Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Love Love Love

One of the things I most enjoyed about Mike Bartlett's play is the ease at which he gets the audience just before he slides the knife in.  Biting, cunning, humorous, and genuinely quite an accurate indictment he makes of the Baby Boomer generation (with a dash of Millennial choke-on-this thrown in).

Three acts.  Three different times. One family.  Husband and wife meet at 19 yo kids in London in Act I.  Idealistic, free-thinking, oxford types -break the mold 60's is the time. We watch them rebel against authority, their parents, and ultimately themselves (the brothers).  When we slide into Act II, we are in the 80's.  Free thinkers all grown up - still smart, still entitled, and still thinking they are on top of the world - but now they have their own kids... their own problems... their own demons - yes - we see them generally neglect their children, fight, drink, smoke, and act exactly like the ME generation they were.  Clearly the family if affected.  We learn just how much at the end of Act II,   
As we glide into Act III we are now in the 90's - although they seem to have taken some liberties with an iPad and cell phones (i think that is the millennial mixture thrown in just to stir the pot even more). Parents are still assholes.  Funny, but assholes.  Kids are still damaged - some more than others although the parents wouldn't even notice because that would be admitting to something they don't want to deal with.  The younger generation drives this act - and we start to see the millennial whine and complain about their awful parents who have it all and they have none.
This ensemble cast is superb Richard Armitage (Kenneth, father), Alex Hurt (Henry, brother), Amy Ryan (Sandra, wife), Zoe Kazan (Rose, daughter), Ben Rosenfeld (Jamie, son),  Sets, divine and period appropriate (Derek McLane).  Michael Mayer must have had so much fun directing this one - letting some lines hang - and pounding others down our throats.

If you don't think enough wine was poured in Act II and III - just top yourself off before you head over to the Laura Pels off-Broadway house for Roundabout Theatre Company.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Ride The Cyclone

I did not see this show in Chicago  or elsewhere, however after reviewing the photos and old new articles and reviews, it is evident to me just how much a show grows as it steps through it's maturation process by moving from out of town to an off-Broadway theater.  Ride the Cyclone has done this by moving to MCC and the Lucile Lortel Theatre.

Ironically, the show is set in a carnival like atmosphere.  The soothsaying head in a booth, the roller coaster, the amusement park freak-show feel - all parts of the show that fit in the Lortel quite nicely - it's a total dump and has been for years.

Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond have penned quite the musical with a message and a heart.  I must admit, it seemed geared for adolescents.  It felt a little like a NYMF show.  However, the show was executed so well and so crisply, I could have imagined being in a Broadway theatre.  Moving cities, upgrading costumes, enhancing the set have all done this show a huge favor although I suspect the bones of this show were always solid.

The cast, as you would expect, is all kids.  Talented kids.  Very good looking kids dripping with pent up sexual and vocal energies.  You get to "meet" each one of them as they spin the dial of the slot machine of life - a clever expository device that fits nicely into the carney atmosphere.  Frankly the only "adult" (over 25) on the stage the entire time is The Amazing Karnak (Karl Hamilton) who is the illuminated head and hands in the booth with his crystal ball.  You only see his real face at the curtain call but his voice is one that could read you the phone book and you'd be mesmerized.

Being a show of teenage angst, relationships and friendships along with a twisted story of a purgatory-like experience for these kids, makes this show perfectly positioned to capture the hearts of a millennial audience.  Mischa Bachinski (Gus Halpert) and his Russian accent and crotch grabbing rap number drips with sexuality (shirt off doesn't hurt).  Noel Gruber (Kholby Wardell) is absolutely divine as an adorable gay student but even more so as his cheap french whore persona deep down inside. (Kholby is Canadian so now I want to marry him!) Ricky Potts (Alex Wyse) is cute, absolutely adorable and surprisingly powerful in his alternate (and sexy) persona too.

One would never think a show about 6 dead teenagers would be so fun, uplifting, and entertaining, but given the macabre nature of the material, one has to look beyond the obvious and dream a little along side these youngsters.  It doesn't help that the fortune teller (Karnak) has quite the dark sense of humor.  If you need an exhilarating experience in the theatre, head over to the Lortel and go for a wild ride with Cyclone!

Friday, November 25, 2016

In Transit

We have a new incarnation of a show I saw off-Broadway in 2010 at 59E59 Theater.  It really does take time to stew, to mature, and frankly to get the funds to mount an attack on Broadway.  Of course you have to be good, but there was never any doubt even when I saw this show back 6 years ago that it was a keeper.   Penned by a group of tremendously talented singers and artists - this a-capella musical  may not contain the solution to solving world hunger or climate change - but it does most assuredly entertain.  Are the stories fluffy, probably.  Are they stereotypical, likely.  But for sure, they are fun, they are mostly real, and definitely New York stories.

The subway.  The bowels all New Yorkers hate and equally need.  They're dirty, they're crowded, and they are what brings us all together gets us where we are going - both literally and figuratively.  This time around I am fairly sure the main components of the story have remained but without a video tape to watch the prior performance and only memory to go on, I'd say it was basically tightened, honed, and amp'd up just a bit for the Broadway.  There's still a gay couple, Trent (Justin Guarini) and Steven (Telly Leung) with a wedding problem, an actress, Jane (Margo Seibert) looking for her big break, a spot-on subway clerk, Althea, behind the glass (Moya Angela), a wall street guy , Nate, who made a little email mistake trying to make a change (James Snyder), and of course a beat-boxer extraordinaire, Boxman, (Steven "Heaven" Cantor).

All the sounds you hear come from someone's vocal cords - no instruments, all vocals.  Subway seats fly on and fly off - actors parade back and forth on a narrow stage close up to the audience to reveal their stories in the round and up a flight of stairs on a platform above the tracks. Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, the movements are brisk, crisp, and keep the show's train moving forward. Love is lost, then found again.  Friends and enemies are made and the zany antics of the subway are ever present.

This incarnation of the show is zippy, toe-tapping, touching, and upbeat with a heartwarming message.  Some might say sappy, others would just say fun.  Head over to Circle in the Square and head Deep Beneath the City in more ways than one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Babylon Line

Richard Greenberg has penned yet another fascinating character study - this time 1960's Long Island - Levittown, specifically.  There's quite a storied history to Levittown and apparently now a few of its residents too.

The Babylon Line is a memory play - which may make some uncomfortable - especially when you get to the end and have to reflect back on what version of his memories was the true version.

A terrific ensemble cast of characters - and characters, they were indeed.  Leading the class is the New York City frustrated writer Aaron Port (Josh Radnor).  His suburban students include a trio of gossipy Jewish housewives - the indomitable Frieda Cohan (Randy Graff), slightly ditzy Anna Cantor (Maddie Corman), and struggling writer Midge Braverman (Julie Halston).  But it also includes a war-vet Jack Hassenpflug (Frank Wood) and off-beat local boy Marc Adams (Michael Oberholtzer).  Not to be left out is the out-of-place in Levittown, off-beat, Joan Dellamond (Elizabeth Reaser).

Mr. Greenberg certainly knows how to tell a story - and what a tangled web he does weave way out on the Babylon Line once a week in Levittown!  Sassy housewives, off-beat interlopers, and a writing class that was likely second choice on many of the attendees lists.  Once we get into the class the story develops and envelops you (mostly through the lighting) in to the lives, both current as past, of these delicious and mysterious characters.

It was not lost on this audience member that Mr. Greenberg slyly linked one of the housewives to another character in one of his other plays that was recently on Broadway - Our Mother's Brief Affair.  Tough, tender, interesting, a bit of Long Island history, and a generally magical evening in the theatre.  Could Mr. Greenberg nip and tuck in a few scenes, sure.  Did it matter, not very much.  What is the true story? I'll leave it up to you to decide.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Rancho Viejo

Where do I start?  It was Awful, with a capital 'A'.  Underlined 3 times.  No, it was not the too-late-to-leave notice given by the director (Daniel Aukin)before the show started that the SET was incomplete (it was their fourth preview and i was not aware that they should be BUILDING sets at this point (maybe changing the color of a wall or moving a potted plant.).  No, it was not the fact that the play was 3 hours 15 minutes.  (August Osage County was just as long and was Amazing, with a capital 'A').  What was it, you ask?  THE MATERIAL.  Dan LeFranc has written some excellent pieces for the theater.  One of my favorites is The Big Meal.  Unfortunately, Rancho Viejo comes from some deep, dark, mysterious place that should never have been explored.

The characters are uninteresting, and mysteriously underdeveloped (too many questions about where they came from and how they got to be the way they are and why they even socialize).  I do realize they are all caricatures,  exaggerations of aspects and elements of people we see everyday - exaggerated to the point of farce I might note.  The dialogue is stilted, slow, and awkward.  The conversations are "slit-your-wrists" banal and insipid.  I get it, these people are trapped, lost, insignificant, and human. They are wondering about life.  But did they have to be so damn boring and last for 3 hours??

Now, despite the deep deficit in the material, the actors were magnificent.  Pete (Mark Blum) and Mary (Mare Winningham) were the chief weirdos, carrying the story, well, not forward, but at least from 8 O'clock to 11 o'clock.  Such awkwardness.  Such sadness and mystery.  Patti (Julia Duffy) stole the show with her looks and glances and her so clearly inappropriate comments.  Husband, Gary (Mark Zeisler) was Mister loudmouth obnoxious straight man.  Enough said.  Suzanne (Lusia Strus) drank more wine and had more one-liners than a night at a comedy festival.  Hubby Leon (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) was possibly the most normal (and youngest) spouse in the bunch.  Mike (Bill Buell) and Anita (Ruth Aguilar) were the comic relief although note to playwright and director - when you write whole monologues in Spanish (not just one of those "you-get-the-idea" dialogues, you lose the audience.  The absolutely adorable (even more-so with his shirt off) yet entirely creepy Tate (Ethan Dubin) was a complete mystery to me from start to finish.  No clue what we were supposed to get from this bizarre character who had almost nothing to do with these people.  And for the record, do we really need a dog (Mochi played by Marti) in the show?  Yes, it was cute.  No it was not necessary and everyone could hear the dog trainer/coach off stage snapping and issuing commands.

I'm not entirely clear, because we got no actual confirmation what part of the set was incomplete, but I think they should light the living room, which is used over and over differently (color/hue), to make it seem like it's not the same damn sectional sofa and pillows in the same damn house the entire time. At least change out the pillow colors or something. (Matt Frey, Dane Laffrey)

If you think my review is bad so far, wait till you hear about Act III.  No set to speak of. (Seriously you need to be finished with your set by the 4th preview).  A bizarre scene on the beach that was out of left field.  Modern dance.  A Cactus.  Fog.  Coyotes.  A straight jacket.  A shirtless boy. Surgery for a hole in the eyeball.  More teeth-brushing everywhere but the bathroom.  Many of the guns pulled out in Act I and II remained un-used.  Limited resolution.  More questions.  Little hope.

Save yourself from eternal damnation and stay home.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Band's Visit

This Atlantic show was supposed to be a Hal Prince directed musical.  Schedules conflicted and alas, we have a David Cromer directed, Itmar Moses penned, adaptation of the Eran Kolirin screenplay.   I have to say, I expected a lot more from Mr. Moses based on his previous works.  However, I must temper that by saying that this is not Mr. Moses' original work - it is an adaptation of what I imagine is a fairly vacuous and empty movie itself.  Think indie flick.    Perhaps the big screen brings something magical to this story - I would not know, as I have not seen it.  But I can tell you that the stage does nothing for this rather banal, slow, and fairly pointless and somewhat empty show. Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek are at times sublime and at others baffling but overall, his melody and tone hits it right given the off-beat material.

My thought immediately following the end of the show was "what a waste of a role for both Tony Shalhoub and even more so for John Cariani.  "Monk" (Shalhoub) as he is known by his adoring TV fans has a rather reserved leading part with little fat to chew on.  Mr. Cariani just rolled off a hit Broadway musical, Something Rotten and while actors must exercise their range, the part he plays here is dumbfoundingly bizare and odd.  The plot centers around an Egyptian ceremonial orchestra (in fully military style uniforms) visiting Israel for a concert but get diverted to the wrong town in the middle of nowhere (because the same town exists spelled with a "P" and a "V" (foreign accents, mishap, oops) and have to spend the night with the locals.  Not much ensues.

Kudos for casting many ethnic actors and providing a platform for mildly exploring the topic of inter-ethnic conflict and tension - but only mildly as this is really not the focus of the play.  I will say, however, that a feeling of uncomfortability permeated the air throughout the evening all the way to the very (predictable) theatrical ending.

Perhaps Mr. Prince would have made different theatrical decisions?  We'll never know.  The stage was as vacuous and empty as the material and most of the performances save a few.  It's a good thing a delicious pan of Paella was awaiting me after the show to cure my hunger.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

This Day Forward

Upon a bit of reflection this was not the Nicky Silver play I expected.  However, that is not to say that I didn't enjoy it or it wasn't good.  I think Mr. Silver tried some new things here.  At it's core it is him - a broken, very broken, family.  However, I think he tried something new with Act I which may or may not have been successful.  Certainly Act 2 was a Nicky Silver play indeed.

In Act 1 we meet Irene and Martin - two young newlyweds in 1958.  I think this is where Mr. Silver's signature style clashed with the time.  Nicky Silver writes plays for today - not yesterday and his style has to be modified to exist in the past.  His characters had to be too much farce and not enough meat.  They have to be like caricatures to exist.  The devilishly handsomely and hunky young Andrew Burnap (Donald the bellhop) was too mean, too quick to explode, and too much a cartoon.  Michael Crane (Martin) and Holley Fein (young Irene) were too stilted and seemed to cover the same dialogue ground over and over - we got the point the first time.  Joe Tippett, the other blue eyed dreamboat (Emil) was a bit too exaggerated - I guess so that you got the point that he was different from Martin.  It wasn't as believable as it could have been,  June Gable (Melka/older Irene) was by far the best actress on the stage.  With a funny schtick in Act I and a serious and still amusing and convincing part in Act II.

Structurally, Mr. Silver has a great idea - 1958 and fast forward to 2004 two generations living the consequence of what we saw in Act 1.  He cleverly disguised the "here's what happened since" in all the dialogue and conversations.  Francesca Faridany (Shella) is spot on as the neurotic, pill popping, exasperated daughter in Act II.

Mr. Burnap and Mr Crane are now a couple (Mr. Burnap is even more dreamy).  Ms Gable takes the role of older Irene and Mr. Tippett and Ms. Fain make a cameo appearance at the end.  Act II is by far the more biting, acerbic, and serious of the two acts and judging from the audience reaction - the more successful and satisfying of the two as well.

The sets, which are usually not a Vineyard hallmark, were absolutely fantastic in both acts - Kudos Allen Moyer.  I happened to see the play on its first preview - which I only learned after it was over - and commented to myself that I would never have guessed - performances were already spiffy.  They have some things to work on of course but nothing to dash my full throated endorsement of yet another gem playing over at the Vineyard Theatre on West 15th.