Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, September 29, 2016


It just goes to show you that not every work by great writers is a hit.  The writer of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Simon Stephens) wrote a shorter bit that deals with relationships and quirky people.  It belongs on an off-Broadway stage.  Unfortunately, the casting of a star has pushed the work, inappropriately, to Broadway.

Mary-Louise Parker's (Georgie Burns) star power is to blame. She and Denis Arndt (Alex Priest) do a fine job of acting for 80 minutes on a stage jammed with more stage seating to pump up the ticket revenues.  There really is no purpose to the on-stage seating.  But that is just the problem, once again.  Show me the star and I'll show you and over-priced, too short runtime show.

Now, the material - relationships, age, quirky people and lots of broken dreams, promises, and lives.  It's not a happy story for the most part.  However, in 80 minutes you barely get the chance to evaluate these characters, where they are going, and what their motivations are.  It's too brief and you're left guessing at the tidbits of facts they spill out in the dialogue.

Heisenberg (the one that I looked up) was some sort of physicist.  His uncertainty principle or maybe other aspects of his research are what the play is named after I believe.  He's never mentioned in the play - it's one of those "why did they name it this?" titles.  His principle is about not being able to tell where moving parts are going or how they are going to get there - - much like the 2 characters in this play.

Well in summary, I couldn't tell where the play was going or why it even started in the first place.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Front Page

The stellar cast in this what's old is new again production far outshines the material itself.  Director Jack O'Brien is forced to fill almost 3 hours (including 2 intermissions) with action.  The problem is, the characters are big, the acting is big, the set is big - the cast is big - but the material just doesn't measure up.

Just look at this cast:  Nathan Lane (Walter Burns), John Slattery (Hiddy Johnson), Jefferson Mays (Bensinger), John Goodman (Sherrif Hartman), Robert Morse (Mr. Pincus), Dann Florek (The Mayor), Holland Taylor (Mrs. Grant), Sherie Rene Scott (Mollie Malloy), Micah Stock (Woodenshoes Eichorn), Dylan Baker (McCue), David Pittu (Schwartz), Christopher McDonald (Murphy) plus about 9 other supporting minor characters!  Just take that cast in. Wowza.

Now as for the material - it's a 3 act play - unfortunately.  Act I should be scrapped.  It's useless and unentertaining and mostly unnecessary background material that could be established in about 15 minutes.  Act II gets off to a good start, bogs down in the middle and goes out with a "BANG".  Act III picks up the action but drags it out in the end to a very un-dramatic ending.  In a nutshell, the material stinks and should be re-writtin/adapted.

Theatrically speaking - the comedy was top notch - the assemblage of such fine actors above are able to pull off the physical and over the top comedy.  Nathan Lane is at the top of the bill.  Unfortunately, he doesn't appear on stage until the end of Act II.  Interestingly, twice when Jefferson Mays entered the stage, he got entrance applause which you could tell was because the audience mistook him for Mr. Lane (as did I).  Everyone recognized John Slattery and he gave a top notch performance - as he was really the lead despite sharing the bill with Mr. Lane.  Too much newsroom chatter and nonsense.  Not enough Holland Taylor and Dylan Baker (with a strange agent).  There was just enough time of the uber-dreamy Micah Stock - but someone has to decide what to do with that accent he puts on.  It's all over the map.

This huge cast must be a big expense - and it's a big theater with tiny seats so hopefully the star power will boost the ticket revenues.  But it's an uphill battle these days.   I saw it on a previews discount and was pleased at the value.  Full price ticket to even this show would be a disappointment unless you're just a star-stalker who just sees anything with someone.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Marie and Rosetta

The Atlantic Theater Company and Neil Pepe have created a near pitch perfect, smart, toe-tapping, bio-play about a less well known musician who is often coined the original soul sister.  She was among the first to merge gospel music and rock & roll.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Kecia Lewis) as a sassy, street-smart, music and fun loving gospel singer who saw an opportunity bring it out of the church into the mainstream.  As often happens, the church people were not happy about her worldly presentation.  And the world was not always happy with her churchy style.  She fought it all, morphed when she needed, and like many before and after her was taken advantage of, lived the high life, and died penniless.

Marie Knight (Rebecca Naomi Jones) was the young girl she picked out of an audition because she had "something" in her eye that just struck Rosetta as something she could work with.  Together the two bantered about religion, taking things too far, and style and created a sound the world embraced, sending them to stardom on stage and in the recording studio for a while.

The show takes place at the beginning, in the basement of a funeral home in 1946 Mississippi where the colored people stayed so not as to dare taunt the while people in the town they were passing thru on tour. Rosetta is donned in her favorite and fabulous while glittery dress which matches her vocal style - blow the roof off the house - is what what comes to mind.  Marie is much more demure and lady like but she's got the bug to perform and break out.   The two of them spend about 90 minutes taking you down the memory lane of how their relationship developed.

In might have given this show at 10 out of 10 if the actors actually played the guitar and piano.  The piano was more difficult to tell as it was cleverly turned around so we could not see the keys, but an actor air-strumming a guitar is quite noticeable.  However, the two actual musicians are credited in the playbill (Felicia Collins and Deah Harriott) were superb!

In an incredibly surprising and clever twist at the end - we fast forward.  Touching, tender, and a complete closure to the trajectory of the story which bring it all back to the beginning and suddenly every little detail in the beginning now makes sense.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Encounter

I'm glad I got just a TDF priced ticket to see this show.  And by show, I really mean performance art in a Broadway theater.  I feel sorry for people buying full price tickets (Over $100 if you believe the electronic board at the box office window).

Make no mistake, Simon McBurney (himself) is putting on a show.  And that show is quite different, quite unique, and mostly un-Broadway-like.  For the un-initiated, it is a aurally (that means sound) mesmerizing performance.  You have to wear headphones.  If you take them off you are basically sitting in a packed broadway theater watching a person whisper on the stage.  The headphones themselves are fairly advanced and deliver a sound experience like you have never before experienced with your cheap earbuds.  They involve a quite complex sound system.  My novice research suggests that his main tool is known as a binaural stereo microphone that when paired with high quality headphones (and likely a sound board the size of a billiards table) produces a life-like sound simulation all around your head as if you are immersed in the action and it is happening directly next to you.   This is the secret to the entire show.

The show itself is the tale of a photo-journalist dropped in the amazon searching for indigenous people.  While he does find them, the tale of them welcoming (or not) him into their world is harrowing, suspenseful, dangerous, and life-altering.  He conveys this all thru your headphones from a stage adorned with virtually nothing but a table, water bottles and a few microphones.   Props.  Just props.

The aural delight wears off in about 25 minutes and the rest of the 2 hours is filled with his bizarre story that is at times incoherent, other times rambling, other times mildly interesting when he is effectively teaching you about these very different people and providing insights into cultures and civilizations that are unlike anything we have seen.  Several lighting effect attempt to supplement the aural presentation to limited success.

There is a high ideal quality to the show - as evidenced by the appearance of the audience in attendance.  Mostly the save the planet, save the whales. stop wars, eat veggies, recycle everything kind of crowd.

At 2 hours and a few minutes including his heartfelt words after the curtain call, the show was not nearly worth the advertised ticket price.  It has the it's different quality going for it.  That's about it.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


In what can be described as a somber, quiet, and delicious entree, Julia Cho's new play, Aubergine, has made its debut over at Playwrights Horizons.  It's about food, memories, family, and death.  Yes, you read that correctly - death.

I hope this won't come as a spoiler given the somber mood of the play, but yes, there is a death.  It's ever-present during most of the play - an old man dying in a bed on stage.

Say what you will, but Ms. Cho's linkage of food and the memories it evokes gels nicely throughout the play and resonates a message that despite the discord and frustrations of families and daily life that we should cherish the "good stuff" always.  On Ms. Cho's stage that good stuff is food.

Ray (Tim Kang) is the young (allegedly only) son of his (unnamed character) father (Steven Park).  Father is dying.  Except for a few flashbacks and funny, touching memories, he is virtually dead in his dining room in a hospital bed the entire play.  His caregiver, Lucien, (Michael Potts) is a wise, calm, ethereal man who seems to know about death and dying as it is his life's profession as a hospice caregiver.  Ray's Uncle (his father's long absent brother), Lucien, (Joseph Steven Yang) arrives from Korea to mourn his brother and say his peace.  Cornelia (Sue Jean Kim) is Ray's on-again-off-again quirky girlfriend.  Perhaps one of the most interesting interlopers in this tale is the book-ended character, Diane (Jessica Love) who opens and then closes the play.  She weaves an overly self-indulgent tale in the beginning and appears in the end to tie it all together.

Ms. Cho's storytelling ability is fantastic.  The mood is both somber and recognizable.  Her characters are mostly real - although we would all like to think we are a bit more prepared for a parent to die than perhaps Ray was - but I suspect there is a bit of Ray in all of us.

You will leave the theatre with a sense of finality, a sense of mortality, and possibly a little bit of a renewed sense of life and purpose.  Bravo Ms. Cho.

Who knew the power of Pastrami?