Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Church & State

It's not often that a play grabs you and shakes you to the core. Church & State by Jason Odell Williams is one such play.  Presented 8 times a week over at New World Stages, Mr. Williams' new play is a wonderful amalgamation of politics and religion.  It may have a point of view, but it certainly treats all sides fairly.  Quite frankly it may go out of its way to give you a balanced look at the many issues in its hopper.

Rob Nagle aptly plays Senator Charles Whitmore of North Carolina with his southern charm and deeply held beliefs in God and Guns.  Or perhaps they do not run as deep as he thought.  His wife, Sara Whitmore (Nadia Bowers), is certainly the personification of a southern belle who loves Jesus more than her Manolos (well it is a close call).  Leading his senatorial reelection campaign is the uber-neurotic New York campaign manager, Alex Klein (Christa Scott-Reed).  Together these three form a triangle of tension, dialogue, and conflict.

Without giving anything away - be ready for something shocking to occur when u least expect it.  The exceptionally inclusive subject matter allows all sides of the characters, their beliefs, and doubts to be explored.  Make no mistake, the action unfolds in a deliberate manner to garner the highest dramatic effect - and by high i mean stratospheric.

This play is just in its infancy and the goal of the producers (we learned at the talk back after the show) is to present it all over the south and many other "RED" states.   While impact-ful the play is never preachy or extremely biased.  A great piece of theater at a very opportune time.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Profane

This one by Zayd Dohrn creeps up on you.  In the beginning you are quite sure there will be some cultural issues - but even up to intermission you are not entirely sure with whom they will be.  Turns out the playwright perhaps could have done a better job, at least earlier on, of identifying the beliefs and points of view of the characters.

Not all is lost, however.  Once you pick up on the family and cultural disconnects, you're fine.  Both families are Muslim, which, as stated is not clear up front.  You first meet Raif (Ali Reza Farahnakian) and his family Emina (Tala Ashe), Aisa/Dania (Francis Benhamou) and wife Naja (Heather Raffo).  His daughter is bringing home a boy Sam (Babak Tafti) for an unspecified reason. It is not until Act II that we meet Peter's family Peter (Ramsey Faragallah) and his wife Carmen (Lanna Joffrey).  Cleverly disguised as a mysterious member of the family is again Francis Benjamou.  This is where the plot thickens.

The gist of the plot is that two Muslim families really have two entirely different beliefs and outlooks on religion, culture, freedom, and America itself.  Yes - it turns out to be true that Islam is not a one-size-fits-all religion.   Worry not, religion is never even brought up - this entire conflict is brought up by placing the two children at the center of the family drama.

Without spoiling what goes on- suffice to say that the play explores many avenues and points of view and does not really take one - but rather plays out the inevitable clash between them.  There's definitely another play in here - as there were too many unexplored avenues and opportunities to explore characters more.  And I would certainly look forward to hearing the playwrights expounding on any number of the avenues he explored in this excellent family drama.

Monday, March 20, 2017


 A very interesting concept to promote off-off-Broadway. Multiple theatre companies perform skits and short performances in a large space where the audience roams around and sees different things throughout the night.

As long as the performances are good - you're hooked and it's a fun evening.  However one or two more than the usual unusual and you're having a not-so-good evening. I had a pretty decent time.  Don't worry, there are bound to be some interesting, off-beat things u will enjoy and discover.  There are more performances than you have time to see so study up in advance and research what you like. We saw dance, performance art, an excerpt from a creative show, and two short plays.  All good.  All unique.  All provided the opportunity to explore the theater company or author/performer in more detail later.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Michael Cerveris and his Accomplices

The larger story here is that the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, which is a remarkable organization on Bleecker Street in NoHo, is presenting a series called Convergences.   It's an Indie Artist Series - which showcases artists at the cross-roads of two or more careers (acting, singing, writing, performing, etc.).  Tonight's installment was the always-gracious and ever-talented Michael Cerveris.  Some might never even know the star of stage and screen (he was a regular on The Good Wife, among other things) had a band?   And that's exactly the point of this series.

For Mr. Cerveris it is the opportunity to grace us with his angelic voice and his incredible humility and talent.  His band is a big one - strings, woodwinds, piano, guitars and more!  And what a lush sound they produce backed by the potent vocals of a truly multi-talented leading man.

Mr. Cerveris has a prior album out there - Dog Eared from which he performed several numbers.  He now also has a second album, Piety, recorded at the famed Piety Street Studio in New Orleans with many of his New Orleans musician friends.  Boy oh boy, does Mr. Cerevis have musician friends too - among them Pete Townshend (he plays a guitar he received as a gift from Mr. Townshend).  He also frequents Joe's Pub and 54 Below right here in New York City.

Among my favorites from his 2 distinct sets were Evangeline and Tenth Grade (written by Michael Cerveris, as was everything from his first set) and Life on Mars (David Bowie), Pony Girl (Janine Tesori and Lisa Kron from Fun Home), and Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) from the 2nd set.  I could think of no better way to end the show in his encore with a rousing rendition of Pinball Wizard by the iconic Pete Townshend / The Who.

Truly multi-talented and not seen nearly enough on a Broadway stage, Mr. Cerevis is a pleasure to watch, enjoy, and appreciate in virtually any venue he appears.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Play That Goes Wrong

 What could possibly go wrong?  In Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields' new play, just about everything is the correct answer.  Costumes, props, sets, and lighting are safely in this category during the approximate 2 hour show.

It's slapstick.  It's physical comedy.  Doors slamming, pictures falling down, Sets falling down. Props switched, missing, and used incorrectly.  It's a mad-cap evening with this play within a play.  You're supposed to be there to watch a small fledgling theatre troupe put on a play entitled Murder at the Havesaham Manor.  What ensues is nothing short of complete mix ups and mayhem. Actors get knocked out.  Sets fall apart and literally collapse with actors atop them.  The elevator literally explodes and that damn front door just won't stay closed.

The actors in this play within a play are true hams.  It doesn't hurt that the book writers also star in their own madcap comedy.   Sound guy Trevor (Rob Falconer) could care less about his job and it shows.  Jonathan Sayer (book) takes a role as Max the butler with hysterical results. Henry Lewis (book) takes on a role as the outrageous brother Robert.  Henry Shields (book) takes on the role of Chris.  Nancy Zamit (Annie) a backstage gal does battle with Charlie Russell (Sandra) the onstage actress to see who will be standing to play the role of the heroine.  There are a few other cast members but if there was ever the case that an ensemble needed to hang it all together, this is the one.

All in all it's a Noises Off kind of comedy - extremely physical where timing is key.  On the first public performance here in the USA, this British sensation was banging on all cylinders. When the curtain comes down (along with the set) you'll find yourself just as exhausted as the actors from all the hilarity and laughter.

For some it may be a bit over the top but I'm going to guess if you don't like this kind of play you won't be buying a ticket anyway.  There's an audience for this kind of play and I suspect they will show up at the theater to see what could possibly go wrong.