Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Notes From the Field

While they have cut the inappropriate sub-title from the playbill, they have not cut it from the marketing material.  While this play touches on education is is absolutely not about "doing time in education" as its previous title and marketing might suggest.

Another one-woman show, Notes From The Field, is helmed by the indomitable Anna Deavere Smith.  The show is less of a theatrical production, but rather a lecture on race, racial inequality, and discrimination.  I am happy to have seen it, but, once again, quite disappointed that a subscription theatre company choose to represent it as a play in its season.

The show as described by video headlines projected in the theatre before the show starts is quite literally a patchwork of interviews that Ms. Deavere Smith conducted with various people in doing research on the prison population, education system, and police violence.  The show, when it covered the prison system and the education system, really hit high notes.  However, Ms. Deveare Smith seemed to have a need to highlight police brutality and the recent headline stories like Freedy Grey and Shakira (the girl who was flipped out of her chair by a police officer in a high school classroom).  When it focused on these headlines it strayed from its core message and ended up in sensationalism-land not really connecting these stories to eduction quite as much.

The video projections were superb and filled the stage with live video/news clips (Elaine McCarthy). However, the disjointed panels onto which they were projected were a poor choice as they text and sub-titles that usually accompanied the video was often un-readable and chopped up (Riccardo Hernandez).  Ms. Deavere Smith is clearly intelligent and passionate about her research.  She becomes the characters she interviewed - including both voices and mannerisms.  Each scene's title is projected on the proscenium and it was always a line or phrase spoken by the character at some point during the interview.  She closes the show with a quite moving and decidedly accurate portrayal of the legendary US Representative John Lewis.

While once again, I am happy to have seen such an intelligent and moving performance, I do not consider this to be a play that I would have wanted to see.  It was more like a 92nd Street Y performance.  I also wish the emphasis on education was stronger and the sensational racial headlines were less.  An all too liberal white (haired and skinned) audience ate it up and I'm sure on tour in the right northern and northwestern blue states it might be equally successful.  I doubt the places it is most needed and relevant to are on the tour list - and that is a depressing thought.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


In another one-woman show coup - the indomitable Sarah Jones brings her cadre of characters to life in a creative, clever new show Sell/Buy/Date.

Mrs. Jones brings a wide variety of characters to the stage to tell the story in her unique and special way.  Telling the story of sex workers from a future point (2050-ish) in time reflecting on the past back to the "early days" of 2020 - her entertaining angle brings a fresh and clever perspective to an age old issue - we know it as prostitution.

Ms. Jones' characters all have accents, mannerisms, and voices that she flawlessly and seamlessly blends in and out of as they are brought to the stage in her advanced computer program BERT.  She is a college professor with a bit of a mysterious past.  All will be revealed in the show.

The set is appropriately modern (Dane Laffrey).  Lighting (Eric Southern) and sound (Bray Poor) are appropriately crisp and modern.

Ms. Jones has a unique voice and that voice delivers a potent message via all her shows.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a revival of a much loved show now playing again on Broadway after a long rest.  Falsettos, a book by James Lapine with music and lyrics by William Finn returns to Broadway with great fanfare.  The show is actually two shorter plays, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland combined into one musical.  It seems that in a rush to the stage with the subject matter, Mr. Lapine threw it all together without much thought as to what would look like.  It's cute, tender, and touching - yes.  However, the requisite "he's dying from AIDS" storyline seems a bit disjointed, sloppy, and thrown on the stage in a rush to get it before the public.

Marvin seems a bit mis-cast (Christian Borle).  He's a bit older, he was (tragically) married and has a kid - it was the generation for such nonsense i suppose.   Wizzer (Andrew Rannells) is younger, sexier, and quite clearly gets around as it were.  Even the name of the character seems a bit dated, to be honest.  The performance I attended was quite unique in the fact that both Stephanie J. Block (Trina) and her understudy Courtney Balan (Trina).  A second understudy Stephanie Umoh (Trina) with a mere 2 hours of rehearsal time went on - script in hand.  I was nervous for the first 15 minutes but soon realized she was not going to miss a note, a step, or a line.  In fact she was fantastic.

I sort of wish the entire show was as rewarding as watching an actor really executing her craft with aplomb.  I still do not really know exactly what the falsettos are or were or represent.  Bizarre to say the least.  I think the best character and actor on stage was perhaps Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz).  By far he seems to be comfortable in his own shoes in this show.

While I enjoyed the overall performance, it left me with a feeling of being incomplete, unexplained at times, and disjointed.  The actors seemed mostly mis-cast and the lack of set (mostly a geometric block of shapes that fit together to all sorts of un-identified formations) did not do the production and favors.  I don't see this one lasting very long.  But stranger things have happened.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tick, Tick... Boom!

In what I believe is the first off-Broadway revival since its original 2001 incarnation, Keen Company has brought back Jonathan Larson's pre-rent work, Tick, Tick...Boom! in a magnificent, relevant, and energetic production over at the Acorn Theater on Theatre Row.

Only a 3-hander, this production has cast an amazing trio of actors with tremendous chemistry both vocally and as a true ensemble.  Nick Blaemire (Jonathan), George Salazar (Michael), and Ciara Renee (Susan) bring the auto-biographical work of the late Mr. Larson roaring to life.  Mr. Blaemire is nebbishy enthusiastic about his uber geeky and artistic and anxiety filled role as Jonathan.  Mr. Salazar is cast as the foil to Jonathan's artistic life - a former self-described "good but not good enough" actor and best friend.  Ms. Renee bring powerful vocals, beauty, and general-sexy to the role of Susan. All 3 run the stage for just under 2 hours with nothing but a few sips of water wandering through Mr. Larson's part Broadway, part ballad, part rock and roll lyrics and musical performances.  Of special note, Mr. Blaemire actually plays the piano very well - (i just hate it when the actors fake it).

This show was written pre-Rent but is generally auto-biographical in terms of where Mr. Larson was in his life.  I almost wished Jonathan would have tinkered on the keyboard with a tune from Rent just to really tie the two shows together.  Rent, as well, was somewhat auto-biographical in terms of Mr. Larson's life but it was conceived with other people and after this show was written.

The show if not nearly as famous as the aforementioned Rent - nor is it as theatrical or heavy a story. There are not, as in Rent, people parading through New York City or crashing weddings.  This story is a bit smaller in scope and perhaps more personal in nature.  Mr. Larson died suddenly before Rent could be brought to the stage and it is such a shame as we will never know how much more we could have heard from this very talented man.  For now, we will just have to enjoy the beauty of his works such as this through the very talented cast that puts him back on the stage 8 shows a week.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Now playing over at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I at City Center is a remarkable tale - the other side of the proverbial coin - a story about the Vietnam War - told through the eyes of young South Vietnamese refugees.  Even during war - love blooms.

Qui Nguyen (playwright) has penned a journey through the crazy 70's and the Vietnam War.  America is the savior - taking in refugees even while racism abounds.  In Mr. Nguyen's eyes, America is far from perfect - and he actually nails the stereotypical types throughout the south and west.  Raymond Lee (Quang) and Jennifer Ikeda (Tong) are are young, spunky, sexy, refugee lovers searching for peace in their new homeland.  John Hoche, the adorable and sexy Paco Tolson, and Samantha Quan (a plethora of characters each) fill in the comedy, friendship, and family from many angles.

A bit too zany at times (it was the 70's after all) and a bit too long and drawn out in others - this play has a future if tightened and given a general tune up.  Several rap numbers fit well in the Asian genre and the lyrics are quite powerful.  Plenty of potty mouth language to go around.  Mr. Lee's sexy physique is a must for this leading man - both shirt on and shirt off.

The story of the actual South Vietnamese is one we Americans rarely consider. What were they fighting for?  Who were they?   Why did America help and why did it fail?   Not all of these questions get answered in the play but the last 10 minutes of the play will bring the entire piece to a crescendo close.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Nat Turner in Jerusalem

A well acted, heavy two hander (well really 3 but it's only two actors) is playing down at New York Theater Workshop.  Nat Turner in Jerusalem (Virginia, not Israel) is a fictional attempt at documenting the final days of the life of real life Nat Turner.

Mr. Turner is infamous for leading a slave/free black rebellion throughout the south where dozens of innocent women, children, and others were brutally killed.  Mr. Turner was ultimately captured and jailed and executed - as were many of the rebellion participants.

What makes his story unique and controversial is that Mr. Turner looked upon his rebellion as a "just war" against whites.  His murderous rampage was sanctioned, according to him, by God himself.  This play attempts to explore Thomas Gray's (Rowan Vickers) attempt to extract the story and background from Nat Turner (Phillip James Brannon) while in jail before his execution.   What plays out instead if Mr. Turner trying to convince Mr Gray to believe and to understand his point of view.  There is also a guard in the prison played equally well by Mr. Vickers and I think the point of casting the same actor for a totally different role was to demonstrate the "every-white-man" concept.

Ultimately Mr. Gray's notes were published (and copy protected) and many believe he embellished the story.  Regardless of the embellishment or not, the interaction between Mr. Turner and Mr. Gray was at times mesmerizing and at other times preachy.   What did stand out is that the conflicts that took place in the 1800's are not all that different from the conflicts and struggles today.  The circumstances may be different but the roots remain the same.

One begins to wonder if what Mr. Turner was able to execute might possibly be repeated at some point today.

Set simple, lighting a bit spotty, theatre configuration innovative, thoughts of a repeat - scary.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Life

A powerful, humbling new play, A Life,  by Adam Bock is now playing over at Playwrights Horizons.  Mr. Bock explores life through a lonely, gay, introverted, quirky, and obsessive character, Nate Martin (David Hyde Pierce).  Not only does he explore his literal life, he explores the fleeting nature of life through his death.

Nate Martin is a complicated man yet at the same time, he's every man.  Frustrations, disappointments, plans, hopes, loves, dreams fill his life.  In the blink of an eye, things could change - and do.  About half of the play is spent watching Nate's body prepared for a funeral.  Life goes on around him, we hear his thoughts, and realize that it is all fleeting.

Nate is into astrology - the stars and planets and what they say about you and how they might explain your life.  To be honest, I'm not sure if that theme was meant to represent religion and its role in the human experience or possibly something more specific to Nate's belief system.  I do know there were no planetary realignments when he died so perhaps it just represents something that in the end, like everything else, is meaningless.

A touching, honest, and sad first scene; A shocking next turn of events with a dash of today's culture of inappropriateness thrown in just to make you shrug your shoulders; and a touching and brutally honest eulogy seen at the funeral capped most specifically by the thoughts from his mostly estranged sister (he was gay and from Minnesota and her comments were dripping with mid-western values and a complete lack of understanding, disappointment, and ultimately and ironically the same loneliness).

There's a funeral joke told by his best friend Curtis (Brad Heberlee) that you can't help but laugh at and at the same time makes you cringe.  Perfectly placed and such great acting around the uncomfortable nature of the whole affair.