and poignant performers on the whole stage was Sophia Anne Caruso (Girl).  She is perhaps vocal perfection.

And let's not forget the incredible band behind the glass wall,  They rocked.  As a result, we rocked.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

These Paper Bullets

Now rockin' the stage over at the Linda Gross Theater of The Atlantic Theater Company is a play with music that has more effervescence than some musicals.  The title and origins of the show are a bit stuffy being from Yale Reparatory Theater and all.... but that doesn't stop director Jackson Gay from dazzling the audience with his spinning disk stage and scenery (i get it, just like a record, right?) upon which the boys and their fans strut their stuff.

What have we got going on here, you ask?  It's Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing updated to London 1964 and involves a boy band that very closely (*wink wink*) resembles the Beatles.    The Quartos - which in my opinion should be the name of the play - are cute, rebellious, young and horny. (what boy bands aren't?).  Music by Billie Joe Armstrong and orchestrations by Tom Kitt are sure to please.

Don't get me wrong - it's super-smart - although I will admit I have never read Much Ado About Nothing - so much of it was lost on me.  Meanwhile the music has an all-too-familiar sound to it and kept the toes-a-tapping'.   The uber adorable and sexy boys of The Quartos - Ben (Justin Kirk), Claude (Bryan Fenkart), Balth (Lucas Papaelias), and Pedro (James Barry) - croon the night away and take you back a few decades to a more innocent time.

Sub plots develop around the love and revenge story - one might say a few too many however.  Scotland Yard detectives investigating "What is wrong with the youth of our Country" provide some entertaining interludes following the boys - including the incredibly adorable multi-character actor Christopher Geary.  The women who are the object of affection and scorn include Bea (Nicole Parker), Higgie (Arianna Venturi), and Ulcie (Keira Naughton).

Yes, I believe the characters have similar names to the play by the Bard and it's all wrapped in a hip backbeat that will make you smile despite the unnecessarily long tun time (please trim this up, Rolin Jones).  A two hour runtime will likely be the sweetest spot you can find.