Photo by Don Kellogg

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Now Playing over at the Cherry Lane Theater hidden down on a charming Greenwich Village street is a gem of a situation comedy written by Israel Horovitz.  

The story revolves around a dead man (the star of the show who we never see) and his many ex-wives and girlfriends who are congregating in his Paris apartment one by one for his funeral and learning, at times, more than they cared to know about each other and the life they all shared throughout the decades with this man.  

Stage and screen veteran the indomitable Estelle Parsons (Evelyn) is the oldest of the wives and the first one to the apartment (well, the oldest alive, actually).  She's sharp tongued, sassy, and brassy - just like Ms. Parsons herself.   Judith Ivey plays the next in line - Evvie - slightly more hip but still sassy and bold.  Then there was Janice (Angelina Fiordellisi) who is quite the psychologically challenged woman who may or may not repeat jumping out a window - something she did when she was married to our invisible host character.  Fast forward through some other now dead women to a young 20 something young woman who appears and announces she was his latest wife.  

Hilarity ensues with the introduction of each woman to the equation.  Generational differences are discussed, analyzed, bitched about and thrown against the walls to see what will stick.  We slowly learn he was a womanizer who aged to 100 but always liked his wives between the age of 20 and 25ish.  These ladies all loved their husband, all are curious about the other women but deep down hate each other except for the last young chippy (Francesca Choy-Kee) - she loves everyone and wants to make a home in Paris for them all.  

Hilarious and entertaining!  These women will make you laugh about being loved, jilted, and replaced.  If only we could meet the dead guy - who remains unnamed in the script!  In an interesting twist -i do not know who's idea this was - there are 26 pieces of artwork on the set (as a proper Paris apartment would have) that are done by celebs themselves including Eve Plumb, Rosie O'Donnell, Joel Grey, Tina Louise, and others.  A secret art gallery right there on stage alongside the show!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Imbible

Now running in its second year, this little-known show, Imbible, A Spirited History of Drinkingset in the speakeasy downstairs at the Soho Playhouse on Vandam Street is an appealing and entertaining history lesson in the theatre.

Written by and starting in this gem is bartender, Anthony Caporale. One can sense his love of the craft from the very beginning.  And from the very beginning does he start - Cavemen!  His history and chemistry lesson spans the centuries highlighting the ups and downs and origins of our favorite libation.

Performed in a bar, (an actual speakeasy) by a bartender - you certainly won't feel cheated out of the truth and some deep history on the subject.  Infused with barbershop quartet melodies and zippy little ditties about the subject matter - this show can't fail to entertain.  The fourth wall is broken and the performer is really an M.C. to the delight of the audience. He demonstrates a real live distillation machine and has many PowerPoint slides to illustrate his walk through history.  And talk about delight - my favorite backwaiter - Mark Edwards - was a truly an adorable, talented hambone who never failed to entertain in every scene.

This quartet of talented actors actually do realize their show is a low budget delight - and even point that out at several spots during the show ("Ladies and Gentlemen, I remind you there are no special effects here tonite").

If you're interested in booze and like to be served drinks (there are 3!) during a show - head down to SoHo and take in an evening with the delightful cast of Imbible.  Be warned, you have to be 21 or over to partake.  And fear not - the bar is open before and after the show!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Total Bent

 In their latest installment for the stage, Stew along with Heidi Rodewald will fill your soul with music.  This show is starting much like their last - at The Public Theatre.  You may remember their last show, Passing Strange.  In the lean years (after the financial troubles) it moved to Broadway for a decent but brief run. It was different.  Remarkably so.

In this latest show, The Total Bent, Stew seems to loosely tie his first show's characters lives in.  It's not a perfect match at all but there are similarities.  This show focuses on a preacher-entertainer and his young son-singer (and if i read it right, a radio and televangelist out to make a buck).  His son is gay and trying to make it by joining the black protest movement. Two very different viewpoints about how black people should live and be.  Most everything about these two is about opposites - music, lifestyle, political views, beliefs. Family struggles.  Religious struggles.  Race struggles.  You can see the powder-keg a mile away.

Much of this show is about the music and the band - it seems the plot is secondary - with Stew leaving much up to your imagination to connect dots that may or may not be there.  It seems that it is really about ideas and themes rather than linear story.  You simply get the highlights and it's up to you and your life experience to process.  This can be frustrating for those who crave linear storylines.  Just know that this is the case going in, enjoy the music, entertainment, and theme.

The concert-stage ready actors never fail to dazzle and blow the roof off the joint including the Marty ( the indomnible Ato Blankson-Wood) and Joe Roy (the powerhouse Vondie Curtis Hall) and the lone white-guy English music producer Byron Blackwell (the remarkable David Cale).

I don't think this one is destined for Broadway given the holes in the storyline.  But an enjoyable evening at the Public Theatre is nothing to rattle your tambourine at.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


There's something playing over at the Vineyard Theatre that is nothing short of spectacular.  Paula Vogel has penned a superb play-within-a -play based on a true story of a Yiddish theatre troupe in the early 20th century.

Well written and crisply acted, this theatre troupe acting as a theatre troupe packs a powerful punch.  Not overly Yiddish (as most of us would not understand), but the show employs a clever theatrical device to indicate when they are speaking in English and when they are supposed to be speaking in English.  When they are supposed to be speaking Yiddish, they speak in clear, fluid English (and there are Hebrew sub-titles).  When they are supposed to be speaking English they put on a thick accent.  Director Rebecca Taichman has cleverly and seamlessly nested this play-within-a-play.  To denote the passage of time (to speed things along) a subtitle occasionally pops up and the actors freeze momentarily ("In A Blink of Time" the subtitle reads).  The lighting and most costumes are dark and grey - similar to the time and the feeling.  Except for an occasional white nightgown, of course.

The play-within-a-play focuses on a European Jew who wrote a play that shocked and entertained the high culture all around Europe.  When the play came to the USA, it played well downtown (read Avant Garde) theatre scene but when it came to Broadway, the American sensibilities (even in the Jewish community) were outraged.  They play was shut down and the cast and creatives arrested for indecency.  The play focuses alternatively on the struggle of the playwright and the struggle of the actors.

What on earth could be so scandalous?  Two girls kissing.  Two Jewish girls kissing.  Written by a Jew.  Acted by Jews.  Outraged and already sensitive to being perceived as not fitting in around the world at this time - many love it - many shunned the idea of it.

These circumstances are all wrapped up in Ms. Vogel's play which keeps you riveted and holds your attention throughout the entire production.  As you would expect, it doesn't end well for this theatre troupe - ending up in the wrong city at the wrong time.  The playwright who subsequently moved to America has his own demons and you'll just have to run down to the Vineyard to see how this is all plays out.  It's worth the trip.

Monday, June 13, 2016

An Act of God

As far as one man shows goes - this one is a romp.  Spoiler alert - it appears that God might be gay.  Don't go expecting an outer body experience.  This one rakes religion over the coals in probably the nicest and funniest of ways.

Sean Hayes (God) brings this show back to Broadway after Jim Parsons' first stint in David Javerbaum's new comedy.  Mr. Hayes is a natural ham who knows his lines and knows how to improvise, entertain, and satiate your comedy soul.  Latecomers beware!

There are two other people in this ostensibly one-man show.  They are sidekick angels . David Jofsenberg is a crowd-roving angel taking questions from the audience - although all he really does is take your name and then asks his question (i.e. his lines).  James Gleason is Gabriel reading from the good book and running down the 10 commandments with God.

Gays, slavery, Noah and the arc, Adam and Steve, violence, prayer... as you can see the list of topics is predictable yet uproarious and enjoyable nonetheless.  Much like Book of Mormon to the Mormons, I doubt a stoic church-going Catholic nun would enjoy this show - but then again - I doubt she's the target audience in the first place and frankly should't go within a block of the theatre.

For a lite, funny, entertaining evening with Mr. Hayes - run over to the Booth Theatre for a good laugh.  Just don't be late.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Effect

So... Lucy Prebble has a knack for details.  You might remember her for the musical, Enron.  It was a hit in London, but not so much here. (Those Brits love their American flop stories!).  In her latest installment playing down at the Barrow Street Theatre, Ms. Prebble dives not into Wall Street and finance but the the world of clinical trials, pharmacology, and medicine.  And by dive in - I mean she goes in deep.  Clearly she studied the details, the issues, and the minutia of the topic.  What she has written is what one might expect from a doctor turned playwright.

Helming this production is the lovely (in an anxious kind of way) Susannah Flood (Connie Hall) and scruffily-hipster handsome Carter Hudson (Tristan Frey).  As individuals who have joined a clinical trial of a drug that may or may not have a certain side effect - we find them entangled in a relationship of sorts.  Steve Key ((Dr. Toby Sealey) and Kati Brazda (Dr Laura James) are the medical professionals behind the study who themselves have a bit of history themselves.

The details of the clinical trial and the drug's side effect are entangled between both the patients and the doctors.  The mystery is revealed about the mid-point of Act 1 - who is on the drug and who is not - and how does that affect the patients.  By the end of the the study (and Act II) we get yet another curve-ball - and the patients are affected.

Ms. Prebble kept us on our toes the entire performance through her twists and turns.  Ms. Flood and Mr. Hudson kept us entertained with their flirtations and connection.  The show educates, informs, and entertains all at the same time.  The relationship between the doctors is a bit less fleshed out and could use some more refinement  - or more accurately clarity.

Perhaps Ms. Prebble will get an opportunity to have another clinical trial on a larger stage.  One might speculate the results would be positive.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois

The first 20 minutes of Adam Rapp's play are the creepiest.  Although the creepy factor never dissipates, given the subject matter it never quite goes away.  A bi-polar man with psychosis and two teenage girls is a volatile mix no matter what twist the plot may take.

Some will applaud Mr. Rapp for tackling the topic of mental illness in this manner.  Some, like me, will simply not enjoy the idea of being entertained by it.  It felt to me more like a require summer reading project that was meant to be discussed and dissected afterward.  Forced.  Purposeful.  It was fine theatre in the sense that the actors told a story but it was the story that I simply did not want to hear no matter the quality of the actors.

William Apps (Ellis) gave a profound and moving performance as the bi-polar man living in a very simple and obviously poor setting.  Katherine Reis (Catherine) turned in a solid, at times emotional, at times stoic performance.  Susan Hayward (Monique) was at times perhaps too bold, came on too strong, and tended toward the dramatic.  Ms. Haward's performance was likely a directorial mistake rather than Ms. Hayward's but since Mr. Rapp both wrote and directed this play one can more easily place blame.  Connor Barrett (Barrett) seemed mis-cast and poorly developed at the same time.  His hovering in the kitchen seemed odd and his dialogue seemed oddly spotty ill developed for a nurse and patient supervisor.  I'm not sure Mr. Rapp captured the essence of this type of medical/psychiatric person in Barrett.

I left the Atlantic Stage II pondering the title of the play.  It is explained in the dialogue just fine, but I'm not sure it really captures the essence of the performance.  It's a 'where' but not a 'what'.   After you get past the first 20 minutes of really creepy, it's just mostly uncomfortable and sad.  With only a few moving performances, Purple Lights left me feeling empty, worn-out, and ready for a drink.  Perhaps Mr. Rapp should focus on wither writing OR directing.  Doing both removes a creative mind from the theatrical process and the work suffers.